Prosecutors rested their case on Tuesday at the murder trial of former Officer Derek Chauvin after 11 days of testimony and a mountain of video depicting George Floyd’s final moments, opening the way for the defence to present its side.
Video of Floyd gasping for air was played for the jury along with other bystander footage and police body-camera video of the 46-year-old Black man’s slow-motion death as former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin held his knee on Floyd’s neck.
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Medical experts testified that Floyd died of a lack of oxygen because his breathing was constricted as police held him down on his stomach, his hands cuffed behind his back and his face jammed against the ground.
Law enforcement use of force experts and veteran Minneapolis police officials, including the police chief himself, testified that Chauvin’s knee on Floyd’s neck for as many as 9.5 minutes was excessive and contrary to his training and departmental policy.
Mike Padden, a Minneapolis-based lawyer with more than 30 years’ experience trying cases, often involving the Minneapolis Police Department, told Al Jazeera “it’s very rare to see a use of force expert testify against another cop in a criminal or civil case who is … a licensed police officer. It almost never happens.”
Still, Chauvin’s lawyer has argued that the now-fired white officer did what he was trained to do and that Floyd died because of his illegal drug use and a heart condition, not because of Chauvin pinning him to the pavement last May.
Defence lawyer Eric Nelson called his first witness, Scott Creighton, a former Minneapolis Police officer who previously arrested Floyd on May 6, 2019. Body-worn camera footage of the arrest was also played for the jury.
The footage appeared to show Floyd swallowing pills before his arrest, as officers screamed commands that he “keep your hands where I can f***ing see them”.
The footage was entered as evidence so the jury could consider what effects illegal drugs might have had on Floyd during his May 25 arrest and subsequent death, not to be used to make judgements on Floyd’s character.
Nelson has not said whether Chauvin will take the stand. Testifying could open him up to devastating cross-examination but could also give the jury the opportunity to see any remorse or sympathy on the officer’s part.
Seth Stoughton, an associate professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, told the court Chauvin’s actions were not what a reasonable police officer in the same situation would have done, and repeatedly found that Chauvin did not meet the test.
“No reasonable officer would have believed that that was an appropriate, acceptable or reasonable use of force,” Stoughton said of the way Floyd was held down.
The matter of what is reasonable carries great weight: police officers are allowed certain latitude to use deadly force when someone puts the officer or other people in danger. But legal experts say a key question for the jury will be whether Chauvin’s actions were reasonable in those specific circumstances.
Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.