Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s defense team began their case on Tuesday, focusing on George Floyd’s previous arrests and the “very aggressive” crowd that may have spooked officers during the fatal May 25 arrest.
“I felt that Derek Chauvin was justified, was acting with objective reasonableness, following Minneapolis Police Department policy and current standards of law enforcement in his interactions with Mr. Floyd,” Barry Vance Brodd, a former cop and the defense’s use-of-force expert, told jurors in Hennepin County court.
Brodd said that he thought every action Chauvin undertook was justified, and his restraint of Floyd on the pavement was not a “use of force”—but rather a “control technique”—because it didn’t cause Floyd any pain.
He said he would have justified an even higher level of force to get Floyd into the patrol car, and he went so far as to suggest the growing crowd observing the arrest was a greater threat to Chauvin than Floyd at one point.
“I could see that Officer Chauvin’s focus started to move from Mr. Floyd to the crowd,” he said. “At one point he felt threatened enough that he withdrew pepper spray, so now he’s dealing with the bigger threat.”
Chauvin’s defense team began their case on Tuesday by focusing on Floyd’s previous drug history, his behavior during his May arrest, and then Chauvin’s use of force. Eric Nelson, Chauvin’s lawyer, has previously argued that Floyd’s death was partially a result of health issues and drugs—and that his client was simply doing what “he was trained to do throughout his 19-year career.”
Prosecutors called 38 witnesses over 11 potent days of testimony, including the Minneapolis police chief, who said the former officer “absolutely” violated protocol, and three renowned medical experts said Floyd died of low oxygen caused by the cops’ actions alone, rather than drugs or heart disease. Bystanders and other police officers testified that the crowd watching Floyd’s arrest was not so threatening as to warrant excessive force.
On Tuesday, Brodd testified that the prone position, in which a suspect is handcuffed and put face down, is the safest position for both officers and a suspect if a suspect is resisting arrest.
He said there were “relatively valid reasons” to keep Floyd in that position for nine minutes, rather than move him on his side, such as “space limitations,” oncoming traffic, crowd distractions, and Floyd’s ongoing resistance.
But, under intense cross-examination, he eventually conceded that Chauvin’s use of bodyweight on Floyd during the prone restraint “could” have caused pain, thereby making it a “use of force” that would be unjustified if a suspect was no longer posing a threat. He conceded that he hadn’t seen autopsy reports that showed bruising on Floyd’s face and shoulders.
He also conceded that Chauvin used the same degree of force even after Floyd didn’t have a pulse, wasn’t breathing, and wasn’t resisting.
On Tuesday, a Minneapolis Park Police officer, Peter Chang, who responded to Floyd’s arrest to assist metropolitan officers, said that he thought the crowd was “very aggressive” toward the officers. “I was concerned for the officers’ safety because of the crowd, so I wanted to make sure the officers were OK,” he said.
Chang testified on Tuesday that when he arrived at Cup Foods, Floyd was handcuffed and sitting on the sidewalk. Soon after, Lane and Kueng began to struggle with Floyd as they tried to load him in the squad car—but Chang was told to stay by Floyd’s SUV.
In Chang’s never-before-seen body-camera footage, he can be seen talking with Shawanda Hill and Morries Hall, who were both in the car with Floyd. Hill is heard saying that Floyd is “going to jail.”
“Damn, he still won't get in the car; just sit down, George,” Hill can be heard saying. “He's fighting to get out, what is he doing? Now he going to jail.”
The video shows several bystanders yelling at Chauvin and the other officers to get off Floyd. “Something’s going on. They’re taking pictures over there,” Hill is heard saying.
Hill also testified Tuesday, saying Floyd was “happy, talking, [and] alert” when she ran into him at the Cup Foods store that day. Floyd offered her a ride home, she said, but she stepped away when she got a phone call from her daughter. When she returned, Floyd had fallen asleep in the car and remained asleep even when Cup Foods workers came to his car to address the suspected fake $20 bill he’d used to buy cigarettes.
“They were trying to wake him up, trying to wake him up over and over. He woke up, he’ll say something, made a little gesture, and nodded back off,” Hill said.
She said that he fell back asleep but woke up again when cops arrived. She said Floyd immediately put his hands on the wheel and started to plead with officers not to shoot him.
Hill testified that she told Floyd, “‘Baby, that’s the police. Roll down the window.’” Eventually, the officers removed Floyd from his car to put him in a squad car, setting off the chain of events that led to his death.
The Hennepin County Medical Examiner previously testified that Floyd died of “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression”—which he said was “fancy medical lingo for the heart and the lungs stopped… in the setting of law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression.” He said heart disease, fentanyl use, and methamphetamine use were “other significant conditions.”
An independent report commissioned by Floyd’s family, which will not be shown at trial, concluded that he died of strangulation from the pressure to his back and neck. Both reports determined Floyd’s death was a homicide.
On Tuesday, the defense also called retired Minneapolis police officer Scott Creighton to give evidence about his body-camera footage of a May 2019 arrest of Floyd. Floyd can be heard in the footage asking Creighton not to shoot him several times, as Creighton orders him to put his hands on the dashboard and another officer tells him to “spit it out”—implying Floyd ingested drugs.
Michelle Moseng, a retired Hennepin County EMS paramedic of 34 years, also testified that while treating Floyd after the 2019 arrest, he told her he had been taking opioids “every 20 minutes” that day and that he took some just before the officers approached his car.
“It was quite hard to assess him. He was upset and confused,” Moseng said, later adding Floyd said he was “addicted” to opioids.
Chauvin, 45, is on trial for second and third-degree murder as well as second-degree manslaughter. Three other officers involved in Floyd’s arrest—Tou Thao, Thomas K. Lane, and J. Alexander Kueng—will face trial in August on charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder while committing a felony, and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter with culpable negligence.