Day 8 of Derek Chauvin trial testimony concludes
The eighth day of testimony in the Derek Chauvin murder trial has come to a close.
Two major themes have solidified during Wednesday’s testimony. The prosecution has tried to convey through their witnesses that Chauvin’s use-of-force wasn’t necessary. On cross examination, Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, has attempted to argue that this is a situational assessment.
During his cross examination, Nelson has also continued to lay the groundwork for his position that Floyd died from an overdose – not Chauvin’s knee against his neck for more than nine minutes.
Here are some key takeaways from today’s proceedings:
- Sgt Jody Stiger, whom prosecutors called as an expert witness on use-of-force, has said that, “No force should have been used once [Floyd] was in that position.” Stiger has said on the witness stand that: “He was not attempting to evade. He was not attempting to resist,” and that the officers should have considered the fatal risk of asphyxia from keeping Floyd in that position.
- Although Nelson tried hard to get Stiger to say that an officer could see a crowd as a risk (which, by that reasoning, could alter what use of force might be justified), re-direct pretty much shut that idea down. When prosecutors asked Stiger whether Chauvin’s use-of-force was “objectively reasonable or was it not objectively reasonable?” he said: “It was not objectively reasonable.”
- The intensity of Stiger’s testimony didn’t end there. In one of the most damning moments of testimony, he remarks: “As the time went on in the video, clearly you could see Mr Floyd’s medical … his health was deteriorating. His breath was getting lower. His tone of voice was getting lower. His movements were starting to cease. So at that point, as an officer on scene, you have a responsibility to realize that, ‘OK, something is not right’. Something has changed drastically from what was occurring earlier, so therefore you have a responsibility to take some type of action.”
- James Reyerson, a senior special agent for the Minnesota Bureau of Apprehension, which investigates use-of-force by police in the state, gave testimony about the inquiry into Floyd’s death. Nelson has used this testimony in an attempt to try undermining the cautiousness with which authorities approached this investigation.
- Nelson asked Reyerson about video recordings of the arrest. When Reyerson said, “I’ve seen all of them, I’ve reviewed some of them closely, yes,” Nelson responded: “Did you ever hear Mr Floyd say ‘I ate too many drugs’?” When Reyerson said “No,” Nelson played a clip. While Reyerson said on the second question that he does make out those words, it’s important to point out Stiger’s testimony earlier in the day.
- Stiger was asked about the exact same phrase and said, clearly, that he did not hear Floyd say that in the video. Prosecutors call Reyerson back and play a longer version of this recording; Reyerson then clarifies that he thinks Floyd says: “I ain’t do no drugs.”
- Both the Mercedes SUV Floyd was in prior to his arrest, as well as the police squad car on scene, underwent a second forensic examination. While pills were photographed in both vehicles during the first examination on 27 May, they weren’t logged or analyzed until December 2020 and early 2021, respectively. Nelson has tried to suggest that investigators dropped the ball in missing this, to create doubt about the investigation more broadly.
- McKenzie Anderson, a forensic scientist with Minnesota’s criminal apprehension bureau who examined the vehicles, has testified that she did notice apparent pills during the first search. However, Anderson said that she hadn’t been apprised that pills might be significant at the time of the first search.
- Breahna Giles, a forensic scientist with Minnesota’s BCA, gave some quick testimony. She tested two pills. She says they had been labelled oxycodone & acetaminophen but tested positive for methamphetamine and fentanyl.
- Susan Neith, a forensic chemist in Pennsylvania who also tested the pills, has said that levels of methamphetamine found in some of those samples is low, between 1.9% and 2.9%. She routinely encounters street methamphetamine pills containing from 90% to 100% methamphetamine. While this might seem a little in the weeds, pointing out the low potency seems to undermine Nelson’s argument that Floyd died from an overdose.
Testimony resumes Thursday morning at 9am CT.
Breahna Giles, a forensic scientist with Minnesota BCA concluded some brief testimony. She tested two pills found in the Mercedes SUV. She says they had been labelled oxycodone & acetinophen but tested positive for methamphetamine and fentanyl.
