MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis was seen on a bystander’s video pleading that he could not breathe as a white officer knelt on his neck during the arrest and kept his knee there for several minutes after the man stopped moving.
The death Monday night after a struggle with officers was under investigation by the FBI and state law enforcement authorities. It drew comparisons to the case of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who died in 2014 in New York after he was placed in a chokehold by police and pleaded for his life, saying he could not breathe.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey apologized to the black community Tuesday in a post on his Facebook page.
“Being Black in America should not be a death sentence. For five minutes, we watched a white officer press his knee into a Black man’s neck. Five minutes. When you hear someone calling for help, you’re supposed to help. This officer failed in the most basic, human sense,” Frey posted.
Police said the man matched the description of a suspect in a forgery case and resisted arrest. The video shows an unidentified officer kneeling on his neck and ignoring his pleas. “Please, please, please, I can’t breathe. Please, man,” the man is heard telling the officer.
After several minutes, one of the officers tells the man to “relax.” “Man, I can’t breathe,” he responds. Minutes pass and the man becomes motionless under the officer’s restraint. The officer leaves his knee on the man’s neck for several minutes more.
Several witnesses had gathered on a nearby sidewalk, with some recording on their phones. Bystanders became increasingly agitated as the man pleaded with police. One bystander tells officers that they need to let him breathe. Another yells at them to check the man’s pulse.
The man who died was identified as George Floyd by Ben Crump, a prominent civil rights and personal injury attorney who said he had been hired by Floyd’s 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 in a statement. “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.”
Asked by reporters about the use of the knee on the man’s neck, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said the department has “policies in place regarding placing someone under control” that “will be part of the full investigation we’ll do internally.”
The New York City officer in the Garner case said he was using a legal maneuver called “the seatbelt” to bring down Garner, whom police said had been resisting arrest. But the medical examiner referred to it as a chokehold in the autopsy report and said it contributed to his death. Chokehold maneuvers are banned under New York police policy.
In Minneapolis, kneeling on a suspect’s neck is allowed under the department’s use-of-force policy for officers who have received training in how to compress a neck without applying direct pressure to the airway. It is considered a “non-deadly force option,” according to the department’s policy handbook.
A chokehold is considered a deadly force option and involves someone obstructing the airway. According to the department’s use-of-force policy, officers are to use only an amount of force necessary that would be objectively reasonable.
The police union asked the public to wait for the investigation to take its course and not to “rush to judgment and immediately condemn our officers.” The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, which would handle any prosecution of police on state charges, said in a statement that it was “shocked and saddened” by the video and pledged to handle the case fairly. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Minnesota declined comment.
Nekima Levy-Armstrong, a prominent local activist, told the Star Tribune that watching the footage that was shared on social media made her “sick to her stomach” and reminded her of the Garner case. A grand jury later decided against indicting the officers involved in Garner’s death, sparking protests around the country.
The man’s death in Minneapolis also came amid outrage over the death of Ahmaud Arbery, who was fatally shot Feb. 23 in Georgia after a white father and son pursued the 25-year-old black man they had spotted running in their subdivision. More than two months passed before charges were brought. Crump also represents Arbery’s father.
Officers in Minneapolis were called about 8 p.m. Monday to investigate a report of a forgery at a business, according to police spokesman John Elder. Police found the man, believed to be in his 40s, matching the suspect’s description in his car.
“He was ordered to step from his car. After he got out, he physically resisted officers,” Elder said in a statement. “Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress.”
The man, who was not immediately identified, was taken by ambulance to a hospital, where he soon died, police said. His name and cause of death were expected to be released by the medical examiner.
All body camera footage has been turned over to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, and the agency asked to speak with anyone who saw the arrest or recorded video. The officers involved have been put on paid administrative leave, per department protocol. The agency said the officers’ names will be released after initial interviews with the people involved and witnesses.
The FBI is conducting a separate federal civil rights investigation, at the request of Minneapolis police, the BCA said. Messages left with the FBI were not immediately returned.
Police in Minneapolis have come under scrutiny in recent years for deadly run-ins with citizens. A 24-year-old black man, Jamar Clark, was shot in the head and died in 2015 after a confrontation with two white officers responding to a reported assault. A county prosecutor declined to prosecute the officers, saying Clark was struggling for one of the officers’ gun when he was shot.
A white woman, Justine Rusczcyk Damond, died in 2017 when she was shot in the stomach by a Minneapolis officer responding to her 911 call. That officer, who is black, was convicted of manslaughter and murder and is serving a 12-year prison sentence.
Associated Press Writer Gretchen Ehlke in Milwaukee contributed to this report.