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Forsyth County sheriff speaks out against actions of Minneapolis police in George Floyd’s death
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Demonstrators march in Atlanta on Friday, May 29, 2020, in response to the death of 46-year-old George Floyd, the black man who died shortly after being taken into custody by a white officer in Minnesota. - photo by Ben Hendren

Forsyth County Sheriff Ron Freeman released a statement Saturday on Facebook addressing the death of 46-year-old George Floyd, the black man who died shortly after being taken into custody by a white officer in Minnesota, calling the officer’s actions an “abuse of power” and for justice to help the nation heal.

Freeman joined a chorus of law enforcement leaders around the country who spoke out after video surfaced of 44-year-old Derek Chauvin, a now-former officer with the Minneapolis Police Department, pressing his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as the handcuffed and unarmed man said he couldn’t breathe and became unresponsive. Floyd later died. 

Chauvin was fired and charged with murder. Three other officers at the incident who watched Chauvin pin Floyd but didn’t intervene were also fired.

The incident sparked days of demonstrations in dozens of cities around the country, including in Atlanta on Friday.

“No good cop has watched this and wasn’t outraged,” Freeman said. “No good cop is trying to justify this.”

Freeman released an internal email sent to Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office employees earlier this week in which he asked them to discuss the incident and consider its impact for law enforcement officers.

In it, Freeman said Chauvin’s use of force on Floyd was “an abuse of power, not a lack of training or a mistake, regardless of the cause of death.” The other officers there had “a duty to intervene,” he said.

Freeman stopped short of saying race was a factor in Floyd’s death but said “this was not a cop doing his job and everything went sideways. This was a failure of the heart.”

But the incident is sure to affect the FCSO’s interactions with the public, Freeman said.

“This is a body shot to our entire profession, one that will be difficult to recover from,” Freeman said. “We all have to rise to the occasion to set the example for others, an example of how law enforcement officers and their community can stand together for safety and maintain mutual respect and trust.”

In further statements, Freeman said FCSO has a “strenuous” hiring process to find deputies who are “honest and servant-spirited.” The agency makes an effort to be transparent with the public through the use of body cams on its deputies and dash cams in agency vehicles. FCSO deputies are also trained on how to “recognize implicit bias” during arrests, he said. Freeman added that the agency is willing “to confront bad behavior in their own ranks and hold each other accountable.”

“Evil must be removed before it can do harm,” Freeman added, “and the only way law enforcement works, the only way for a community to be safe and successful, is for the citizens to have trust for and give consent to those who serve to protect them.”

Authorities say Floyd was detained Monday, May 25, because he matched the description of someone who tried to pay with a counterfeit bill at a convenience store, and the 46-year-old resisted arrest. 

A bystander's disturbing video shows Chauvin kneeling on Floyd's neck, even as Floyd begs, “I can’t breathe.”

It’s the same phrase used by a New York man, Eric Garner, after he was placed in a chokehold by police in 2014 and later died. Garner’s words became a rallying cry across the country, written on signs and chanted by demonstrators.

The phrase was written on signs and chanted by demonstrators in Atlanta on Friday in response to Floyd’s death. 

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Demonstrators march in Atlanta on Friday, May 29, 2020, in response to the death of 46-year-old George Floyd, the black man who died shortly after being taken into custody by a white officer in Minnesota. - photo by Ben Hendren

Peaceful protestors marched from Centennial Olympic Park to the state Capitol and back. They listened to speakers and said a prayer, said attorney Gerald Griggs, a leader in the local NAACP.

After the protest ended, a splinter group of outsiders confronted police and became violent and destructive, Griggs said. That violence then continued into the early hours of Saturday.

Gov. Brian Kemp said Saturday he's authorized up to 1,500 National Guard troops to deploy throughout Atlanta “to maintain order and address hotspots of illegal activity.”

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.