Her testimony is very quick and doesn’t directly relate to any interactions between Floyd and Chauvin.
Next up is Susan Neith, a forensic chemist based in Pennsylvania who also examined and tested the pills. She says that levels of methamphetamine found in some of the samples is low, 1.9-2.9%. Frequently she encounters street methamphetamine pills containing between 90-100% methamphetamine.
And with that testimony is complete for the day.
We’ll bring you a summary of what happened shortly.
Some details about the scene inside the courtroom have emerged with this afternoon’s pool report.
The number of reporters is limited due to coronavirus safety precautions, so journalists outside the courtroom are relying upon pool feeds for close-up details.
In short, the jurors seem to be tired.
The pool report says that jurors did not initially take notes during Anderson’s testimony, but watched her testify about how the bureau of criminal apprehension functioned, as well as her qualifications and background.
While they did pay attention to photos of the scene, some panelists leaned back in their chairs. Another juror “is leaning forward with an elbow on his desk,” per the report. One juror “may be dozing,” the report also says. Another might have dozed off.
As Anderson started walking jurors through the Mercedes SUV photos, some jurors started to take notes, the pool report says.
While it might seem shocking that jurors appear to have dozed off during such an important, high-profile trial, jurors sometimes fall asleep during proceedings. It’s a fairly common occurrence at trial, irrespective of the magnitude.
We’re on a short break after the prosecution finish their direct examination of McKenzie Anderson, the crime scene investigator with the BCA.
She has been asked about a second examination of the squad car impounded by investigators after George Floyd’s death.
She confirms that on her second examination, in December 2020, she found two items that were believed were pills or parts of a pill.
She confirms that she tested one for the DNA of George Floyd and found his DNA present. The prosecution have not asked Anderson about the substance of the pills, however and Nelson does not cross examined her.
Anderson also found a number of George Floyd’s blood spots on the back seat of the squad car.
Prosecutors are asking Anderson about the initial 27 May processing of the Mercedes SUV, and the second search in December 2020.
Anderson, presented with photos of the Mercedes’ interior during the first processing, was asked whether there was a pill there.
“Yes, next to the gum up there is a small white pill,” she replies.
“When this photograph was taken, did you have any knowledge that the case involved anything with pills?” prosecutors ask.
“No, not at all,” she says.
Prosecutors then asked her about the December 2020 re-processing of this vehicle.
“I was given specific things to look for,” Anderson says of instructions prior to the re-processing. “I was told to look for Suboxone, pills in the center console, money.”
Suboxone is a prescription medication used to help people battling opioid addiction. You can read more about its medical use here.
Photos shown in court of this second processing show that there was an opened Suboxone packet on the driver’s side floor, and more Suboxone on the driver’s seat. There were also two pills in the center console.
While this might not seem like a great strategy for prosecutors – they are, after all, drawing attention to information that had seemingly been ignored – it actually makes sense.
By asking Anderson whether she knew whether the case had anything to do with pills prior to the initial vehicle search, and her answering no, it goes to establish that these items weren’t missed because of carelessness or malice.
Key state investigator begins her testimony
Prosecutors have now called McKenzie Anderson to testify, a forensic scientist with Minnesota’s criminal apprehension bureau.
Anderson has been a “crime scene team” leader with the bureau of criminal apprehension since 2016. Anderson headed the crime scene investigation in Floyd’s death. Anderson, a technician, and a photographer from her team, arrived at the scene around 1:15 am on 26 May, 2020.
In addition to having Anderson run through points of the investigative process, it was clear that prosecutors wanted to undo whatever doubt Nelson might have sowed about the inquiry during his questioning of Reyerson. (Remember: Nelson tried to make Reyerson appear as if he was careless in assessing evidence, given investigators didn’t notice a “pill” in one of the vehicles until a re-examination this winter. )
Anderson said that two vehicles were towed to the bureau of criminal apprehension’s secured parking, and that investigators’ decision to process them on 27 May was a normal time-frame.
Reyerson has been called back by the prosecution.
He views a fuller clip of the composite video shown to him earlier by the defense and says this context has led him to change his view of what George Floyd said.
