Derek Chauvin, the former police officer charged with the murder of George Floyd, was justified in pinning down the Black man who kept struggling instead of “resting comfortably” on the ground, according to a use-of-force expert called by the defence in the United States.
Chauvin, 45, is accused of killing Floyd by pinning his knee on the 46-year-old Black man’s neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds as he lay face-down in handcuffs. Floyd had been accused of passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a neighbourhood market.
Taking the stand on Tuesday at Chauvin’s murder trial, 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 does not 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.”
‘Following his training’
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 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.
Prosecutor Steve Schleicher used his cross-examination to again painstakingly go through video clips of a pinned-down Floyd gasping that he could not breathe and then going limp.
The prosecutor hammered away at Brodd, saying a reasonable officer in Chauvin’s position would have known Floyd had stopped resisting, that another officer told him he could not find a pulse and that others said Floyd had passed out and was no longer breathing.
“And the defendant’s position is, and was, and remains, as we see here at this moment, in this time, in this clip – on top of Mr Floyd on the street. Isn’t that right?” Schleicher asked, as he banged his hand on the lectern repeatedly.
“Yes,” Brodd replied.
At one point, Brodd argued Floyd kept on struggling instead of just “resting comfortably” on the ground.
“Did you say ‘resting comfortably’?” an incredulous Schleicher asked.
Brodd: “Or laying comfortably.”
Schleicher: “Resting comfortably on the pavement?”
The prosecutor went on to say that Floyd was moving, but it was because he was struggling to breathe.
Under questioning by the defence, 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’s lawyer Eric Nelson has argued 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.
Also testifying was Minneapolis Park Police Officer Peter Chang, who helped at the scene that day. He said he saw a “crowd” growing across the street that “was becoming more loud and aggressive, a lot of yelling across the street.”
“Did that cause you any concern?” Nelson asked.
“Concern for the officers’ safety, yes,” Chang replied.
Nelson has not said whether Chauvin would 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 he might feel.