MINNEAPOLIS — The judge at Derek Chauvin’s murder trial Wednesday turned down a defense request to acquit the former officer in George Floyd’s death, rejecting claims that prosecutors failed to prove Chauvin’s actions killed the Black man.
Judge Peter Cahill pressed on with the case after Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson said the prosecution’s expert witnesses gave conflicting opinions about what caused Floyd’s death after the 46-year-old was pinned under the white officer’s knee for what authorities say was 9 1/2 minutes last May.
Attorney Argued Prosecutors Failed to Prove Charges
Nelson also argued that the state failed to establish whether there was a use of force and whether it was reasonable.
Prosecutor Steve Schleicher countered by saying the state has proved that Chauvin’s use of force was unreasonable and has introduced evidence that “clearly established that the defendant’s conduct was a causal factor in bringing about Mr. Floyd’s death.”
Requests for an acquittal are routinely made midway through a trial and are usually denied.
The request came on Day Two of the defense case. The prosecution rested its own case on Tuesday after 11 days of testimony and a profusion of video evidence.
Unclear if Chauvin will Take the Stand
The defense hasn’t said whether Chauvin will take the stand.
Testifying could open him up to devastating cross-examination, with prosecutors replaying the video of Floyd’s arrest and forcing Chauvin, one freeze-frame moment at a time, to explain why he kept pressing down on Floyd.
But taking the stand could also give the jury the opportunity to see any remorse or sympathy Chauvin might feel. It would give jurors a good look at his face; he has had to wear a COVID-19 mask while seated at the defense table.
Use-of-Force Expert and Former Officer Defends Chauvin
Nelson began his case on Tuesday by challenging the heart of the case against Chauvin, calling a use-of-force expert who testified that Chauvin was justified in pinning Floyd and keeping him down and that it might have gone easier if only Floyd had stopped struggling and began “resting comfortably” on the pavement.
Barry Brodd, a former Santa Rosa, California, officer, stoutly defended Chauvin’s actions , even as a prosecutor pounded away at the witness, banging the lectern at one point during cross-examination and growing incredulous over Brodd’s use of the “resting comfortably” phrase.
“It’s easy to sit and judge … an officer’s conduct,” Brodd testified. “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.”
He said he doesn’t believe Chauvin and the other officers used deadly force when they held Floyd down on his stomach, his hands cuffed behind his back and Chauvin’s knee on his neck or neck area.
Brodd likened it instead to a situation in which officers use a Taser on someone fighting with officers, and the suspect falls, hits his head and dies: “That isn’t an incident of deadly force. That’s an incident of an accidental death.”
Ultimately, Jury to Determine What was Reasonable
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.
But Brodd said: “I felt that Officer Chauvin’s interactions with Mr. Floyd were following his training, following current practices in policing and were objectively reasonable.”
The question of what is reasonable is important: Police officers are allowed certain latitude to use deadly force when someone puts the officer or other people in danger. Legal experts say a key issue for the jury will be whether Chauvin’s actions were reasonable in those specific circumstances.
Under questioning by the defense, Brodd also testified that bystanders yelling at police 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.
Chauvin, a 45-year-old white man, is on trial on charges of murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death last May after his arrest of suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 at a neighborhood market.
Nelson has argued that the 19-year Minneapolis police veteran did what he was trained to do and that Floyd died because of his illegal drug use and underlying health problems, including high blood pressure and heart disease. Fentanyl and methamphetamine were discovered in his system.