The trial of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer accused of killing George Floyd, continues into its second week after its start on Monday, March 29. The trial is expected to continue over the span of at least one month.
George Floyd died on May 25, 2020 after an altercation with the police, who were called when an employee of Cup Foods in Minneapolis, Minnesota asked if Floyd used a counterfeit bill to buy cigarettes. Former officer Chauvin had put his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes despite Floyd being handcuffed and saying he could not breathe. A witness for the prosecution, former MMA fighter Donald Williams II, said Floyd was “fading away” while Chauvin pressed Floyd into the ground.
“His eyes slowly rolled to the back of his head (until) … he didn’t have no life in him no more in his body,” Williams said.
The police carried Floyd’s limp body to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead an hour later.T
The incident sparked protests across the nation, especially in Minneapolis, and restarted efforts for the Black Lives Matter movement. Chauvin has pleaded not guilty to his charges of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Other officers involved in the incident will undergo separate trials due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Fourteen anonymous jurors are hearing the case, with a 15th selected if one of the jurors is unable to serve. The group is made of various black, white and mixed people, with nine women and nine men. Each juror submitted questionnaires explaining their knowledge of the case, previous activity with the police and media habits.
The trial began with a video of Floyd’s death, taken by a teen witness, Darnella Frazier. She said she saw Floyd begging for his life during the incident.
“This was a cry for help, definitely,” Frazier said.
Several witnesses testified after her, including Donald Williams II.
Tuesday’s session saw Genevieve Hansen take the stand. Hansen is a Minneapolis firefighter and emergency medical technician who witnessed Floyd’s last moments while off-duty. She said she tried to convince officers to let her help Floyd, but they refused.
“There was no medical assistance on the scene, and I got there, and I could have given medical assistance, and that’s exactly what I should have done,” Hansen said.
Hansen later called 911.
“There’s a man being killed, and had I had access to a call similar to that, I would have been able to provide medical attention to the best of my ability, and this human was denied that right,” Hansen said.
Hansen’s statement hints at a key element of the trial: the cause of death. Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell argued Floyd died from asphyxiation. However, defense attorney Eric Nelson argued Floyd died of “a heart arrhythmia complicated by fentanyl and methamphetamine he had ingested before his arrest,” according to CBS News. Floyd’s girlfriend, Courteney Ross, 45, said she and Floyd both were addicted to opioids.
Hennepin County Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Andrew Baker, said Floyd’s death was caused by cardiac arrest, but the prosecution hired six outside medical experts to back up Baker’s ruling since Baker was the only person to perform an autopsy on Floyd.
The prosecution’s argument mainly hinges on whether or not Chauvin needed to use force at all. Friday’s session on April 2 saw senior officer Lt. Richard Zimmerman testify. He said restraining Floyd for so long after he had been handcuffed was not necessary, and he had never been trained to put a knee on someone’s neck.
“If your knee is on a person’s neck, that can kill them,” Zimmerman said. “Once a person is cuffed, the threat level goes down all the way. They’re cuffed, how can they really hurt you?”
Zimmerman also said once a person is handcuffed, the officer should help them calm down and move them if they are in the prone position. He said someone in handcuffs could still pose a threat, and officers do have to improvise and use “whatever force is reasonable and necessary” to detain a potentially violent person.
Chauvin defended his actions, saying Floyd resisted arrest. Chauvin said Floyd became combative after officers tried to put him in the car. His call to Sgt. David Pleoger explained the situation.
“We just had to hold a guy down. He was going crazy. He wouldn’t … he wouldn’t go in the back of the squad – ”
“When Mr. Floyd was no longer offering up any resistance to the officers, they could have ended the restraint,” Pleoger said. “It would be reasonable to put a knee on someone’s neck until they were not resisting anymore, but it should stop when they are no longer combative.”
“Clearly when Mr. Floyd was no longer responsive and even motionless, to continue to apply that level of force to a person prone out, hands cuffed behind their back, that in no way, shape or form is anything that is by policy,” Arradondo said. “It’s not part of our training and it’s certainly not part of our ethics or values.”
He said his department’s goal was to serve with compassion, and Chauvin’s restraint of Floyd was not de-escalation.
“When we talk about the framework of our sanctity of life [policy] and talk about principles that we have, that action goes contrary to what we’re talking about,” Arradondo said.
The trial will continue the rest of the week.