Derek Chauvin justified in his use of force against George Floyd, witness tells murder trial

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Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was justified in using his knees to pin down George Floyd, a use-of-force expert testified on Tuesday, contradicting testimony by former and current city police officers who said Chauvin’s actions violated policy and were excessive.

“I felt that Derek Chauvin was justified, was acting with objective reasonableness, following Minneapolis Police Department policy and current standards of law enforcement in his interactions with Mr. Floyd,” Barry Brodd, a former officer in Santa Rosa, Calif., told the Hennepin County District Court in downtown Minneapolis.

Brodd, one of a series of witnesses who testified for the defence on Tuesday in the murder trial of Chauvin, also claimed that putting Floyd in the prone position — handcuffed while placed on his stomach, and face first to the pavement — was not a use of force.

“It’s a control technique. it doesn’t hurt,” he said. “You’ve put the suspect in a position where it’s safe for you, the officer, safe for them, the suspect, and you’re using minimal effort to keep them on the ground.”

Defence lays out case

Chauvin’s lawyer, Eric Nelson, began to lay out the defence’s case on Tuesday after 11 days of testimony from prosecution witnesses. Floyd died on May 25, 2020, after Chauvin, who is white, pressed a knee on the back of his neck for about nine minutes as two other officers held him down face first to the pavement, while he was handcuffed. He had been detained outside a convenience store after being suspected of paying with a counterfeit bill.

Chauvin is on trial on charges of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in connection with the death of the 46-year-old Black man.

The prosecution says Chauvin pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck caused his death. But the defence argues it was a combination of Floyd’s underlying medical conditions, drug use and adrenaline flowing through his system that ultimately killed him.

Defence lawyer Eric Nelson begins to lay out Chauvin’s case in his murder trial on Tuesday after 11 days of testimony from prosecution witnesses in a Minneapolis courtroom.  (Court TV/The Associated Press)

Several top Minneapolis police officials, including Chief Medaria Arradondo, have testified for the prosecution 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 the defence claims Chauvin did what his training taught him to do.

Brodd said that once Floyd was pinned to the ground, he was still engaged in “active resistance” and struggling against the efforts of the officers.

“Officers are trained that any time you get resistance from a suspect or you’re dealing with a high-risk suspect, it’s safer for you, the officer and for the suspect to put him on the ground in a prone position face down for a variety of reasons, some of which are it makes the suspect’s mobility diminished.”

WATCH | Prosecutor cross-examines use-of-force witness

Prosecutor Steve Schleicher cross-examines defence witness and use-of-force expert Barry Brodd over whether George Floyd was struggling to breathe. 1:21

The fact that Floyd was handcuffed at that point didn’t matter, Brodd said, because any resistor, handcuffed or not, should go to the ground to a controlled position.

He said there were a number of valid reasons to keep Floyd in that position, including space limitation, traffic on the street, crowd issues and the fact that Floyd was “still somewhat resisting.”

Crowd distraction

Chauvin’s defence has also raised the issue that the officer may have been distracted about Floyd’s declining condition due to the growing anger of the crowd.

Brodd concurred that, based on his review of the video evidence, Chauvin’s focus started to move from Floyd to the crowd

“I think Officer Chauvin felt threatened enough that he withdrew his pepper spray canister and gave verbal commands to the crowd to stay back. So now he’s dealing with the bigger threat,” he said.

Tense cross-examination

Cross-examination under prosecutor Steve Schleicher was tense at times, as he struck an incredulous tone with some of Brodd’s assertions.

He seized on Brodd’s contention that the further restraint of Floyd was not a use of force.

Prosecutor Steve Schleicher questions Brodd during cross-examination. (Court TV/The Associated Press)

“I need to ask you if you believe that it is unlikely that orienting yourself on top of a person, on the pavement with both legs is unlikely to produce pain,” Schleicher asked.

“It could,” Brodd responded.

“What do you mean it could? Is it unlikely to produce pain or is it likely to produce pain,” Schleicher asked.

“I’m saying it could produce pain.”

But Brodd acknowledged that based on one of the photos showing Chauvin applying his knee into Floyd, “that could be a use of force.”

Schleicher asked Brodd whether a reasonable officer would know that placing someone in that prone position could cause positional asphyxia.

“A reasonable police officer would at least acknowledge and consider the possibility that what they’re doing is causing a problem, wouldn’t they?”

However, Brodd said that according to video, it appeared Floyd was still struggling.

“Struggling or writhing,” Schleicher asked.

“I don’t know the difference,” Brodd said.

WATCH | Scheicher grills Brodd over ‘resting comfortably’ comment

Prosecutor Steve Schleicher takes issue with use-of-force expert Barry Brodd’s testimony that Floyd was ‘resting comfortably’ on the pavement. 0:37

Brodd argued that Floyd kept on struggling, and he suggested that if Floyd was being compliant, he would have had both hands in the small of his back “and just be resting comfortably.”

“Did you say ‘resting comfortably’?” Schleicher asked.

Brodd: “Or laying comfortably.”

Schleicher: “Resting comfortably on the pavement?”

Brodd said yes and added that he was describing the signs of a perfectly compliant person.

“So attempting to breathe, while restrained, is being slightly non-compliant now,” Schleicher said.

“No,” Brodd said. 

Schleicher argued that the only struggling by Floyd was as a result of him trying to breathe.

I don’t know, if he was struggling or if he was struggling to catch a breath … I can’t tell,” Brodd said.

Other witnesses

Earlier in the day, court heard from Shawanda Hill, a friend of Floyd’s who was in the SUV with him before his encounter and arrest by police. Hill testified that she had met Floyd in the convenience store and that he was alert and happy, but by the time they got back to the car, he suddenly fell asleep and that she repeatedly tried to wake him up.

Shawanda Hill, who was in the car with Floyd at the time of his initial arrest, testifies at Chauvin’s trial on Tuesday. (Court TV/The Associated Press)

Her testimony was important for the defence as they try to prove Floyd was potentially reacting to fentanyl in his system.

Nelson also put on the stand a former police officer and paramedic who testified about a 2019 arrest in which Floyd suffered from dangerously high blood pressure and confessed to heavy use of opioids. 

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.

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