Lawyers for former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin began their defense Tuesday by calling an expert witness who testified that the force used on George Floyd was justified.
After the prosecution rested its case earlier in the day, Chauvin’s attorney Eric Nelson called six witnesses, including a now retired Minneapolis police officer who arrested Floyd in 2019.
Throughout the first 12 days of the trial, Nelson has attempted to show, through his line of questioning and opening statement, that Floyd was under the influence of narcotics during his arrest on May 25, 2020, and was combative, resisting police. According to Nelson, Chauvin and his three fellow officers, who also face criminal charges, did the best they could in an unpredictable situation.
Chauvin, 45, is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death.
Here are some key moments from the first day of the defense’s case
Use-of-force expert: Chauvin’s restraint on Floyd was reasonable
Barry Brodd, a use-of-force expert, testified Tuesday that, based on his review of video footage and the department’s use-of-force policies, he believed Chauvin had acted in a reasonable manner when pinning Floyd to the pavement with his knee.
“I felt that Derek Chauvin was justified and was acting with objective reasonableness, following Minneapolis Police Department policy and current standards of law enforcement in his interactions with Mr. Floyd,” Brodd said.
Brodd’s assessment was in stark contrast to multiple state witnesses, including Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo and use-of-force expert Seth Stoughton, who testified that Chauvin’s actions were contrary to department policy and were not appropriate.
“That level of force to a person handcuffed behind their back … that in no way, shape or form is anything that’s by policy,” Arradondo testified on April 5.
Brodd told the jury that Floyd’s resistance continued when officers pinned him to the ground, thus justifying their decision to remain on Floyd as he cried out that he could not breathe.
“I certainly don’t have medical degrees,” Brodd said, “but I was always trained and feel it’s a reasonable assumption that if somebody says ‘I’m choking, I’m choking,’ — well you’re not choking because you can breathe. If somebody is saying they can’t breathe, [and] it appears to me [that] they’re taking full breaths and they’re shouting — to me, the lay person, they can breathe.”
But under cross-examination from the prosecution, Brodd acknowledged that positional asphyxia — which was defined earlier by a medical expert as a lack of oxygen in the body — was a concern.
“And the greater the pressure being exerted,” prosecuting attorney Steve Schleicher asked, “the more of a potential danger of positional asphyxia. Fair?”
“Yes,” Brodd said.
Witness described Floyd as ‘happy’ and ‘alert’ before he ‘suddenly fell asleep’
Shawanda Hill, a friend of Floyd’s who was with him at the Cup Foods convenience store, testified that there was nothing unusual about Floyd’s behavior prior to his encounter with the police. “Happy. Normal. Talking. Alert,” she said, under questioning from Nelson.
Hill said she was in Floyd’s vehicle with him after he left Cup Foods and that he “suddenly fell asleep.” He was still asleep when Cup Foods employees approached the vehicle and confronted Floyd about a counterfeit bill he had used to purchase cigarettes. They were not able to wake him, Hill said. It wasn’t until police officers approached the car that Floyd woke up, she said.
After Hill testified, body camera footage taken by city parks officer Peter Chang was played for the jury. The video showed Hill standing across the street from the store as police engaged Floyd. Hill does not seem to know what’s happening, and Chang prevents her from getting closer to the scene until an ambulance arrives.
An officer is heard in the body camera footage telling Hill that Floyd is “gone. He’s in the hospital.”
Jurors hear about Floyd’s 2019 arrest
Nelson’s first witness was Scott Creighton, a now retired Minneapolis police officer, who pulled over a vehicle on May 6, 2019, in which Floyd was a passenger. Creighton said he conducted the traffic stop around 5 p.m. and gave commands to a person in the passenger seat, who was later identified in body camera footage as Floyd.
Creighton testified that Floyd was “noncompliant to my commands. I then had to physically reach in because I wanted to see his hands. … I couldn’t see his hands,” he said. Creighton removed Floyd from the vehicle and handcuffed him.
“Did you make any observations as to the passenger’s behavior?” Nelson asked.
“In my mind his behavior was very nervous, anxious,” Creighton said.
Nelson introduced into evidence Creighton’s body camera footage of the encounter. The footage showed Creighton approaching the passenger’s side, telling Floyd to undo his seatbelt and to keep his hands where he can see them.
“Please don’t shoot me,” Floyd is heard saying in response.
“I don’t plan on shooting you,” Creighton replied. “Relax, just undo your seatbelt.”
Floyd’s hands are raised but he did not put them on the dash when Creighton asked him to. Creighton then began to yell at Floyd. “Put your hands on the dash, [this is] the last time I’m going to tell you,” Creighton said, appearing to draw his gun.
Prosecuting attorney Erin Eldridge asked Creighton whether he had his gun drawn as he approached Floyd.
“Yes,” Creighton said.
“And when you approached Mr. Floyd, he said ‘Don’t shoot me, man. I don’t want to get shot.’ Right?” Eldridge asked.
“Right. Something like that.”
Chauvin’s defense has argued that the prior arrest — which prosecutors sought to have excluded from the record — is relevant because, as with the May 25, 2020, arrest, drugs were found in the car.
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