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Minnesota Attorney General On George Floyd Case, Protests

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Protests swelled across the country last night.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: When black lives are under attack, what do we do?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: This is the Portland Police Bureau. You need to disperse from the area. Head home...

SIMON: That was sound from Portland, Ore. At a federal building in Oakland, Calif., a protective service officer was killed and another wounded from gunfire. And in Detroit, police say a 19-year-old man was killed after an unknown person fired shots into a crowd. More demonstrations around the country are expected today as protesters demand justice for George Floyd, a black man who died after he was handcuffed and pinned to the ground by a white police officer. Derek Chauvin - now a former Minneapolis police officer - is charged with third degree murder and manslaughter. We are joined now by Keith Ellison, who is the attorney general of the state of Minnesota. Mr. Attorney General, thanks so much for being with us.

KEITH ELLISON: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: What do you say to protesters in Minneapolis who told our reporters last night, look. There were at least four officers involved - they all ought to be charged?

ELLISON: And they may well be. The Hennepin County attorney, which is the prosecuting authority, is reviewing those charges. I think that there was probable cause for the charges that have been issued against Chauvin. And I think that that was something that we felt there was a certain urgency to do not because of crowd pressure but because it was just important to bring swift justice. I don't think that people should conclude that this investigation is finished in any way. It's moving forward. The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is still digging into the facts of this case and the culpability of everybody who was involved.

And so I would say - I would ask them for something that they have every right to not want to give, which is patience - but not patience to just sit around and wait. They should continue to protest peacefully and demand justice. I don't want to urge them to back off that at all, but I just want to let them know that their voices are being heard. We understand the seriousness of this problem. And nobody who was on the scene, who has a degree of culpability is - has been declined or have been released or is free from investigation.

SIMON: So there could be more charges?

ELLISON: Could be.

SIMON: I have to ask you a difficult question. You're the attorney general of the state of Minnesota. I think it's an argument that, obviously, whoever winds up defending George Floyd and others may try to advance this video of George Floyd - I'm sorry - whoever winds up, obviously, defending the case of former Officer Chauvin might try and make this case. The video of George Floyd dying during his arrest has been shown around the world and police actions widely denounced. Do you worry that any police officers charged will be able to receive a fair trial?

ELLISON: Yeah, I'm confident that they will. I mean, the truth is we have a very diverse state. And this would not be the most - first high-profile case that's ever been tried. I mean, how many people were unaware of who O.J. Simpson was? But yet we still tried that case. Right? I mean, the fact is high-profile cases...

SIMON: And he was acquitted.

ELLISON: He was. But the fact is that, you know, the question is, can you get a fair trial? And my answer is yes, he can. And I think that he will. And I think that - look. You know, it's not the job of the Hennepin County attorney just to get a conviction. It's his job to make sure that you have - to do justice. And a conviction, I think, is warranted. And, of course, you can't even charge a case unless you believe that. So what I'm saying is not prejudicing the case - the fact that there's a criminal complaint presupposes the belief that there will be a conviction. But I think, yeah, there will be a fair trial. And I hope that it results in justice for the community and for all.

SIMON: The attorney general of the state of Minnesota, Keith Ellison. Thank you, Mr. Attorney General, for being with us.

ELLISON: You got it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.