The Department of Justice is ramping up its investigation into former police officer Derek Chauvin over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year, the New York Times and the Star Tribune reported Tuesday.
Unnamed sources told the Star Tribune that new witnesses have been called and a new grand jury has been empaneled this week. The New York Times first reported the development, adding that the investigation has narrowed its focus to Chauvin instead of the three other former officers also facing state charges in Floyd’s death.
In May, the federal investigation was launched into whether Chauvin and the other officers violated Floyd’s civil rights. “As is the typical practice, the state’s charging decisions will be made first,” Barr said in a statement at the time.
Federal civil rights prosecutions against law enforcement officers must prove the defendant acted “willfully,” meaning they specifically intended to violate someone’s protected constitutional rights. The crime does not have to be motivated by racial bias, according to the Justice Department.
A bill was proposed in July, called the Breathe Act, that would change the standard for prosecuting federal civil rights cases from “willfully” to “knowingly or recklessly.”
The Justice Department has previously investigated several high profile police killings of Black Americans including Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown and more recently Jacob Blake, but officers have rarely been charged.
‘An enormous red flag’:After George Floyd’s death, some call for a broader federal investigation
The Tribune reported that the federal investigation involves a 2017 incident in which Chauvin allegedly jammed his knee into the back of a 14-year-old boy who said he couldn’t breathe during an arrest. In January, a judge ruled that several previous incidents involving Chauvin’s use of force or restraint techniques could not be brought up during the Minnesota state trial.
Chauvin was seen on video kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd cried out that he couldn’t breathe. Floyd’s death on May 25 sparked nationwide protests for months across the country against systemic racism and police brutality.
Chauvin was fired soon after Floyd’s death and his trial for state charges, including second-degree murder and manslaughter, is set to begin March 8. He is out on bail and has pleaded not guilty to the charges brought by state prosecutors after Barr personally blocked a plea deal last year, officials told the Associated Press.
The deal would have averted any potential federal charges, including a civil rights offense, according to two law enforcement officials with direct knowledge of the talks that spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the talks.
The National Guard has been activated and hundreds of law enforcement officers are set to guard Minneapolis as authorities prepare more unrest ahead of the trial next month.
The three other former officers – Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao – are charged with aiding and abetting both counts. They are scheduled to stand trial together in August.
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Contributing: The Associated Press
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