Sometime around noon on the day after George Floyd died while pleading for breath under a police officer's knee, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo summoned his top staff to a meeting in his office.
He told them that he was leaning toward firing the officer, Derek Chauvin, and three of his colleagues who were involved in Floyd's arrest, but that he wanted a second opinion before any decision, according to interviews and documents describing the nature of the meeting obtained by the Star Tribune.
After wrestling with the "weighty" and "emotional" choice, they all agreed that the officers had to go, a decision that Arradondo announced to the world later that afternoon in a news conference outside of City Hall.
In terminating the officers less than 24 hours after Floyd's death, Arradondo moved more quickly and decisively than his predecessors, who in some cases waited weeks or months to discipline officers for alleged misconduct — and even then only after intense public pressure.
"They all unequivocally agreed that, that was the right decision to do," Arradondo said in a recorded interview with agents from the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) and the FBI. "I don't want to surround myself with 'yes people' and I did tell them this is, and it was a weighty, weighty decision. And it was an emotional decision."
Before the meeting, Arradondo had sought the advice of community leaders like Spike Moss, a local civil rights pioneer.
Moss said in an interview that the chief had always shown a willingness to consult with various groups before making major decisions.
"We were working on the changes that had been necessary way before George Floyd died," he said.
Taking the witness stand Monday in the murder trial of Chauvin, Arradondo testified that one of his deputy chiefs called him at home last May 25 to tell him about the encounter with Floyd — who hadn't yet been pronounced dead — prompting Arradondo to contact Mayor Jacob Frey before heading to City Hall, where he watched footage from a city-owned camera. He said in the interview with BCA and FBI agents several weeks after Floyd's death that the gravity of what happened didn't sink in until after he watched the now infamous Facebook video of Floyd saying that he couldn't breathe after three officers got on top of him. It was then that Arradondo made the decision to contact the FBI to investigate the case, he told the agents.
He told the agents that he spent the next several hours reaching out to Black faith leaders and community activists to inform them of what happened, recognizing that "by sunrise this was going to ignite a lot of emotion," according to documents describing the interview.
Bishop Richard Howell, of Shiloh Temple International Ministries, said that he and other leaders met with Arradondo around 10 a.m. on May 26, the day after Floyd died, when the chief told them he was torn about what to do. Arradondo described the footage to those who hadn't seen it, Howell said, and "shared his concerns about the video, about what actually happened."
An FBI official in attendance raised the possibility of a civil rights investigation, Howell recalled, to which someone in the room questioned whether Floyd's death was "a matter of civil rights or human rights."
He said at one point the mayor joined the meeting and the conversation briefly turned to the best course of action after people in the community saw the video. Some speakers asked about the city's readiness for the possibility of protests.
"Now at the time, the word 'murder,' 'killing,' that wasn't really tossed around, but also it was a matter of concern because we knew the city would not receive this well," Howell said. "An activist who was in the room told us that there was going to be a 'war.' "
Others in the room included prominent activists such as Nekima Levy Armstrong, Al Flowers and former Minneapolis NAACP President Leslie Redmond.
Another attendee, Steven Belton, president and CEO of the Urban League Twin Cities, said in an interview that at some point the meeting turned into a question-and-answer session, as he and others pressed Arradondo on whether he intended to fire the officers for their conduct.
He said the chief listened patiently and tried to answer their questions. Belton said Arradondo told them that he would talk his options over with Frey, who as mayor is in charge of the Police Department but doesn't have the authority to fire individual officers.
Among the many considerations facing Arradondo was weighing the potential fallout from firing the officers so quickly after the incident, Belton said.
"I think it was extraordinarily courageous for him to do that, but I also don't think that it was based on community pressure — it was based on personal conviction," he said of Arradondo's decision, while also crediting Frey for backing his chief.
Around midday, Arradondo huddled in his office with members of his senior command staff: then-Assistant Chief Mike Kjos, and Deputy Chiefs Kathy Waite, Henry Halvorson and Erick Fors; Art Knight, Arradondo's former chief of staff, was out of town, and joined the meeting by phone.
In his later interview with the BCA and the FBI, Arradondo recalled that he hadn't yet made his final decision, but asked the officials gathered about what they thought about firing Chauvin and the other three officers, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao, the documents said.
He said that by then it had dawned on him that Floyd's death was "going to be a significant incident for the city," according to the documents.
"We … had to do the right thing based on the information we had, but we also knew that this was going to really change the image of the department."
Arradondo said that after reaching his decision, he called the mayor to tell him. By 2 p.m. Frey tweeted news of the officers' firings, writing: "This is the right call."
Around the same time, Arradondo and Frey made it public at a news conference, where a clearly shaken Frey was more unequivocal, saying, "Being Black in America should not be a death sentence."
"We not only knew that we were, we had to do the right thing based on the information we had," Arradondo said, according to the documents. "That, of all the great things and all of the good things that this department has done, this one singular horrific incident was going to [be significant] and by the way, this is days before the riots."