The judge in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin refused a defence request to sequester the jury on Monday, the morning after the death of a Black man shot by police during a traffic stop triggered unrest in a Brooklyn Center, a suburb just north of Minneapolis.
The request came from Eric Nelson, the lawyer for Chauvin, who is facing murder and manslaughter charges for the killing of George Floyd, who died May 25, 2020, after Chauvin pressed a knee on the back of Floyd’s neck for around nine minutes as two other officers held him down during an arrest.
Nelson argued that the unrest could influence jurors to consider the prospect that similar unrest might happen as a result of whatever verdict they render in the Chauvin trial.
Nelson said the court is aware that an officer was involved in a shooting that took place in Brooklyn Center, Minn., on Sunday night and there was “some fairly extensive civil unrest that occurred.”
“I would note for the court that we have at least one juror who is a resident of that particular city and other jurors who have connections to Brooklyn Center,” the defence lawyer said.
Judge Peter Cahill said he would not sequester the jurors until next Monday, when he anticipates closing arguments will begin.
Trial enters 3rd week
Chauvin’s trial in Hennepin County District Court in downtown Minneapolis is entering its third week with the state nearing the end of a case built on searing witness accounts, official rejections of the neck restraint and expert testimony attributing Floyd’s death to a lack of oxygen.
The 45-year-old former officer, who is white, is charged with second-degree unintentional murder; third-degree murder; and second-degree manslaughter. Police were called to a neighbourhood market where Floyd, who was Black, was accused of trying to pass a counterfeit bill.
Bystander video of Floyd, 46, handcuffed and pinned by the three officers as he cried “I can’t breathe” and eventually grew still, sparked protests and scattered violence around the U.S. and led to a wider societal reckoning over race and policing.
Chauvin and the three other officers involved in Floyd’s arrest were fired.
Defence lawyer Nelson has argued that Floyd’s death was caused by drug use and underlying health conditions, including a bad heart. He’s expected to call his own medical experts after the prosecution wraps its case, expected early this week. Nelson hasn’t said whether Chauvin will testify.
Testimony will resume after an evening of unrest in Brooklyn Center following the death of a Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man shot by police in a traffic stop on Sunday. Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the city’s police station after Wright’s death.
Officers fired gas and flash-bang grenades and some businesses were broken into, recalling some of the violence that followed Floyd’s death last May.
Judge Cahill has asked jurors to avoid news during Chauvin’s trial.
Medical experts, police officials testified in 1st 2 weeks
The second week of the trial was dominated by technical testimony, beginning with senior Minneapolis Police Department officials, including Chief Medaria Arradondo, testifying that Chauvin’s restraint of Floyd, 46, violated department policy.
Prosecutors say Floyd was pinned for nine minutes, 29 seconds. Police officials testified that while officers might sometimes use a knee across a person’s back or shoulder to gain or maintain control, they’re also taught the specific dangers for a person in Floyd’s position — prone on his stomach, with his hands cuffed behind him — and how such a person must be turned into a side recovery position as soon as possible.
Prosecutors called a string of medical experts to testify that Floyd died due to a lack of oxygen, led by Dr. Martin Tobin, a lung and critical care specialist who walked jurors through graphics and charts and had them feel their own necks as he analyzed evidence from videos.
Tobin testified that other factors, not just Chauvin’s knee, made it hard for Floyd to breathe: officers lifting up his handcuffs, the hard pavement, his turned head and a knee on his back. He pinpointed the moment when he said he could see Floyd take his last breath — and said Chauvin’s knee remained on Floyd’s neck another three minutes, two seconds.
“At the beginning, you can see he’s conscious, you can see slight flickering, and then it disappears,” Tobin said as he highlighted a still image from police body-camera video. “That’s the moment the life goes out of his body.”
WATCH | Medical expert gives graphic detail of George Floyd’s death:
Medical examiner says drugs, heart problems plated a role
Nelson sought to raise doubt about the prosecution’s case. During testimony about Chauvin’s use of the neck restraint, he sought to point out moments in video footage when he said Chauvin’s knee didn’t appear to be on Floyd’s neck. And he again questioned officers about how a gathering crowd might affect officers’ use of force.
A potential gap in prosecutors’ case appeared Friday when Hennepin County’s chief medical examiner, Dr. Andrew Baker, testified that the way police held Floyd down and compressed his neck “was just more than Mr. Floyd could take” given his heart issues.
Baker didn’t attribute Floyd’s death to asphyxia, as several prosecution medical experts did. And while he said that neither Floyd’s heart problems nor drugs caused his death, he agreed with Nelson that those factors “played a role” in the death.
Ted Sampsell-Jones, a law professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, Minn., said Baker’s testimony might raise a reasonable doubt about cause of death, but that the legal standard for establishing causation is quite low. The state has to show only that Chauvin’s conduct was a substantial contributing cause.
“If the state had to show that Chauvin’s conduct was the sole or even primary cause of death, the case would be in real trouble,” Sampsell-Jones said.