Minnesota Governor Tim Walz said Sunday that the State Attorney General Keith Ellison would take the lead in any prosecutions related to the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died on Monday after a white officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes as he pleaded that he could not breathe.
Walz’s decision to appoint Ellison, who is Black, take the lead comes after requests from activists and protesters, some City Council members and a civil rights group, who said putting the attorney general on the case would send a strong message that justice will be vigorously pursued. Walz said Ellison has the experience needed to lead the prosecution.
Earlier Sunday, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, who had been leading the case, said that he had asked Ellison to help him in the case, and Ellison agreed they would be full partners.
“There have been recent developments in the facts of the case where the help and expertise of the Attorney General would be valuable,” Freeman said. He did not elaborate.
But by Sunday evening, Walz said that “unfortunately, our constituents, especially constituents of colour, have lost faith in the ability of Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman to fairly and impartially investigate and prosecute these cases.”
Derek Chauvin, the 44-year-old white officer who knelt on Floyd, was charged Friday with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The three other officers who were involved have not been charged, though Freeman and Ellison have said additional charges are still possible. Chauvin and the three other officers were fired last week.
On Sunday, more than 100 people gathered outside Freeman’s demanding the arrests of all four police officers involved in Floyd’s death, and the resignation of Freeman.
Community leaders and organisers have told Al Jazeera that they have been calling for Ellison to handle the case, saying there is a history of mistrust between Freeman’s office and members of the community. Walz said Floyd’s family had also requested Ellison take over, saying, “They were very clear they wanted the system to work for them, they wanted to believe that there was trust.”
Ellison, who was a US congressman before being elected attorney general, has good ties with the community, organisers have told Al Jazeera. He recently helped lead a state working group on police use of deadly force.
Al Jazeera and news agencies