Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill on Thursday dismissed one of the murder charges against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who killed George Floyd after kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Cahill ruled that there was no probable cause required to maintain the allegations of third-degree murder for Chauvin's role in Floyd's death.
Cahill did not, however, dismiss the other, more serious charges against Chauvin, including second-degree murder and manslaughter, nor did he dismiss charges against the other three former Minneapolis police officers involved in Floyd's death.
"The court has sustained eight out of nine charges against the defendants in the murder of George Floyd, including the most serious charges against all four defendants,” Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said in a statement after Cahill's ruling was announced. “This means that all four defendants will stand trial for murder and manslaughter, both in the second degree. This is an important, positive step forward in the path toward justice for George Floyd, his family, our community, and Minnesota. We look forward to presenting the prosecution’s case to a jury in Hennepin County."
At the heart of Cahill's decision to drop the third-degree murder charge was a question of whether or not Chauvin's actions were directed specifically at Floyd, or whether his behavior was posed a risk to any and everyone nearby.
"Because a third-degree murder charge can be sustained only in situations in which the defendant's actions were 'eminently dangerous to other persons' and were not specifically directed at the particular person whose death occurred, this is not an appropriate case for a third-degree murder charge," Cahill explained in his lengthy ruling.
Notably, the ruling also cites the case of fellow former MPD officer Mohamed Noor, who was convicted of third-degree murder for the shooting death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond while responding to her 911 call in 2017. As Cahill explains, Noor's case was different, in that he had put others around him at risk when he fired the shots that killed Damond in a Minneapolis alleyway.
Cahill also denied requests by former officers Tou Thao, Thomas Lane, and J. Alexander Kueng to dismiss charges of aiding and abetting in Floyd's death, ruling that the legal statute allowed for the charges to stand even if the accused only learned of the crime as it was being committed.
Cahill's dismissal of the third-degree murder charge does not go into effect until early next week, to afford prosecutors time to consider whether they want to appeal the ruling. Ellison, in his statement, hinted that his team may be content to let the dismissal stand, saying "we are considering our options in light of the court's strong order on the remaining charges."
Last month, all four officers charged in Floyd's death appeared at a Hennepin County courthouse for a contentious pre-trial hearing that prompted mass protests outside the building. The trial of all four officers is scheduled to begin this coming March.