By Erin Ailworth, Sadie Gurman and Ben Kesling 

MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz sent in the National Guard as demonstrators clashed with police for a third straight day to protest the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white officer pinned him to the ground with a knee on his neck.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, who has called for the police officers involved in the incident to be criminally charged, had requested the assistance and authorized the police chief to create a unified command to coordinate officers from different departments.

Several buildings in a retail area across from the Third Precinct station, in a diverse working and middle class neighborhood, smoldered from lingering fires Thursday as officials prepared for another night of protests.

The Justice Department said it had made its investigation into Mr. Floyd's death a top priority, assigning experienced prosecutors and FBI criminal investigators to the case. The department is probing whether Minneapolis police officers willfully violated Mr. Floyd's civil rights.

Meanwhile, calls for criminal charges continued to grow. State authorities have also launched investigations into the incident.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman is responsible for deciding whether or not to bring criminal charges. He has said that his office is working with authorities to gather and examine the evidence. He didn't respond to requests for comment.

Justice officials described the investigation as comprehensive.

"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 an unusually strong statement, issued by U.S. attorney Erica MacDonald and FBI special agent in charge Rainer Drolshagen.

Bringing federal civil rights charges against police is a challenge, as prosecutors must reach a difficult standard of proof that requires them to establish that an officer not only acted with excessive force but also willfully violated someone's constitutional rights.

State prosecutors are able to pursue a wider array of criminal charges under state law, such as manslaughter or aggravated assault, that don't require them to prove willfulness or intent.

The mayor, a 38-year-old member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party, 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.

Minneapolis Chief of Police Medaria Arradondo said there was a shift in tenor during the second night of protests with "a core group of people that had been focused on causing destruction."

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

New protests began Thursday in neighboring St. Paul. Looting Wednesday night centered around the Third Precinct, the city's largest geographically, located between Interstate 35 to the west and the Mississippi River to the east.

The majority of the city's mass-transit service has been suspended through at least the afternoon and evening because of protests.

The Minneapolis area has a history of tension between the African-American community and law enforcement, including the 2016 killing of Philando Castile, a black man, by a police officer in a nearby suburb. Months before that, the shooting of a black man in the city led to protests, including a Black Lives Matter encampment at a police precinct.

Mr. Arradondo became police chief in 2017 after an officer-involved shooting led to the resignation of his predecessor. In 2007, he was one of several officers who sued the police department over discrimination against officers of color. Mr. Frey helped develop a stronger policy on the use of police body cameras early in his term.

The state legislature was set to debate its recommendations this session until the coronavirus pandemic short-circuited its schedule.

Leslie Redmond, president for the Minneapolis NAACP, said there is support in the community for the city's current chief of police, unlike with past chiefs.

"Chief Arradondo made the first right step in making sure the officers were fired and now he needs to move forward and make sure that they are charged because what we witnessed was murder," she said.

The four officers involved in the Monday incident were fired Tuesday morning.

In Facebook video that emerged Tuesday, Mr. Floyd can be seen being pinned to the ground by an 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. A fire department crew called to assist found paramedics working inside an ambulance on "an unresponsive, pulseless male," a fire department report said. Mr. Floyd was pronounced dead later that evening.

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. The department declined to comment on the details of the complaints.

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.

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.

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.

--Joe Barrett contributed to this article.

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

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 28, 2020 19:38 ET (23:38 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Target (NYSE:TGT)
Historical Stock Chart
From Sep 2020 to Oct 2020 Click Here for more Target Charts.
Target (NYSE:TGT)
Historical Stock Chart
From Oct 2019 to Oct 2020 Click Here for more Target Charts.