Agent Reyerson clarifies that he believes George Floyd says: “I ain’t do no drugs.”
I’ve now watched that disturbing clip numerous times and it is very unclear what George Floyd is saying in that moment. He does, however, say very clearly (as he says numerous times throughout the arrest) that he cannot breathe and pleads with officers throughout.
To reiterate again, use of force expert Sgt Stiger also told the court he could not hear those precise words.
Nelson’s cross-examination of Reyerson has been two-fold: trying to undermine the carefulness of authorities’ investigation, and trying to portray Floyd as an under-the-influence threat.
“It’s not that you didn’t preserve the evidence, it’s that you didn’t notice it?”
“Correct,” Reyerson responds.
Nelson has also asked Reyerson about recordings of the arrest.
He asked Reyerson whether he’d seen all of the video footage.
“I’ve seen all of them, I’ve reviewed some of them closely, yes.”
“Did you ever hear Mr Floyd say ‘I ate too many drugs’?” Nelson asks of one video.
“No,” Reyerson replies.
But Nelson plays a clip for him and Reyerson says on the second question that he does hear those words. It’s worth reminding people of Stiger’s testimony earlier today – he was asked about the exact same phrase and said clearly that he did not hear it.
Reyerson’s testimony is now complete. There is going to be a brief break.
Prosecutors have finished their direct examination of agent Reyerson. He walks through some of the video clips showing Floyd’s arrest and points out to prosecutors the position of Chauvin’s knees on Floyd’s body. And identifies a number of key points in body camera and eyewitness footage where Floyd becomes unresponsive but Chauvin continues to use force.
Prosecutors also asked Reyerson about two cars inspected as part of the BCA investigation. Specifically, Reyerson testified that the Mercedes SUV where Floyd was sitting prior to his arrest, as well as the police squad car at the scene, underwent additional forensic examination this winter.
At some point, there was a request to re-examine the SUV and squad car 320. In the car, “they identified something in the backseat, a pill”.
It was made clear during opening arguments that Eric Nelson, Chauvin’s attorney is planning to make a big deal of this second search where two pills – in his description containing “a mixture of methamphetamine and fentanyl”.
As Nelson begins cross examination it seems pretty certain we’ll hear more about these pills and the timing of the searches of both vehicles.
Court has resumed in the trial against Derek Chauvin, the ex-Minneapolis police officer facing charges in the death of George Floyd.
Prosecutors will continue their direct questioning of Reyerson.
The New York Times has some helpful context on Reyerson’s role in Chauvin’s case.
He led the state bureau of criminal apprehension’s inquiry into Floyd’s death and performed interviews with the “key players”, such as Minneapolis police chief Medaria Arradondo. Reyerson, notably, was the special agent who signed criminal complaints against Chauvin and the other three officers involved in Floyd’s fatal arrest.
Minnesota’s bureau of criminal investigation has a wide range of duties, such as probing murders or analyzing lab specimens. As the Times also notes: “Since 2014, it has also investigated all police killings by the Minneapolis police department and other ‘critical incidents’, such as when someone dies in custody.”
Amudalat Ajasa, a journalist based in Minneapolis and covering the Derek Chauvin murder trial for the Guardian, has been documenting how community members have responded to proceedings.
In a piece due to be published tomorrow, Amudalat has profiled a small group of seven activists who have attended the Hennepin County courthouse in downtown Minneapolis (where the trial is taking place) each day.
Here’s an extract from her story, which will be out in full tomorrow:
Sometimes there are many more protesters, sometimes not so many, but always this group, there hoping to witness justice for George Floyd, who died under the knee of Chauvin in south Minneapolis last May.
They hold signs, amplify chants with a bullhorn and circle the courthouse with the aim of encouraging peaceful protest.
“I get up at 5am and I’m usually out here a little after 7am every day,” John Stewart Jr, 57, said, as his Black Lives Matter flag fluttered in the wind.
Stewart, an ordained pastor in the city, and the “core of seven” generally stay put in their chosen spot behind the courthouse for the entire length of an average work day: 9am to 5pm, or longer.
