Chauvin trial: Defense starts presenting its case

Derek Chauvin Trial

MINNEAPOLIS (NewsNation Now) —  The defense for a former Minneapolis police officer charged in George Floyd’s death began presenting its case Tuesday.

NewsNation will provide live coverage of the trial online and the NewsNation Now app. You can watch the trial here.

Prosecutors rested as the trial got underway Tuesday. On Monday, they wrapped up their case by calling George Floyd’s younger brother to the stand for emotional testimony about how his sibling grew up obsessed with basketball and doting on his mother.

“He was a big momma’s boy,” Philonise Floyd said after jurors looked at a picture of his older brother in his mother’s arms while Chauvin sat across the courtroom, writing notes on a yellow legal pad with his head down.

A use-of-force expert testified for the defense that Chauvin was justified in pinning Floyd to the ground because of his frantic resistance, contradicting a parade of authorities from both inside and outside the Minneapolis Police Department.

Barry Brodd, a former California officer, said police don’t have to wait for something bad to happen; they need only to have a reasonable fear that there’s a threat and then adjust their actions accordingly.

“It’s easy to sit and judge … an officer’s conduct,” Brodd said at one point. “It’s more of a challenge to, again, put yourself in the officer’s shoes to try to make an evaluation through what they’re feeling, what they’re sensing, the fear they have, and then make a determination.”

Brodd likened it to a situation in which officers used a Taser on someone fighting with officers, and the suspect fell, hit his head and died: “That isn’t an incident of deadly force. That’s an incident of an accidental death.”

Several top Minneapolis police officials, including the police chief, have testified that Chauvin used excessive force and violated his training. And medical experts called by prosecutors have said that Floyd died from a lack of oxygen because of the way he was restrained.

Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson had his own experts testify that it was Floyd’s drug use and bad heart, not Chauvin’s actions, that killed him.

The first two witnesses called to the stand Tuesday testified regarding a May 6, 2019 incident where Floyd was taken into police custody during a traffic stop.

During the arrest, Floyd suffered from dangerously high blood pressure and confessed to heavy use of opioids. And Nelson suggested that the 46-year-old Black man may have suffered last May from “excited delirium” — what a witness described as a potentially lethal state of agitation and even superhuman strength that can be triggered by drugs, heart disease or mental problems.

Judge Peter A. Cahill said their testimony and bodycam video of the arrest are being included, “to show the effects the ingestion of opioids may or may not have had on the physical well-being of George Floyd and not the character of George Floyd.”

*Warning: Contains explicit language* Bodycam video of the May 6, 2019 arrest of George Floyd was released by the defense in the trial of Derek Chauvin Tuesday

Retired Minneapolis Police Officer Scott Creighton testified he took Floyd into custody in the 2019 incident because he did not follow commands to put his hands on the dashboard as he sat in the passenger seat of the vehicle.

Bodycam video of the incident played in court shows Creighton approaching the vehicle, telling Floyd to undo his seatbelt and put his hands on the dashboard before the officer drew his gun. He can be heard replying to Floyd that he wasn’t “going to shoot him.”

“The passenger was unresponsive and noncompliant to my commands,” Creighton told the jury on Tuesday, describing Floyd as nervous and anxious. “I then had to reach in to him because I wanted to see his hands.”

Eventually, Creighton and another officer pull Floyd from the vehicle and put him in handcuffs.

Retired Hennepin County paramedic Michelle Moseng, who tended to Floyd at the police precinct after the traffic stop, later testified Floyd told her he was taking seven to nine Percocet pills every 20 minutes.

She said she recorded Floyd’s blood pressure as 216/160 and he told her he had a history of hypertension and had not been taking his medication.

Later, the defense began calling witnesses who were present with Floyd and took part in his arrest on May 25, 2020.

Shawanda Hill was in the car with Floyd prior to his death. She said she ran into Floyd at the Cup Foods, where he seemed to be “happy, normal, talking, alert” before offering to give her a ride.

After they got into the parked car she said they were talking until she got a phone call and Floyd fell asleep behind the wheel. Afterwards, she said store employees first came to the car and tried to wake him up but Floyd was “incoherent.” 

Hill said he didn’t complain of any chest pains as they sat in the car, but later appeared startled after she woke him as police approached the vehicle.

The defense also called Minneapolis Officer Peter Chang, who stood across the street from the Cup Foods with Hill and William Ricardo, who was also inside the vehicle with Floyd prior to the incident.

In addition to Chang’s testimony, the defense admitted more than 20 minutes of his bodycam video from the day into the record. When asked why he is pacing in the video, Chang said he was “concerned for the officers’ safety” as he observed the crowd.

Chang said the area where Chauvin and the other officers held Floyd down is a busy area in terms of both foot and vehicle traffic. He also said that officers indicated the situation was “Code 4,” or under control, before he arrived on the scene.

Medical support coordinator Officer Nicole Mackenzie, who trains police officers in Minneapolis, returned to the stand to discuss the term “excited delirium,” although the defense says Chauvin received no such training. 

Mackenzie said the condition is often caused by a combination of factors, such as cardiovascular issues, illicit drug use and mental health diagnoses.

Cahill told the jury that Mackenzie was brought back to the stand because Thomas Lane, one of the officers involved in the incident, is heard on video using the term.

She testified on cross-examination by prosecutors that officers are told to put subjects who may be experiencing excited delirium in a side position as they may have trouble breathing.

Prosecutor Steve Schleicher used his cross-examination of Brodd to once again painstakingly go through video clips of Floyd pinned beneath Chauvin, gasping he couldn’t breathe and then going still. Schleicher pressed the witness on whether Chauvin’s actions were reasonable.

Brodd argued that Floyd kept on struggling, and he suggested that if Floyd was being compliant, he would have had both hands in the small of his back, “and just be resting comfortably.”

“Did you say ‘resting comfortably’?” an incredulous Schleicher asked.

Brodd: “Or laying comfortably.”

Schleicher: “Resting comfortably on the pavement?”

Brodd: “Yes.”

Schleicher went on to say that Floyd was moving, but it was because he was struggling to breathe by shoving his shoulder into the pavement.

Under questioning by the defense, Brodd also testified that bystanders yelling at the officers to get off Floyd complicated the situation for Chauvin and the others by causing them to wonder whether the crowd was becoming a threat, too.

Brodd also appeared to endorse what prosecution witnesses have said is a common misconception: that if someone can talk, he or she can breathe.

“I certainly don’t have medical degrees, but I was always trained and feel it’s a reasonable assumption that if somebody’s, ‘I’m choking, I’m choking,’ well, you’re not choking because you can breathe,” he said.

The defense hasn’t said whether Chauvin will take the stand.

Chauvin, 45, has pleaded not guilty to murder and manslaughter charges, arguing he was following the training he had received during his 19 years on the force.

On Monday, Judge Peter Cahill denied a defense request to sequester the jurors after police in a neighboring city fatally shot a Black man. Prosecutors continued their case with testimony from Philonise Floyd, a medical expert and a police use-of-force expert who said no “reasonable” officer would have done what Chauvin did.

Reuters’ Jonathan Allen and the Associated Press reporters Amy Forliti, Steve Karnowski and Tammy Webber contributed to this report. The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report

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