May 26 (UPI) -- The Minneapolis Police Department fired four officers Tuesday in response to a video appearing to show one officer keeping his knee on the neck of a handcuffed man who later died.
Activists and the family of the deceased man, George Floyd, who was black, have decried the police use of force as racially motivated.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey announced the firings in a news conference.
"This is the right call," Frey tweeted.
"Being black in America should not be a death sentence," he said. "For 5 minutes we watched as a white officer pressed his knee to the neck of a black man, for 5 minutes. When you hear someone calling for help, you are supposed to help, this officer failed in the most basic human sense."
Police Chief Medaria Arradondo told reporters he would cooperate fully as the investigation proceeds and the department will have its own internal investigation.
He added that based on additional information he received, he called in federal authorities to conduct a probe because he's concerned about possible civil rights violations.
Frey said during the press conference that he understands that people are angry and have the right to protest, but urged caution and continued social distancing because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Floyd's arrest happened near a Cup Foods at the intersection of Chicago Avenue and 38th Street on Monday. Police were called to investigate a report of someone trying to pay with a counterfeit bill at the grocery store and found a man matching the suspect's description on the hood of his car, according to police and scanner audio posted online.
Police spokesman John Elder said officers took Floyd into custody after he "physically resisted," adding that their body cameras were turned on and the way he was held was not a department-authorized chokehold.
"In my years as an officer, that would not be what I would ever consider a chokehold," Elder said.
Elder could not comment on whether Floyd, thought to have been in his 40s, had any pre-existing medical conditions, but said that he appeared to be under the influence of alcohol or a narcotic.
He also said that an ambulance was called after officers handcuffed him and noticed he was in "medical distress."
A police statement released shortly after the incident said Floyd died Monday night at a nearby hospital shortly after his arrest, but bystanders were skeptical of the police account.
In the bystanders can be heard pleading with the officer to take his knee off Floyd's neck.
Officers have not released the name of the officer who is shown pinning down Floyd in the video or other officers involved.
"The man looked already dead before the ambulance even got there," Frazier told NBC News. "He was clearly trying to tell them he couldn't breathe and they ignored him."
A bystander streamed the footage on Facebook Live, and the archived footage has been watched tens of thousands of times.
Nekima Levy-Armstrong, a local activist, said watching the video reminded her of the 2014 death of Eric Garner, who died after a New York police officer put him in a chokehold.
"It just reminds me of Eric Garner once again: a black man being accosted by police and pleading for his life saying he couldn't breathe," Levy-Armstrong said.
A grand jury decided against indicting officers in the Garner case, resulting in widespread protests.