He brings food and drinks but sometimes doesn’t eat until he gets home, he told the Guardian earlier this week.
Seeing elders like Stewart protesting daily encouraged Elul Adoga to join those outside the courthouse.
“I’m 22, I can get out of bed at 8am and come and support people,” she said.
Derek Chauvin trial day 8 lunchtime summary
The court is now taking its lunch break.
Here are some key points in today’s proceedings so far:
- Sgt Stiger, whom prosecutors called as an expert witness on use-of-force, testifies that “No force should have been used once [Floyd] as in that position.” “He was not attempting to evade. He was not attempting to resist,” Stiger also says, remarking that the officers should have weight the fatal risk of asphyxia from keeping someone in that position.
- Nelson has brought legal discussion of subjectivity in use of force into his cross, citing the Graham vs Connor supreme court ruling, which guides many police use of force policies around America. This 1989 ruling determines an “objective reasonableness standard.” This discussion, through Nelson’s cross, relates directly back to his position about the crowd constituting a threat.
- The ruling doesn’t give a hard-and-fast rule, however. It just mandates “careful attention to the facts and circumstance of each case, including the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether the suspect is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.”
- Stiger has not made Nelson’s job any easier. Throughout cross, he has repeatedly pushed back on Nelson’s push to convey that a crowd, and name-calling onlookers, might be a threat. Name calling? That depends on the officer’s training and experience,” Stiger responded with an seemingly incredulous air.
- Stiger says it’s “possible” for an officer to perceive a crowd as a risk, but stated clearly: “officers are typically trained that when it comes to verbal threats, in and of themselves, that you can’t [only] use that to justify force.”
- Stiger’s re-direct testimony appears to be pretty damning for Chauvin’s defense. When prosecutors ask him whether Chauvin’s use-of-force was “objectively reasonable or was it not objectively reasonable?”, he replies: It was not objectively reasonable.” “As the time went on in the video, clearly you could see Mr Floyd’s medical… his health was deteriorating. His breath was getting lower. His tone of voice was getting lower. His movements were starting to cease. So at that point, as an officer on scene, you have a responsibility to realize that, ‘OK, something is not right. Something has changed drastically from what was occurring earlier, so therefore you have a responsibility to take some type of action.”
- Prosecutors have called James Reyerson, a senior special agent for the Minnesota Bureau of Apprehension, use-of-force investigation group. His testimony will continue after lunch.
Next up is the first witness to testify from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, the agency investigating police use of force in the state.
Senior officer James Reyerson was the lead agent in the Chauvin case and is expected to testify about his involvement in the investigation.
'His health was deteriorating' - Stiger gives forceful assessment of video evidence
Stiger is now under redirect by prosecutors.
What he is saying is clear, and pretty damning for the defense.
He is asked by the prosecution whether Chauvin’s force was “objectively reasonable or was it not objectively reasonable?”
“It was not objectively reasonable,” he says.
He is asked whether officers telling Floyd to relax was “effective de-escalation”?
“Not necessarily,” he says.
Asked to elaborate on what video evidence shows he gives a damning description:
“As the time went on in the video, clearly you could see Mr Floyd’s medical… his health was deteriorating. His breath was getting lower. His tone of voice was getting lower. His movements were starting to cease. So at that point, as an officer on scene, you have a responsibility to realize that, ‘OK, something is not right. Something has changed drastically from what was occurring earlier, so therefore you have a responsibility to take some type of action.”
He says officers should: “Immediately sit the person up or put them in the side recovery position.”
His testimony is now complete.
We’re back on again and Nelson has continued his cross examination.
He’s pivoting towards now well rehearsed questioning in this trial, by trying to cast the crowd of about a dozen onlookers as a potential threat to Chauvin.
A number of those onlookers, which included children, an off duty firefighter, and a man over 60 years old, have already delivered powerful testimony to the court. Under cross examination some eyewitnesses were asked about their use of language as they interacted with officers, but pushed back on characterizations they were “angry”.
Stiger is pushing back pretty hard on this line of questioning, which some experts have said has not been particularly convincing previously.
