Derek Chauvin trial: defence opens its case with ex-police officer

Defence attempts to show George Floyd had history of failing to cooperate but he comes across as frightened in video

The defence in the Derek Chauvin murder trial opened its case on Tuesday by attempting to show George Floyd had a history of failing to cooperate with the police while under the influence of drugs.

Scott Creighton, a former Minneapolis police officer, testified that he stopped a vehicle in May 2019 in which Floyd was a passenger and found him incoherent and unable to obey orders.

But the picture that emerged from the testimony and body-camera video may be of limited help to the defence. Floyd comes across as frightened and not threatening, pleading with the police not to shoot him while Creighton and other officers give contradictory orders and rapidly escalate the situation.

One officer tells Floyd to put his hands on the dashboard while another orders him to put them on his head.

“You’re not going to get beat up or nothing if you’re just going to do what we’re asking you to do,” Creighton says to Floyd at one point.

A paramedic who treated Floyd after his 2019 arrest, Michelle Moseng, said he told her he had swallowed opioid pills.

The judge permitted the video and testimony on the grounds it provided medical evidence of Floyd rapidly ingesting drugs when he was stopped by the police, similar to the situation the defence says happened on the day of his death in May last year. But he warned the jurors that they should not use Creighton’s evidence to judge Floyd’s character.

Chauvin, 45, denies charges of second- and third-degree murder, and manslaughter, over the 46-year-old Black man’s death which prompted mass protests for racial justice across the US and other parts of the world. The former officer faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted of the most serious charge.

The focus on Floyd’s alleged intoxication is part of the defence attempt to introduce the idea he may have died from “excited delirium” which caused his heart to fail, a controversial theory that proponents say can be brought on by drugs.

Chauvin’s lawyer, Eric Nelson, called a use of force expert, Barry Brodd, who claimed that the way Floyd was pinned to the ground in a prone position was “not a use of force” and was reasonable in part because of his suspected drug use.

A succession of prosecution medical experts testified last week that Floyd was unable to breathe because he was crushed between the police officers on top of him and the ground, including Chauvin who had his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes.

Brodd said Chauvin was justified in keeping Floyd on the ground in a prone position for “safety reasons” because if he were to get up and run while handcuffed he could trip and fall.

Asked whether the failure to put Floyd on to his side in the recovery position was justified, Brodd said it was because of a lack of space, though they were in the street.

Prosecutors showed Brodd the video of Floyd writhing on the ground, which other witnesses have testified was evidence of his struggle to breathe. Brodd said he interpreted it as evidence that Floyd was still resisting arrest. But under cross-examination, Brodd conceded that Chauvin’s actions did not adhere to his police department’s policies.

Nelson has claimed that Chauvin was distracted from paying full attention to Floyd by angry bystanders. Brodd acknowledged that initially there were only three people watching at some distance and that none of them interfered. He also agreed that a supposed threat from bystanders was not a justification for maintaining the level of force used against Floyd.

Shawanda Hill, who was in the vehicle with Floyd when police arrested him last year, said she met him in a shop a few minutes earlier and he appeared alert, friendly and talkative. But he fell asleep in the car before police banged on the window.

Chauvin’s lawyer, Eric Nelson, attempted to establish from Hill that Floyd behaved in a way that indicated he was under the influence of drugs. But she described her friend as more confused than threatening.

Hill said she repeatedly tried to rouse Floyd and when he finally came round he became frightened when he saw the officers who wanted to question him about an alleged attempt to spend a counterfeit $20 bill. She said he was very startled when an officer pulled a gun.

“He instantly grabbed the wheel and was like, ‘Please, please don’t kill me. Please, please don’t shoot,’” she said.

Hill also said Floyd did not exhibit trouble breathing or complain of chest pains before his arrest.

The prosecution spent 11 days putting its case but the defence is expected to wrap up in four. Closing statements are scheduled for Monday and the case will then go to the jury.

The three other officers at the scene are not expected to give evidence. They are scheduled to be tried later this year on charges of aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.

The authorities have brought in hundreds of national guard troops after the police killing of yet another Black man, Daunte Wright, in a Minneapolis suburb on Sunday stoked tensions further.

Officials claim the officer who shot him, Kim Potter, accidentally pulled out her gun when she meant to reach for her Taser.

The trial continues.


Chris McGreal

The GuardianTramp

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