The fired Minneapolis police officer who held his knee to George Floyd’s neck for about nine minutes agreed to plead guilty to third-degree murder days after Floyd’s death, but then-Attorney General William Barr rejected the deal.
Derek Chauvin and the three other officers involved were fired days after Floyd’s death on May 25 and later arrested. Chauvin faces second-degree murder charges and is scheduled for trial in March. The other three are charged with aiding and abetting and are to be tried together in the summer.
The details of the failed deal were first reported Thursday by The New York Times.
A former Justice Department official confirmed the failed deal to NBC News, saying that both politically appointed and career Department of Justice officials had rejected the idea.
“His lawyers were trying to rush us, and we didn’t want to be rushed,” the official said.
Chauvin’s lawyer, Eric Nelson, declined to comment Thursday.
A spokesperson for Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who is leading the prosecution, said he could not comment because it covers a period before Ellison was assigned to the case.
Lacey Severins, a spokeswoman for the Hennepin County attorney’s office, which was handling the case at the time, said: “As is typical in many cases, early negotiations can occur between all relevant parties involved. Many times, a defendant will explore their options with a negotiation. It is also common for these types of discussions to happen in the beginning of a case and then have no agreed upon negotiations develop. This case was no different. Negotiations were discussed, nothing developed.”
Floyd’s death sparked nationwide protests and renewed calls for an end to police brutality and racial inequities.
“As part of the deal, officials now say, he was willing to go to prison for more than 10 years,” the Times reported. “Local officials, scrambling to end the community’s swelling anger, scheduled a news conference to announce the deal.”
But the deal fell apart, the Times reported, citing three law enforcement officials, because Barr worried that it was too early in the investigation and would be perceived as too lenient. Barr also wanted to allow state officials taking over the case time to make their own decisions, the Times reported.
Chauvin had asked to serve his time in a federal prison, and the deal was contingent on the federal government’s approval because Chauvin wanted assurance he would not face federal civil rights charges, the Times reported.
It would be highly unusual for the Justice Department to agree in advance to stop a civil rights investigation and forgo any possible federal prosecution before state proceedings have fully played out.
The incident involving Floyd was recorded by a bystander and widely shared on social media.
The video shows Floyd begging, “Please, please, please, I can’t breathe. My stomach hurts. My neck hurts. Please, please. I can’t breathe,” before he went silent.