Nearly one year after George Floyd died in Minneapolis, Minnesota, during an arrest, restrained under former police officer Derek Chauvin’s knee for nearly nine minutes, the case is finally being prosecuted in criminal court. The death of Floyd last May spurred protests over police brutality and racial injustice beginning in Minneapolis and quickly spreading across the United States and the rest of the world.
Chauvin’s trial began on March 29 and is expected to continue for weeks. Here is what has happened so far and what to expect next:
Chauvin faces charges of manslaughter, second-degree murder, and third-degree murder, and he has pleaded not guilty to all of them. Floyd’s cause of death will ultimately be the determining factor in this case. The prosecution is arguing that Floyd died as a result of Chauvin kneeling on his neck for nine minutes while the defense will argue that Floyd’s death was a result of his drug use. Floyd’s drug use is expected to be one of the most important aspects of the trial.
The Prosecution’s Arguments
The prosecution presented testimony from witnesses of the arrest as well as paramedics and fellow law enforcement officials, and video evidence, to prove that Chauvin’s use of force was unnecessary and ultimately cost Floyd his life. One of the key testimonies came from the chief of the Minneapolis Police Department, Medaria Arradondo. Arradondo testified that Chauvin violated Minneapolis police policy, ethics, and values.
“Once Mr. Floyd had stopped resisting, and certainly once he was in distress and trying to verbalize that, that should have stopped,” Arradondo said.
Arrandondo isn’t the only law enforcement official who rebuked Chauvin’s use of force. Lt. Richard Zimmerman, the longest-serving officer in the Minneapolis Police Department, called Chauvin’s actions “totally unnecessary” and that his knee restraint qualified as “deadly force.” Chauvin’s supervisor, Sgt. David Pleoger, testified that while knees can be used to restrain resisting suspects, police officers should only do so until a subject is handcuffed and under control. Not only did fellow law enforcement members largely condemn his use of force, but they also condemned the former police officer for not providing much-needed assistance to Floyd when he was in distress.
View this post on Instagram
Minneapolis Police Department Sgt. Ker Yang, who currently serves as its crisis intervention training coordinator, reminded the jurors that the “immediate goal” of officers should be to provide medical attention to civilians in crisis. Similarly, department medical support officer Nicole Mackenzie said police officers are trained to begin CPR if they don’t detect a pulse. None of the officers on the scene performed CPR on Floyd while he appeared unconscious.
Dr. Bradford T. Wankhede Langenfeld, the doctor who treated Floyd for about 30 minutes before pronouncing him dead was cross-examined by both the prosecution and the defense about what ultimately caused Floyd’s death. When asked if he believed oxygen deficiency – or asphyxia – to be the cause of death, he responded that it was one of the more likely possibilities. However, that alone isn’t enough to determine what caused the asphyxia. In his testimony, Wankhede Langenfeld told Eric J. Nelson, Chauvin’s lawyer, that drug use including methamphetamine and fentanyl – which were both found in Floyd’s system – can cause a lack of oxygen to the brain.
View this post on Instagram
The Defense’s Argument
Since the beginning of the trial, Chauvin’s defense team has argued that the former police officer was doing what he was trained to do and that the chaotic situation on the scene prompted the officer to forcefully restrain Floyd. Initially, the police officer’s use of force appeared justified as videos showed Floyd actively resisting arrest and refusing to get into the police car. Body cameras also show Floyd kicking at officers when he was first pinned to the ground. However, as mentioned in law enforcement testimonies, such restraint was no longer necessary once Floyd was handcuffed and clearly under control. The defense’s argument is that Chauvin was surrounded by many hostile bystanders who made it difficult for the police officer to make a medical assessment or administer life-saving assistance to Floyd. Nelson is attempting to convince jurors that the videos don’t tell the full story and that this case “is clearly more than about nine minutes and 29 seconds.”
Indeed, Chauvin’s defense team plans to argue that the videos potentially tell different stories and that the former police officer’s knee was not necessarily on Floyd’s neck. Indeed, some screenshots of the body camera footage show Chauvin with his knee on Floyd’s shoulders. Regardless, the defense will have to respond to the many testimonies from law enforcement officials denouncing the tactics used by Chauvin.
“We don’t train leg-neck restraints with officers in service, and as far as I know, we never have,” Lt. Johnny Mercil said.
It won’t be easy for the prosecution team either. In order to convict Chauvin of second-degree murder, prosecutors will have to prove beyond reasonable doubt that he caused Floyd’s death while committing or attempting to commit a related felony, in this case a third-degree assault, according to CBS News. To convict him of third-degree murder, prosecutors must prove that Chauvin caused Floyd’s death during an act that was “eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind, without regard for human life.” To convict Chauvin of manslaughter, the prosecution will have to prove that he caused Floyd’s death by “culpable negligence,” meaning he created unreasonable risk and consciously took a risk of causing death or severe harm.
While the outcome of the trial is uncertain, all eyes are on this case – one of the most viewed in decades – as the memories of the months-long protests are still on everyone’s minds.