By Erin Ailworth, Ben Kesling, Sadie Gurman and Joe Barrett 

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Justice Department said Thursday that it has made the investigation into George Floyd's death a priority, as protesters continued for a third day to demand charges be brought against the police officers who held him pinned to the ground as he struggled to breathe.

Also Thursday, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey called for an all-out effort to restore peace and security in the city over the next several days, authorizing the police chief to create a unified command to coordinate officers from different departments. He also has made a request to the governor for help from the National Guard.

The mayor said that the last several nights of unrest revealed 400 years of frustration in the black community. But he said it was critical that the city protect infrastructure like grocery stores, drugstores and banks that are necessary to protect health during the coronavirus pandemic.

"I know there is currently a deficit of hope in this city," said Minneapolis Chief of Police Medaria Arradondo. "I know that this department has contributed to that deficit. But I will not allow to continue to increase that deficit by retraumatizing those folks in our community."

Chief Arradondo said there was a shift in tenor in Wednesday night's protests with "a core group of people that had been focused on causing destruction."

He also said efforts to control the crowd broke down as it grew in size. "We were certainly prepared for that immediate area," he said. "The crowds got larger and they got more mobile."

Protests began forming again Thursday for the third straight day in Minneapolis, with new ones forming in neighboring St. Paul.

The Justice Department said it was assigning experienced prosecutors and FBI criminal investigators to see if Minneapolis police officers broke federal law, including whether they willfully violated Mr. Floyd's constitutional rights.

"The Department of Justice asks for cooperation from all witnesses who believe they have relevant information and urges calm as investigators methodically continue to gather facts," the department said in a statement issued by U.S. Attorney Erica MacDonald and the Federal Bureau of Investigation special agent in charge, Rainer Drolshagen.

It was a notably strong statement from the Justice Department, which often takes a more muted tone in describing continuing investigations.

In Facebook video that emerged Tuesday, Mr. Floyd, a black man, can be seen being pinned to the ground by a white officer, identified as Derek Chauvin, who has his knee on Mr. Floyd's neck. Other footage later emerged showing two other officers sitting on Mr. Floyd's body. Mr. Floyd is heard pleading that he can't breathe, and eventually loses consciousness. He was pronounced dead later that evening.

The four officers involved in the Monday incident were fired Tuesday morning, and federal and state authorities have announced investigations.

Two of the former-officers who appear on the Facebook video, Mr. Chauvin and Tou Thao, each have multiple complaints on their official records, according to department records.

Mr. Chauvin has 18 complaints on his official record, two of which ended in discipline from the department including official letters of reprimand. Mr. Thao has six incidents on his record, including one stemming from a 2017 lawsuit that was settled by the city and which is still officially open in his record.

Neither of the other two officers who were fired have past complaints on their records.

Mr. Thao was sued, along with another officer in 2017 for excessive use of force, a case whose final terms were sealed as terms of the settlement.

In 2006, Mr. Chauvin was involved in the police shooting of a man brandishing a sawed-off shotgun, according to a Minnesota Star Tribune article from the time. According to a Twin Cities Pioneer Press story from 2008, Mr. Chauvin shot a man during a call when the man reached for a responding officer's gun.

He also has been awarded the department's Medal of Valor.

Tom Kelly, an attorney for Mr. Chauvin, didn't respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Thao couldn't be reached for comment.

Minneapolis police said they arrested Mr. Floyd on Monday for using a counterfeit bill, and that he resisted arrest. Attorney Benjamin Crump, who is representing Mr. Floyd's family, said the man never resisted arrest and shouldn't have been treated so violently.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey called for charges to be brought against Mr. Chauvin, but didn't say which charges should be sought.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said in a radio interview Thursday that it would be a shame if "the top count was negligent homicide." He also warned of the dangers of an aggressive charge not supported by facts that could lead to a not-guilty verdict.

The charging decision rests with Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman. Minneapolis police and Mr. Freeman's office didn't respond to requests for comment.

Alvin Manago and his fiancée, Theresa Scott, remembered their friend and roommate, who liked to go by "Floyd," as someone who "always tried to be the peacemaker," Mr. Manago recalled.

They said they were trying to forget the images in the Facebook video. Instead, they warmly recalled how he would burn everything he tried to cook, even hot dogs. How he liked to sing when he was happy. How his laugh was a slow-building, full-body chuckle.

Mr. Floyd, 46, had been arrested several times since 1998, including on charges of theft, drug possession and aggravated robbery, including at least once with a deadly weapon, according to Harris County Court records in Texas. He moved to Minneapolis to better his life, friends said. An attorney for Mr. Floyd's family didn't respond to a request for comment about his criminal history.

Stephen Jackson, Mr. Floyd's friend and a former professional basketball player who called Mr. Floyd "twin," tweeted: "Twin couldn't wait to tell me he moved to Minnesota to work. He knew he had to relocate to be his best self."

--Jim Oberman contributed to this article.

Write to Erin Ailworth at Erin.Ailworth@wsj.com, Ben Kesling at benjamin.kesling@wsj.com, Sadie Gurman at sadie.gurman@wsj.com and Joe Barrett at joseph.barrett@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 28, 2020 17:34 ET (21:34 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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