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June 3, 2020 3 PM Press Conference Transcript

6/3/2020 10:04:59 AM

Video source: TPT Twin Cities PBS Facebook Live Video

Unknown male: …timeline of events that led to Mr. Floyd’s death or any investigative detail. It’s all under investigation. It is currently confidential. So I just want to set that expectation right now. With that, Attorney General Keith Ellison.

[Speaker departs. Attorney General Ellison and two other men come forward to speak.]

Attorney General Ellison: First of all, thank you, ladies and gentlemen of the press. Myself and my friend, Mike Freeman, want to share some information with you. I want to begin with a reminder. And that is, we’re here today because George Floyd is not here. He should be here. He should be alive, but he’s not. About nine days ago, the world watch Floyd utter his very last words, “I can’t breathe” as he pled for his live. The world heard Floyd call out for his mama and cried out, “Don’t kill me.” Just two days ago when I became the lead prosecutor in the murder of Mr. Floyd, I asked for time to thoroughly review all the evidence in the case and we looked at the evidence that’s available and the investigation is ongoing at this time. I also said that I know it’s asking a lot of people to give us time, particularly people who have suffered for decades and centuries of injustice, to be patient and, yet, we did get that time and together, a very strong, experienced team, which included county attorney Mike Freeman, his team, and my team, we reviewed the evidence, together with the BCA, and we have something to announce today. Before I announce it, I want to say thank you for the patience of the people who they’ve shown me and our entire team in pursuit of justice, and I’m here to make these announcements right now. First, today, I filed an amended complaint that charges former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin with murder in the second degree for the death of George Floyd. I believe the evidence available to us now supports the stronger charge of second-degree murder. We’ve consulted with each other and we agree. Second, today arrest warrants were issued for former Minneapolis police officers J.A. Kueng, Thomas Lane, and Tou Thao. Finally, I’d like to announce that today Hennepin County attorney Michael Freeman and I filed a complaint that charges police officers Kueng, Lane and Thao with aiding and abetting murder in the second degree, a felony offense. I strongly agree that these developments are in the interest of justice for Mr. Floyd, his family, our community, and our state. I’m the lead prosecutor in this case. I’ll be speaking, addressing the public, but this is absolutely a team effort. We are working together on this case, with only one goal, justice for George Floyd. I want to thank, first, Mr. Hennepin County Attorney, Mike Freeman, who had been a true partner in this matter in every step of the way. His experience and insight have been invaluable and will continue to be counted on by the team. I also want to thank county attorney Freeman’s professional staff who have cooperated and worked together with my staff and the investigating officers from the very minute this case started. I also want to thank Superintendent Drew Evans of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and his professional staff for the care and speed with which they are conducting this investigation, and I want to thank especially U.S. Attorney Erica MacDonald and Special Agent in Charge who are conducting a parallel federal color of law investigation. I have heard directly from the leadership of the Department of Justice that there is full support for her leadership in pursuit of her investigation and as she put it so well, one team, one goal, one mission. I agree 100%. As I said earlier, Mr. Floyd’s family and I can speak for Mr. Freeman and I jointly thank them along with U.S. Attorney MacDonald. We thank the community for their patience in allowing us the time and space we need over these days to lay these charges. As it is so hard to do, I now ask for continued patience. This case continues to be under investigation. We will not be able to say very much publicly about the investigation. Except that we encourage anyone who believes that they have evidence in this case to come forward and to be cooperative with the investigation. As we develop the case for prosecution, which will also not be, we will not be able to say very much publicly about it, because our job is to seek justice and to obtain a conviction, not to make statements in the press but to put – do our talking in court. So I ask for your patience again while we limit our public comments in pursuit of justice. I also ask for your trust. We are pursuing justice by every legal and ethical means available to us. I also want to add a word of caution. The investigation is ongoing. We are following the path of all of the evidence, wherever it leads. We are investigating as quickly as we can because speed is important. We’re also investigating as thoroughly as we can because being complete and thorough is critically important. It takes time. The reason thoroughness is important is because every single link in the prosecute I don’t recall chain must be strong, it needs to be strong because trying this case will not be an easy thing. Prosecutorial winning a conviction will be hard, in fact, county attorney Freeman is the only prosecutor in the state of Minnesota who has successfully convicted a police officer for murder. And he can tell you that it’s hard. I say that – I say this not because we doubt our resources or our ability. In fact, we’re confident in what we’re doing. But history does show that there are clear challenges here and we are going to be working very hard and relying on each other and our investigative partners and the community to support that endeavor. To the Floyd family, to our beloved community, and to everyone that is watching, I say George Floyd mattered. He was loved. His family was important. His life had value and we will seek justice for him and for you and we will find it. The very fact that we have filed these charges means that we believe in them. But what I do not believe is that one successful prosecution can rectify the hurt and loss that so many people feel. The solution to that pain will be slow and difficult work of constructing justice and fairness in our society. That work is the work of all of us. We don’t need to wait for the resolution and investigation of this case to start that work. We need citizens, neighbors, leaders in government and in faith communities, civil and human rights activists to begin rewriting the rules for a just society now. We need new policy and legislation and ways of thinking at the municipal, state and federal levels, the world of arts and entertainment can use their cultural influence to inspire the change that we need. There is a role for all who dream of a justice that we haven’t yet experienced. In a final analysis, a protest can shake a tree and can make the fruit fall down, but after all that, fruit is in reach, collecting it and making the jam must follow. The demonstrations and the protests are dramatic and necessary, but building just institutions is more of a slow grind but equally important. And we have to begin that work as well. We need your energy and we need everyone’s help right now. Thank you very much. We’ll take a few questions. Yes, Ma’am.

