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Justice Department Brings Federal Criminal Charges Against Derek Chauvin

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The Justice Department has now filed federal criminal charges against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for unconstitutional use of force against George Floyd. Chauvin was already convicted of state murder and manslaughter charges. The new federal case adds to the legal troubles of Chauvin and the three other former police officers on the scene. NPR national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson has been following the story and joins us now.

Hey, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hey there, Ailsa.

CHANG: So just so we're clear, Chauvin was found guilty of murder at the state level. So what are these new federal charges he's facing now?

JOHNSON: He faces a bunch of new federal charges. One is that Chauvin used excessive force and deprived George Floyd of his constitutional rights when he knelt on Floyd's neck and back for nine minutes and 29 seconds. The court papers point out Floyd was handcuffed and was not resisting the officer at the time. Chauvin's also accused of ignoring Floyd's distress and failing to get him proper medical attention. Finally, a federal grand jury charged Chauvin in a separate incident from 2017. This is a new thing. The grand jury says Chauvin had no legal justification to use a neck restraint against a 14-year-old boy and that Chauvin also beat the teenager in the head with a flashlight.

CHANG: Well, the grand jury in Minneapolis did not stop there. I understand that there are new charges against the three other police officers who were with Chauvin that night last May when George Floyd was killed, right?

JOHNSON: New charges against them, yes. Two former officers, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng, are facing federal charges for what they didn't do, Ailsa. The Justice Department says they didn't intervene when Chauvin used excessive force on George Floyd and that they made a decision not to get medical attention for Floyd when he was crying for help. A third officer, Thomas Lane, faces that charge about failure to get medical help for Floyd, too. All three of these men already face trial in August on state charges.

CHANG: And what kind of reaction are you hearing so far to all of this?

JOHNSON: The attorney general in Minnesota, Keith Ellison, said the new federal charges are, quote, "entirely appropriate." Ellison basically welcomed the involvement of the Justice Department here. He says the federal government has a responsibility to protect the civil rights of every American and to pursue justice to the fullest extent of federal law.

And Derrick Johnson, the head of the NAACP, said the charges are a step in the right direction. But he's also calling on Congress to act to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. That bill would ban chokeholds and create a national registry of police misconduct. It would also get rid of a legal shield that protects officers from some lawsuits. President Biden has asked lawmakers to get a bill to his desk by the anniversary of Floyd's death, May 25, but it's not clear that that's going to happen.

CHANG: Right. Well, I understand the Justice Department is still on the ground in Minneapolis, doing a broader investigation. What's the latest there?

JOHNSON: Yeah. Civil rights investigators are looking for problems across the system. They're meeting with the community. They're meeting with police officers themselves to get feedback, get some answers to questions. They're looking at whether there's a pattern or practice of discrimination or excessive force by police in Minneapolis. They're looking at accountability systems for officers who break the rules. They're looking at whether there's mistreatment and patterns of mistreatment of people with disabilities and whether police routinely abuse protesters engaged in peaceful First Amendment activity. This investigation could really take months, if not longer. So far, the mayor and the police chief are pledging cooperation. And the attorney general, Merrick Garland, says if they do find some problems, the Justice Department intends to issue a full public report detailing all of that.

CHANG: That is NPR's Carrie Johnson.

Thank you, Carrie.

JOHNSON: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE WHITEFIELD BROTHERS' "SAFARI STRUT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.