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Third-degree murder charge dropped against former officer in George Floyd killing

Derek Chauvin still faces a second-degree murder charge.

george floyd memorial
Candles are placed beneath a portrait of George Floyd in honor of his birthday at a memorial site on October 14, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Stephen Maturen/Getty Images
Fabiola Cineas covers race and policy as a reporter for Vox. Before that, she was an editor and writer at Philadelphia magazine, where she covered business, tech, and the local economy.

A Minneapolis judge has dropped the third-degree murder charge against former police officer Derek Chauvin in the May killing of 46-year-old George Floyd that was captured on video and set off protests worldwide.

Chauvin’s attorneys filed a motion to have all charges against Chauvin dropped, but the judge sustained the higher charge of second-degree murder as well as the lower charge of second-degree manslaughter. Video of the killing shows Chauvin pinning Floyd to the ground by his neck with a knee for nearly nine minutes.

In the ruling, Judge Peter Cahill said the third-degree murder charge is only met when the defendant’s actions were “eminently dangerous to other persons” and not directed at the person who was killed.

The judge also sustained all charges for the three other former officers involved in the killing of Floyd: J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, and Tou Thao. All three petitioned to have their charges dropped for lack of probable cause, but each still faces one count of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and one of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.

While Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz called the judge’s decision “a positive step in the path toward justice for George Floyd,” he also called in the National Guard in anticipation of protests over Chauvin’s dropped charge.

While Walz says his decision to call in the National Guard is a precautionary measure, the governor risks inciting violence. One report found that at the protests where violence occurred — fewer than 10 percent — it was usually the result of increased law enforcement presence. Other reports show that protesters had to deescalate the police.

Walz had previously called in 100 National Guard, 100 state troopers, and 75 conservation officers after Chauvin posted $1 million bail on October 7, according to CNN. Protesters rallied upon his release.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who will prosecute Chauvin and the other officers in court before a jury in Hennepin County, called the judge’s dismissal a “positive step forward.”

“The court’s decision to dismiss just one of the lesser charges against just one of the defendants — while leaving intact all the charges against the other three defendants — is based on how appellate courts have interpreted the statute in question,” he said in a statement. We are considering our options in light of the court’s strong order on the remaining charges.”

Floyd’s death ignited widespread Black Lives Matter protests in late May. Five months later, thousands around the country continue to march against police brutality and systemic racism, the ills that protesters say led to the killing of Floyd and countless other Black people. As Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck, outside of the store where Floyd apparently tried to use a $20 counterfeit bill, Floyd called out for his mother and said, “I can’t breathe” — a phrase that had previously galvanized social justice demonstrations.