Off-screen reporter: Massive protests and massive riots (indiscernible question). 

Attorney General Ellison: We believe we have a duty to charge the charges that fit the facts in this case and we have done so. And, so, our concern is to put all the energy we can into putting forth the strongest case that we can without fear or favor of anyone or anything. These charges are based on the facts that we have found and we’re going to pursue them. 

Off-screen reporter: The Hennepin County Attorney (indiscernible question). Is he going to plead this case (indiscernible)?

Attorney General Ellison: The Hennepin County Attorney did an excellent job by gathering facts and has worked cooperatively with us at every single step of the way. We consulted with each other on these charges. We believe that these are the right charges. Mike Freeman and I will be – we’ve signed a complaint for these additional charges, and, so that’s what we’re doing. 

Off-screen reporter: The whole nation, indeed, the whole world, has been waiting for some type of announcement from your office. Can you describe the process involved in your deliberation and what impact do you think today’s decision might have not just in Minneapolis but for those across the country watching you right now? 

Attorney General Ellison: Unfortunately, I can’t delve into our deliberative process, but what I will tell you generally is we gathered all the facts that we could, we reviewed the criminal statues and we arrived to the charges. We believe that they’re justified by the facts and the law.

Off-screen reporter: What does this impact have on them, this decision? 

Attorney General Ellison: The pursuit of justice is always good and right. And I want to signal to them that we hope that they continue to raise the cause of justice but do it in a peaceful manner. It is their right to express themselves and with that I will say that they should continue in their own communities to get together to build just community relationships, we need the faith community to be involved, we need arts and entertainment to help inspire us toward justice. We need everybody. There’s a lot more to do than just this case. And we ask people to do that. 

Off-screen reporter: (indiscernible) Are we talking weeks, are we talking months?

Attorney General Ellison: I want to thank you for asking that question because part of my comments were to help set up expectations in a realistic light. You know, in order to be thorough, this is going to take months. And I don’t know how many, but it is better to make sure that we have a solid case, fully investigated, researched before we go to trial. We don’t want to rush it and so it will take a while. And I can’t set a deadline on that. Way in the back.

Off-screen reporter: The Floyd family asked for a first degree murder charge. You decided to charge second degree unintentional murder while committing a felony. Can you explain what that charge means, unintentional murder versus second-degree intentional murder, please?

Attorney General Ellison: Well, according to Minnesota law, you have to have premeditation and deliberation to charge first degree murder. Second degree murder you have to intend for death to be the result. For second degree felony murder, you have to intend the felony and then death be the result without necessarily having it be the intent. So that is the state of the law. The felony would be – we would contend that George Floyd was assaulted and, so, that would be the underlying felony. 

Off-screen reporter: Will you accept any plea deals in this or do you expect all four to go to trial? And, secondly, when will the body camera footage be released?

Attorney General Ellison: You know, I really don’t have any idea of what the negotiations or something like that, that’s simply way too early to begin that conversation. At this point we are preparing to try this case. If something else happens along the way, we’ll see. But at this point we don’t have any plans in that direction.

Off-screen reporter: Body camera footage?

Attorney General Ellison: You know, that is something that I will – I don’t have anything to report right now. At this time we’re focused on investigating the case. And, so, I think at this time I will consult with the BCA and other partners on the case and we’ll come to a conclusion about that. Again, we believe in transparency but we also believe in a thorough investigation, most importantly. 

Off-screen reporter: The three officers have been taken into custody?

Attorney General Ellison: I’ll allow Mr. Drew Evans to address that issue. [Moves out of frame and another man steps in.]

Drew Evans: Good afternoon. I’m the Superintendent of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. We are in the process of taking the officers into custody. Report that one is in custody now and the other two we are in the process of taking into custody and expect them to be this afternoon.

Off-screen reporter: Could you clarify – have the officers involved made statements to your investigators? (Indiscernible) Have you spoken to them?