Nelson is asking if name calling could be perceived as a threat.
He replies, seemingly slightly incredulous: “Name calling? That depends on the officer’s training and experience.”
Nelson is using a training document from the police department about crowd control, but it’s pointed out to him that the document is concerned primarily with large crowds, not the small gathering of people present when George Floyd died.
Nelson, through his questioning, also tried to firm up his position that given the crowd, a “reasonable officer” might take the crowd, and name-calling, as a “threat or risk to the officer’s safety.”
Stiger said that it was “possible” to perceive that as a risk, “but officers are typically trained that when it comes to verbal threats, in and of themselves, that you can’t [only] use that to justify force.”
We’re still on recess at the moment, but the first pool report from court has dropped into my inbox.
Remember, due to Covid restriction, only two reporters are being allowed into the trial room each day, so everyone covering the event - including the Guardian - is relying on eyewitness reports sent from reporters in the room.
The reports are often really useful to get an understanding of how the jury is responding to certain evidence, and based on this morning’s session the pool report says jurors were paying close attention to Stiger’s evidence to prosecutors.
In particular, seven jurors were taking notes as Stiger discussed the use of pain compliance by Derek Chauvin on George Floyd. The pool report documents “much less note taking” as defense attorney Eric Nelson begins asking Stiger about the Graham vs Connor supreme court decision.
Court has gone into a 20 minute break as Stiger’s cross examination continues.
During that last exchange Nelson began asking the witness about the crowd of onlookers who filmed the George Floyd arrest, and, perhaps inadvertently, pointed out that cellphone video technology has fundamentally changed the way in which citizens have been able to document interactions with law enforcement.
In particular, Nelson referenced Darnella Frazier, the teenager who filmed that now infamous video of Floyd’s death. Now 18, she gave powerful testimony to the jury at the beginning of last week.
For some more context on how witnessing extreme acts of police affect those who film them, I thought I’d reshare a magazine piece I wrote with a former colleague back in 2015. It focuses on Feidin Santana, the man who filmed the lethal police shooting of Walter Scott in North Charleston back in 2015.
The piece is five years old, but I’ve been thinking a lot about the Walter Scott case recently and some of what Feidin told me feels very relevant now:
My colleague Victoria Bekiempis has more background on the Graham v. Connor supreme court ruling and how its being used by the defense in an attempt to sow doubt about the reasonable use of force:
The Graham v. Connor case has come up as Nelson tries to establish that Stiger’s understanding of proper use-of-force is based on experience that might not apply to Minneapolis.
“Based on my training experience, every agency that I’ve seen bases their use of force policy on Graham v. Connor, so it’s pretty standard,” Stiger has said during cross examination.
In 1989, the US Supreme Court decided in Graham v. Connor that “objective reasonableness” is the Fourth Amendment standard that should be applied in weighing claims whether police used excessive force. (The US Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protects persons from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government.)
The justices said that in determining whether use-of-force is reasonable, an analysis “requires a careful balancing of the nature and quality of the intrusion on the arrestee’s Fourth Amendment interests against the countervailing governmental interests at stake,” according to the US Justice Department’s Office of Justice Program.
However, the court didn’t give a “precise or mechanical application” for this assessment and “noting there is no precise or mechanical application possible for this test of reasonableness, the Court requires careful attention to the facts and circumstance of each case, including the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether the suspect is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.”
So, in short: by wading into the vagueness of Graham v. Connor, Nelson wants to emphasize that Chauvin’s behavior can’t be assessed in an over-arching way. He wants jurors to think that standards are up to interpretation.
This is despite Stiger’s clear and straightforward testimony that Chauvin’s restraint was unreasonable and lethal.
Under cross examination, Stiger is being asked to talk about the “inherent risk” police officers face as they respond to calls, which Nelson - the defense attorney, characterized as the “nature of policing”.
Remember Stiger has already testified that Chauvin’s protracted use of a knee to neck restraint was an unreasonable use of force. He also said that the crowd of onlookers who watched George Floyd’s arrest was not a significant threat to officers.
