MINNEAPOLIS – A Minnesota judge has dismissed a third-degree murder charge filed against the former Minneapolis police officer who pressed his knee against George Floyd's neck, saying there was not enough probable cause for that count to proceed to trial. The more serious second-degree murder charge against Derek Chauvin remains.
Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill's ruling, dated Wednesday and made public Thursday, found probable cause for Chauvin to be tried on one count of unintentional second-degree murder and one count of second-degree manslaughter. Cahill also found probable cause to move forward with the aiding and abetting counts against three other former officers, Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao.
“In this court's view, with one exception, the State has met its burden of showing probable cause that warrants proceeding to trial against each of these Defendants on each of the criminal charges the State has filed against them,” Cahill wrote. He said a jury will decide whether they are guilty.
Floyd, a Black man in handcuffs, died May 25 after Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck as he said he couldn’t breathe. Floyd's death sparked protests in Minneapolis and beyond, and led to a nationwide reckoning on race. All four officers were fired. They are scheduled to stand trial in March.
After Cahill's ruling, Gov. Tim Walz activated the Minnesota National Guard in anticipation of protests. Protesters demonstrated in the streets after Chauvin was released on bail earlier this month, resulting in dozens of arrests. A truck driver who drove into a large crowd of protesters on a bridge in Minneapolis following the killing of Floyd was charged Thursday with two criminal counts.
On the second-degree murder charge, prosecutors presented probable cause to show Chauvin's actions were a “substantial causal factor” in Floyd’s death, and that he was committing or attempting to commit another felony at the time, in this case, assault, Cahill wrote.
He said prosecutors do not need to show Chauvin's actions were the sole cause of Floyd’s death. He also said Chauvin’s decision to continue kneeling on Floyd’s neck after he went silent and motionless “is strong evidence of Chauvin’s intent to inflict bodily harm.”
But to prove a third-degree murder charge, prosecutors must show that Chauvin's intentional conduct was “eminently dangerous to others” and not specifically directed at Floyd, Cahill said.