Drew Evans: As the Attorney General said, we can’t speak about all the details of the case, other than what’s really in the complaint at this time. I will tell you with any investigation, as I’ve told you all from the very beginning, we have teams of investigators from the BCA, jointly investigating this with the FBI, trying to obtain all information. In this case, I will tell you that is a regular course of all of our investigations to attempt interviews with all of the officers. We have interviewed numerous individuals in this case and additional information will be provided as we move forward.

[Drew Evans steps away and Attorney General Ellison steps in.]

Off-screen reporter: Attorney General, do you have the folks you need for this or will you be seeking outside counsel, professional counsel, as you’re authorized to do under the law?

Attorney General Ellison: At this time I believe we have the team to complete this work. I would just like to introduce David Void [David Void remains off-camera.] as well, he is deputy at the Attorney General’s Office. He heads the criminal division and he has the lawyers to get this done and also we have some experienced lawyers in the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office. We’re working hard on this thing together.

Off-screen reporter (indiscernible) I know the Floyd family is hoping to have more information of these charges before the memorial tomorrow. How should that factor into your decision, as well as the protests (indiscernible) across the country as well?

Attorney General Ellison: I could say I did not allow public pressure to impact our decision-making process. I was prepared to withstand whatever calls came. We made these decisions based on the facts that we have gathered since this matter occurred and made the charges based on the law that we think applies. That’s my answer.

Off-screen reporter: Your relationship with Mike Freeman (indiscernible)?

Attorney General Ellison: Going fine, it’s going great. I spent a lot of time in Hennepin County when I was a trial lawyer myself. I know all the lawyers there, respect them all, admire them all, we’re fine. Can I introduce you? 

Person off-screen: Okay.

Attorney General Ellison: He represents Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, first  deputy for Mike Freeman. 

Off-screen reporter: (indiscernible)

Attorney General Ellison: No. I’m going to let the people who prosecute cases every single day prosecute this case. Now, it is true that I’ve tried a lot of cases and I’ve tried homicide cases. But on the other side of the courtroom. The people who know how to prosecute, I’m going to let them do that work. 

Off-screen reporter: (indiscernible)

Attorney General Ellison: You know, I think it helps me anticipate what some of the attacks on our case might be. 

Off-screen reporter: (indiscernible)

Attorney General Ellison: I see no reason why we can’t get a fair trial here.

Off-screen reporter: With the charges that were just filed, my math is correct, three officers now face the potential same maximum sentence as Mr. Chauvin?

Attorney General Ellison: Yes. Well, yes, sir. 

Off-screen reporter: I apologize if you’ve addressed this before, but does your involvement in this case now put you on the sidelines in terms of the legislative process and working for police reform legislation?

Attorney General Ellison: No. I’ll continue to do all of the duties that I have, which involved legislative, which involve a lot. We’ve been very active in the civil space. We’ve been active in representing state agencies and government. I’ll continue to supervise that as I always do. But I feel – I feel very confident in it because I have excellent professionals who are going to be focused on this like a laser beam every single day.

Off-screen reporter: Attorney General, could you take us into that room when the decision was made, for you personally, (indecipherable)?

Attorney General Ellison: I feel a tremendous sense of weight. I feel this is a very serious moment. I can honestly tell you, I take no joy in this, but I do feel a tremendous sense of duty and responsibility. 

Off-screen reporter: (indiscernible question)

Attorney General Ellison: I don’t know the answer to that question. [Steps away and Drew Evans steps in.]

Drew Evans: I would just answer that in terms of what is left up to the various sheriffs that we work with on this. As Commissioner Schnell noted the other day, they make security decisions and the best place for everybody in light of everything that’s going on right now in the Twin Cities. Again, those are decisions based on the analysis of the sheriff and they work closely with the Department of Corrections to make sure that they have everyone in their custody where they should be based on safety assessments. 

Off-screen reporter: (indiscernible)

Attorney General Ellison: I will say to them that I pledge and promise to hold all, everyone accountable for the behavior that we can prove in a court and that if I don’t charge it, it means that we did not have the facts to do that. So I’ll simply say that as the people who are professionals, professional prosecutors, we’re taking our duty seriously and we are working with the people who gather the facts and we have done the work that we believe is possible, ethical and right. 

Off-screen reporter: (indiscernible)

Attorney General Ellison: Yeah. Well let me be honest here. I mean, our country has had – has under prosecuted these matters, in Minnesota and throughout the country. And, so, I think the trust is a result of historically not holding people who are public guardians accountable for their behavior in situations where we should have. So that I think is the origin of the trust problem. But we can’t – we can’t control the past. All we can do is take the case that we have in front of us right now and do our good faith best to bring justice to the situation and we will.

[Attorney General and colleagues leave.]

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