What happened the day George Floyd died in police custody?

Documents and video evidence provide a detailed – and at times contradictory – account of the day Floyd was killed.

Protesters gather amid nationwide unrest following the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S., June 1, 2020. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Protesters gather amid nationwide unrest following the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd [Lucas Jackson/Reuters]

The killing of George Floyd on May 25 has triggered unprecedented protests in the United States, with curfews being imposed in cities across the country and President Donald Trump briefly evacuated to a bunker during a night of violent demonstrations.

One former police officer involved in the killing, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter. Three other officers at the scene – Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao – were charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder. All four of the officers had already been fired.


Here’s what happened on the day Floyd died, according to publicly available documents and news reports:

911 call

A transcript (PDF) of the emergency call between someone working at a shop where Floyd allegedly attempted to pay for goods with a counterfeit $20 bill details the events leading up to the police call, from the shopkeeper’s perspective.

The person at the shop, whose name is redacted, claimed they asked Floyd to return cigarettes that he purchased with the allegedly fake $20 bill. Floyd refused and was “awfully drunk”.

However, the caller said Floyd didn’t appear to be leaving the premises and remained in his car.

“Alright, I’ve got help on the way. If that vehicle or that person leaves before we get there, just give us a call back, otherwise we’ll have squads out there shortly, okay?” the 911 dispatcher said.

Police arrive

According to the criminal complaint (PDF) against Chauvin, police arrived at the scene at 8:08pm local time.

It said officer Thomas Lane was speaking to Floyd, who was in the driver’s seat of his car. Lane pulled his gun on Floyd until he put his hands on the steering wheel.

Lane then “pulled” Floyd out of the car. The complaint said Floyd “actively resisted being handcuffed”, but then became compliant.

Mahmoud Abumayyaleh, the owner of the shop where Floyd used the allegedly counterfeit bill, told CNN he reviewed his own surveillance footage and saw no resistance from Floyd when officers attempted to take him into custody.

At 8:14pm, as Floyd was being led to the police car, he “fell to the ground, and told the officers he was ‘claustrophobic'”.

Floyd was allegedly noncompliant with getting into the car, according to the complaint. He “struggled with the officers by intentionally falling down”, it said.

After apparently getting him into the vehicle, at 8:19pm Chauvin “pulled” Floyd “out of the passenger side of the squad car”. Floyd “went to the ground face down and still handcuffed”.

Chauvin placed “placed his knee in the area of Mr Floyd’s head and neck”, the complaint said. Officer Kueng held Floyd’s back and Lane held his legs.


Floyd repeatedly told officers he couldn’t breathe multiple times, saying “please” and “Mama”, both the complaint and harrowing video of his death show.

Chauvin’s knee remained on Floyd’s neck, and the other officers did not change positions. They told Floyd he was “talking fine” in response to his claims that he could not breathe.

Lane asked Chauvin: “Should we roll him on his side?”

Chauvin responded: “No, staying put where we got him.”

Lane said he was “worried about excited delirium or whatever”.

Excited delirium is a condition characterised “by agitation, aggression, acute distress and sudden death, often in the pre-hospital care setting”, according to research from 2011.

The designation has been around since the 1800s, but has gained recent notoriety for its use in explaining deaths involving police officers, the study said.

While more research was needed at the time, “it is important to note that a lack of recognition of the condition in the context of law enforcement activities does not negate the significance of the behavioral and physical signs”, it said.

Chauvin said in response to the expressed concern about excited delirium, “That’s why we have him on his stomach.”

At 8:24pm, Floyd stopped moving. A minute later, “the video appears to show Mr Floyd ceasing to breathe or speak”.

A police officer checked his pulse and said, “I couldn’t find one” at 8:25pm. The officers remained in their positions.

At 8:27pm, Chauvin took his knee off Floyd’s neck.

“The defendant had his knee on Mr Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in total,” the complaint said. “Two minutes and 53 seconds of this was after Mr Floyd was non-responsive. Police are trained that this type of restraint with a subject in a prone position is inherently dangerous.”

Autopsy report

Two autopsy reports released on Monday – one from county officials and another from independent experts – both listed Floyd’s death as a homicide. However, they differ in the cause.

The independent report found Floyd died from “asphyxiation from sustained pressure”, resulting from Chauvin’s knee and body weight being placed on Floyd’s neck, with other officers kneeling on his back.

The Hennepin County medical examiner’s office lists Floyd’s cause of death as “Cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression”.

Cardiopulmonary arrest means Floyd’s heart failed. There was no mention of asphyxiation. The county report also lists the presence of fentanyl, an opioid similar to morphine, in his system and “recent methamphetamine use”.

However, the report does not say how much of either drug Floyd ingested.

The cause of death was listed as “Homicide”.

The report stated the manner of death “is a statutory function of the medical examiner, as part of death certification for purpose of vital statistics and public health”.

The report’s determination on Floyd’s death “is not a legal determination of culpability or intent, and should not be used to usurp the judicial process”, it added.

Lawyers for Floyd’s family told CNN: “Whether or not he was intoxicated or had medications in his system is irrelevant to the cause of death, which is homicide, which is death by the hand of another.”

What’s happened since

The US has erupted in protests over Floyd’s death.

More than 350 cities have seen demonstrations and National Guard troops, a component of the US Army, have been deployed in at least 23 states to handle the sometimes violent demonstrations.

Looting has also been common.

Media members, demonstrators, and medics have faced excessive force from police. Some police officers have marched alongside demonstrators in certain cities, avoiding conflict.

Trump and members of his government have called for harsh crackdowns on the protests, and threatened to designate Antifa, a loose conglomeration of anti-fascist activists, as a “terrorist” organisation.

Trump has also threatened to deploy the military to deal with the unrest, prompting criticism and accusations.

Source: Al Jazeera