Four Minneapolis police officers fired after man’s death in custody

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(CNN) — Four Minneapolis police officers who were involved in the death of a black man who was held down as he protested that he couldn’t breathe have been fired, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey announced on Tuesday.

Officers responding to an alleged forgery in progress Monday evening were initially told that a person later described as the suspect was sitting on a car and appeared to be under the influence, police said.

A pair of officers located the man, who was at that point inside the car and who police said “physically resisted” the officers when ordered to get out. Officers handcuffed the man, who “appeared to be suffering medical distress,” according to police. He died at a hospital a short time later, police said.

The death drew widespread condemnation of the actions of the police after a video circulated on social media showing two officers by the man on the ground — one of them with his knee over the back of the man’s neck. The video did not capture what led up to the arrest or what police described as the man resisting arrest.

“Please, I can’t breathe,” the man said, screaming for several minutes before he became silent. Bystanders urged the officer to release the man from his hold.

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, in a statement, identified the man as George Floyd and said he was representing his family.

“We all watched the horrific death of George Floyd on video as witnesses begged the police officer to take him into the police car and get off his neck,” Crump said. “This abusive, excessive and inhumane use of force cost the life of a man who was being detained by the police for questioning about a non-violent charge.”

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar via Twitter called the incident “yet another horrifying and gutwrenching instance of an African American man dying.”

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey on Tuesday offered his condolences to the man’s family, adding that “what we saw was horrible, completely and utterly messed up.”

“For five minutes, we watched as a white officer pressed his knee to the neck of a black man,” Frey told reporters.

“When you hear someone calling for help, you are supposed to help. This officer failed in the most basic human sense. What happened on Chicago and 38th this last night is simply awful. It was traumatic and it serves as a clear reminder of just how far we have to go.”

“Being black in America,” Frey said, should not be “a death sentence.”

The Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis said in a statement the officers were cooperating in the investigation.

“Now is not the time rush to (judgment) and immediately condemn our officers,” the statement said. “Officers’ actions and training protocol will be carefully examined after the officers have provided their statements.”

In a Facebook video posted Monday, bystanders urged the officer to get off the man. Two officers handled the man on the ground while another stood nearby with his eyes on the bystanders as traffic passed in the background.

“My stomach hurts,” the man told the officer. “My neck hurts. Everything hurts.”

At one point the man said, “Give me some water or something. Please. Please.”

“His nose is bleeding,” a woman said of the man.

“He’s not even resisting arrest,” one man said. “He’s not responding right now, bro.”

Frey said he understood the anger in the community but reminded potential protesters that “there is another danger out there right now which is Covid-19.”

“We need to make sure that everyone that is protesting and that is voicing their opinion stays safe and their families are protected as well,” he said. “So please, practice safe distancing, please use a mask.”

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz tweeted Tuesday, “The lack of humanity is this disturbing video is sickening. We will get answers and seek justice.”

St. Paul, Minnesota, Mayor Melvin Carter called the video of the incident “one of the most vile and heartbreaking images I’ve ever seen.”

“The officer who stood guard is just as responsible as his partner; both must be held fully accountable,” Carter tweeted. “This must stop now.”

Paige Fernandez, policing policy adviser for the ACLU, said the incident recalled the 2014 New York death of Eric Garner, who repeated “I can’t breathe” several times after a police officer held him in a chokehold. Garner died during the arrest, the incident also caught on video.

“Even in places like Minneapolis, where chokeholds are technically banned, Black people are targeted by the police for low-level offenses and are subjected to unreasonable, unnecessary violence,” Fernandez said in a statement. “Make no mistake: George Floyd should be alive today. The officers responsible must be held accountable.”

The Hennepin County Attorney’s office said in a statement Tuesday that the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Bureau of Criminal Apprehension was investigating, along with the FBI. There was no immediate response from the FBI.

On Tuesday, Mayor Frey simply tweeted, “Four responding MPD officers involved in the death of George Floyd have been terminated. This is the right call.”

The county medical examiner will identify the victim once a preliminary autopsy has been done, authorities said.

Body worn cameras were activated during the incident, police said.

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