A new federal grand jury has been empaneled in Minneapolis and the Justice Department has called new witnesses as part of its investigation of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer who will go on trial in state court next month on a murder charge for the death of George Floyd, reports the New York Times. The new crop of witnesses subpoenaed is a sign that the federal investigation into the death of Floyd, which began last year and then faded, is getting fresh attention under the Biden administration. Rather than intended as a means of indicting Chauvin before his state trial beginning March 8, the DOJ presentation of new evidence to a new grand jury is seen as “just in case” that would decide if the former officer would face a trial for violating Floyd’s civil rights in the event that he is acquitted of state charges. The charge does not involve race but is based on the idea that an officer “willfully” violated someone’s constitutional rights, such as protection against unreasonable seizure or the right to due process. The new investigation has also narrowed to focus on Chauvin, rather than the three other former officers who face charges.
The department has previously opened up investigations into several high-profile assaults and killings of Black people by police officers—including the killings of Eric Garner on Staten Island, Tamir Rice in Cleveland, and Michael Brown in Ferguson— but it has rarely charged officers in those cases. Former Justice Department officials say that is in part because the department has only one charge it can bring in these cases—that in the course of policing, an officer willfully deprived someone of his or her civil rights—and that charge is difficult to prove. While the statue has seldom been used in high-profile police assault and killing cases, it was successful in convicting the two officers who assaulted Rodney King even after they were acquitted on separate state charges. Three days after Floyd died on May 25, Chauvin was ready to plead guilty to third-degree murder and go to prison for more than a decade. But the offer fell apart after former Attorney General Barr rejected the deal, which had been contingent on the Justice Department’s agreement not to bring additional federal charges in the future. Chauvin, who is free on bail and has been allowed to live outside Minnesota because of security concerns, is charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.