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3 Minneapolis Officers Involved In George Floyd Death Still Under Investigation

NOEL KING, BYLINE: For a week now, protesters - raw, sad and furious over George Floyd's killing - have held demonstrations across the country. Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who's seen in the cellphone video kneeling on Mr. Floyd's neck, will appear in court next week. He's charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. Three other police officers on the scene were fired, but they haven't been arrested. Prosecutors say they are still under investigation, and they may be charged, but they also may not be. Here's NPR's David Schaper.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) One down.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Three to go.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) One down.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Three to go.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Since Chauvin's arrest, this has been one of the more popular chants in the Minnesota protests of George Floyd's death.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) One down.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Three to go.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) One down.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Three to go.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) One down.

SCHAPER: In the video shot by witnesses, it's officer Chauvin who kneels on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes, while Floyd struggles to breathe, pleads for help and cries out for his late mama. But two other officers helped restrain Floyd, while yet another stands watch. And protesters, like 24-year-old Hakim, 21-year-old Ahmed Muhammed and 24-year-old Jama Ali are outraged that only Chauvin has been arrested.

HAKIM: It's not enough. All four got to be charged.

AHMED MUHAMMED: They should all be charged.

JAMA ALI: We won't go home till all four are prosecuted and in jail. That's it.

HAKIM: This man got killed for no reason.

SCHAPER: Now attorneys for the family of George Floyd say an autopsy they paid for shows those other officers' actions contributed to his death. Here's attorney Antonio Romanucci.

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ANTONIO ROMANUCCI: Not only was the knee on George's neck a cause of his death, but so was the weight of the other two police officers on his back, who not only prevented blood flow into his brain but also airflow into his lungs.

SCHAPER: So Romanucci says officers Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Keung, who forcefully pressed down on Floyd's legs and back - as well as officer Tou Thao, who stood watch - are all criminally liable. In a Minneapolis hotel lobby last night, Floyd family attorney Ben Crump told NPR he believes criminal charges are imminent.

BEN CRUMP: Yes, I expect these other three officers to be arrested before George Floyd is laid to rest.

SCHAPER: But a spokesman for Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison would not confirm that, telling NPR the office continues to conduct a thorough review.

KEITH ELLISON: Let me just tell you something that might not be popular.

SCHAPER: This is Ellison in an interview with NPR this week, as he took over the prosecution.

ELLISON: Prosecuting the police is not an easy thing to do.

SCHAPER: Ellison points to several examples of police officers killing black men who posed no threat, on video, where juries did not convict.

ELLISON: The jury will not be made up exclusively of people who were at a rally. And in fact, if you were at the rally, that might mean that you'd be excluded from the jury. So you got to understand the jury is likely to resolve doubts in favor of the police, who most people trust.

SCHAPER: Nonetheless, legal experts say the videos help build a pretty strong case against Chauvin. But...

MARK OSLER: It's going to be more difficult against the others.

SCHAPER: Mark Osler is a former federal prosecutor who teaches law at the University of St. Thomas.

OSLER: Their defense is likely going to be, you know, we didn't know that, you know, death was going to result. We didn't anticipate that. We didn't have the view that Chauvin did. We weren't committing the acts that Chauvin was.

SCHAPER: But Osler says that doesn't mean it's not worth pursuing charges, especially considering the horrific nature of the killing and its enormous impact on the community.

David Schaper, NPR News, Minneapolis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.