But Nelson is clearly trying to introduce an element of uncertainty by referencing the Graham vs Connor supreme court ruling that guides many police use of force policies around America.
The ruling found that an “objective reasonableness standard” should apply to police officer’s use of force. Nelson is attempting to argue that objective reasonableness can only be determined in the moment that force is used and that a combination of factors determine what is reasonable.
Again, it’s worth reiterating here that Chauvin held his knee on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds, which prosecutors and many witnesses, including Stiger, have said was disproportionate and lethal.
Stiger says police should have stopped force at the moment Floyd stopped resisting
Stiger, an outside expert brought in by the prosecution, has told the jury that police involved in the restraint of George Floyd should have ended any use of force at the point he was laid prone and had stopped resisting.
“No force should have been used once he was in that position,” Steiger told the jury under direct examination.
It’s a repetition of what other members of the Minneapolis police department have told the jury already, but the fact it is now being said by an outside expert gives this argument even more weight.
Steiger says at the point Floyd is laid prone by officers, including Chauvin “He was not attempting to evade. He was not attempting to resist.”
He says the officers should have considered the fatal risk of positional asphyxia.
Stiger has finished his direct examination is about to be cross examined by Eric Nelson, Chauvin’s defense attorney.
We’re back underway and Sgt Stiger has resumed his testimony.
From the off, prosecutors have asked Stiger to state how long he understands Chauvin placed Floyd in a knee to neck restraint.
He repeats that critical timeframe that’s been mentioned so many times now in this trial: nine minutes and 29 seconds. It’s the total time Chauvin used what prosecutors describe as lethal and unreasonable force against George Floyd, who was unarmed.
Stiger is asked by prosecutors whether the use of force should be reasonable at all times.
“Yes.” He replies.
Stiger is now being asked to examine a number of stills showing various moments during the arrest. He is pointing out that stills show Chauvin’s knee on Floyd’s neck, and use of pain compliance on Floyd’s hands and arms as he is lying prone and handcuffed.
We’re expecting the hearing to get back underway within the next 10 minutes.
Before things start back up, I thought I’d share a profile interview I wrote last month with Minneapolis’s city council vice president, Andrea Jenkins.
Jenkins has been one of the most forceful voices from the community in the wake of George Floyd’s death and I spoke to her at length about how the city is preparing for this landmark trial.
She told me over Zoom:
“It [the murder trial] is going to be traumatic. We want to have as peaceful a situation as we can, and really have resources there for people to turn to if there are challenges.”
She also spoke about being in regular contact with members of George Floyd’s family.
“They’re really more concerned about justice,” she told me. “They want to see justice and they want to make sure that George Floyd’s name is honoured for the role that his legacy plays in social justice.”
Jenkins is also America’s first Black openly transgender woman elected to public office and she shared some more details of her childhood and rise to office.
You can read the full profile interview here:
Day eight of the Derek Chauvin murder trial
Good morning and welcome to the Guardian’s continued live coverage and analysis of the Derek Chauvin murder trial.
Chauvin, a former officer with the Minneapolis police department who is white, faces three criminal charges in relation to the in-custody death of George Floyd, a 46 year-old Black man whose passing sparked a global reckoning on racism. The most severe of these is second degree murder, which carries a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison.
The trial marks an unprecedented moment in the history of Minnesota criminal justice as proceedings are being live streamed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
We have seen a huge number of witnesses testify for the prosecution, including senior figures in the Minneapolis police department, an array of eyewitnesses and medical professionals.
Yesterday saw the state call its first expert witness, Sgt Jody Stiger, a 28-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department. Like others with expert knowledge of police use of force, Stiger told the court he believed Chauvin’s protracted use of a knee to neck restraint was excessive force.
“My opinion was that force was excessive,” Stiger testified, telling the court he had reviewed the department’s use of force police and video capturing George Floyd’s arrest.
It’s expected Sgt Stiger will continue to testify when court resumes this morning at 9am CT.
My colleague Chris McGreal has been covering every day of the trial so far, and filed another report after yesterday’s testimony.
We’ll continue to bring you the key lines from testimony as well as deeper analysis.