George Floyd Couldn't Breathe Before He Was Pinned Down by Cops, Prosecutor Says

The Hennepin County criminal complaint against ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Michael Chauvin described how George Floyd could not breathe prior to his restraint, prompting legal speculation that the charges against him may not hold up in court.

The preliminary findings in the Hennepin County Medical Examiner's autopsy of Floyd "revealed no physical findings that support a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation." The prosecutor's complaint noted that Floyd first said he could not breathe several times before he was restrained under officer Chauvin's knee as video footage has shown. Floyd was handcuffed, standing and not voluntarily entering the police car, telling officers he was claustrophobic and unable to breathe. Video footage goes on to show Chauvin pressing his knee down on Floyd's neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds--two minutes and 53 seconds of which took place after Floyd had become non-responsive.

"While standing outside the car, Mr. Floyd began saying and repeating that he could not breathe," reads the criminal complaint against Chauvin. It went on to describe how the four officers restrained Floyd as he continued to say "I can't breathe," "Mama" and "please."

The May 26 autopsy findings described the preliminary determinations for his cause of death, with police only receiving partial blame. The autopsy report leaves open the possibility Floyd was intoxicated at the time of the arrest: "Mr. Floyd had underlying health conditions including coronary artery disease and hypertensive heart disease. The combined effects of Mr. Floyd being restrained by the police, his underlying health conditions and any potential intoxicants in his system likely contributed to his death."

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman characterized the incident as "a senseless death," and his office filed two charges against Chauvin: one count of murder in the third-degree and one count of second-degree manslaughter. The Minnesota Department of Public Safety announced Friday that Chauvin, 44, was taken into custody by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and is being held on $500,000 bail.

Minnesota is one of only three states that have three degrees of murder alongside Florida and Pennsylvania. Minnesota statutes show a person can be charged with third-degree murder "by perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind, without regard for life and without intent to kill." Previous uses include suspects who have fired a weapon into a crowd or who drove a vehicle through a crowded sidewalk.

"We're going to investigate [Floyd's death] as expeditiously, as thoroughly and completely as justice demands," Freeman said during a Friday press conference. "Sometimes, that takes a little time and we ask people to be patient. We have to do this right."

Benjamin Crump, the Floyd family attorney, criticized the Hennepin County prosecutor's office for not filing stiffer charges against Chauvin. "We expected a first-degree murder charge. We want a first-degree murder charge. And we want to see the other officers arrested. We call on authorities to revise the charges to reflect the true culpability of this officer."

Crump and fellow lawyer S. Lee Merritt said the Floyd family rejects the medical examiner's autopsy and have retained a doctor to conduct an independent autopsy. Crump compared the preliminary findings to that of Eric Garner "and so many other cases where people who work with the city come up with things that are such an illusion - he had asthma, he had a heart condition - all these things that are irrelevant when they were living, breathing, walking, talking, just fine until the police accosted them," he told ABC News.

Newsweek reached out to Freeman's office for additional comments Saturday afternoon as well as Crump's law office. Freeman noted during his Friday remarks that he "anticipates charges" against the other three officers present during the time of Floyd's arrest and death.

Legal experts and media pundits alike floated predictions Saturday that prosecutors have set the Minneapolis police officer up to be exonerated from the charges. Martin Luther King III, son of the civil rights icon, called for law enforcement agencies across the country to ban chokeholds.

CNN contributor and attorney Van Jones said Saturday that the charges against Chauvin are flimsy at best. He compared it to contrived 1990s police reports which blamed the deaths of black suspects on "sudden in-custody death syndrome."

"I've never heard of third-degree murder. I'm an attorney. I'm in my 50s. I've never heard of third-degree murder," Van Jones said. "You know, if you have third degree murder, this guy is going to plea down to a traffic ticket. I've been black a long time. We're not stupid. This is the beginning of an exoneration, not a conviction."

Minnesota sentencing guidelines recommend 12-and-a-half years for a conviction on the third-degree murder charge and four years for the manslaughter charge. Under Minnesota state law, murder in the third degree is committed when death occurred without intent or premeditation.

"Whoever, without intent to effect the death of any person, causes the death of another by perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind, without regard for human life, is guilty of murder in the third degree," reads the Minnesota statute for murder in the third degree.

george floyd i cant breathe
The Hennepin County criminal complaint against ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin describes how George Floyd could not breathe prior to his restraint, prompting legal speculation the charges against Chauvin may not hold up in court. ADAM BERRY / Stringer/Getty Images