https://thehill.com/homenews/state-watch/547059-chauvin-defense-seeks-to-shift-talk-to-floyd-drug-use

Defense attorneys for former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin on Wednesday sought to make George Floyd‘s drug use a focal point of the eighth day of Chauvin’s murder trial.

The day featured a back-and-forth over whether Floyd, who died last May after Chauvin knelt on top of him for almost nine minutes, said he “ain’t do no drugs” or “ate too many drugs” as he was pinned to the ground.

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The defense also zeroed in on the potential influence bystanders at the scene had on Chauvin during the arrest, as well as the defendant’s knee placement on Floyd while he was being detained.

The day’s proceedings featured testimony from a special agent who led the investigation into Floyd’s death, a use-of-force expert brought in by the prosecution, two forensic scientists who shed light on the evidence collected at the scene and a forensic chemist.

Chauvin is charged with second- and third-degree murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death, which set off a summer of protests against police brutality and racism.

Here are four key takeaways from the eighth day of his trial.

Back-and-forth over Floyd comments on drug use

Derek Chauvin’s defense attorney Eric Nelson pressed witnesses during cross examination about audio in body camera footage of Floyd’s arrest, repeatedly suggesting Floyd could be heard saying he “ate too many drugs.” 

He made the claim while questioning Los Angeles Police Department Sgt. Jody Stiger, a use-of-force expert brought in by the prosecution, as well as James Reyerson, who serves as a senior special agent with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA). 

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The clip was just seconds long and its audio was difficult to discern. 

During Nelson’s cross-examination, both witnesses offered different responses.

Stiger repeatedly said he couldn’t make out Floyd’s comments in the edited clip.

Reyerson initially agreed with Nelson about what Floyd said, but changed his opinion when prosecutors revisited the question and played a longer clip of the moment.

“Having heard it in context, were you able to tell what Mr. Floyd is saying there?” one prosecutor asked Reyerson.

“Yes, I believe Mr. Floyd was saying ‘I ain’t do no drugs,’” Reyerson said.

The interpretation from Nelson prompted criticism from CNN legal analyst Laura Coates on later on Wednesday, who said the prosecution should have immediately objected when the defense attorney first used the phrasing.

“The idea that you’re going to introduce testimony through the actual attorneys is not what you’re entitled to do,” Coates said.

The defense has sought to tie Floyd’s death to his drug use throughout the trial.

A county medical examiner ruled Floyd’s death a homicide caused by “cardiopulmonary arrest while being restrained by law enforcement.”

During her testimony last week, Courteney Ross, George Floyd’s former girlfriend, testified that both and Floyd struggled with an opioid addiction. Following his death, trace amounts of fentanyl and methamphetamine were discovered in his body.

Neither was listed as his cause of death.

Pills recovered at the scene

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McKenzie Anderson, a forensic scientist at the BCA who processed the squad car that Floyd was briefly held in the day he died, testified that she recovered a pill in the police car during a second assessment of the vehicle in January, after the defense requested additional evidence collection.

Anderson described the pill as round in shape, with a rough, textured appearance and no visible markings.

When asked by prosecutor Matthew Frank, Anderson said it was a “fair statement” to say that the pill was “not whole” anymore.

Anderson later revealed, after being questioned by Frank, that the DNA on the pill matched that of Floyd.

This second evidence collection, she said when asked by Frank, was specifically for the pill.

When asked why the pill had not been recovered during the first assessment, Anderson said she did not have any information at the time that she “was looking for anything like a pill or resembling a pill.”

“It was in the backseat of a squad car, so I wasn’t exactly sure what it was,” she continued, adding: “So at the time, I didn’t give it any forensic significance given the information I had.”

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Breahna Giles, another forensic scientist with the BCA, also testified about pills recovered in the center console of the Mercedes car Floyd was driving in prior to his arrest.

Giles described the pills as white, round tablets with apparent pharmaceutical markings. She then tested the tablets by searching the markings on the pills in a database and testing the actual substance.

The results of the substance testing, she said, showed that the tablets contained methamphetamine and fentanyl.

Chauvin’s knee placement during arrest

Nelson on Wednesday argued Chauvin had put his knee on Floyd’s shoulder area, not his neck, when he restrained him.

While cross-examining Stiger, the use of force expert, early Wednesday, Nelson claimed images of the arrest showed Chauvin appearing to have his knee more between Chauvin’s shoulder and neck area. He also revisited the positioning of Chauvin’s knee when Reyerson took the stand.

Both Stiger and Reyerson testified that Chauvin’s knee was on Floyd’s neck in pictures presented during the trial.

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“It appears as though it’s on the back of Mr. Floyd’s neck,” Reyerson said. Stiger also said Chauvin’s knee was “more at the base of” Floyd’s neck in the photos.

Stiger also described the force Chauvin applied during Floyd’s arrest as “deadly,” and said “no force should have been used” once officers had him handcuffed in a prone position and he was no longer resisting. 

While Stinger said during cross-examination that officers are told during training that they can put their knee between a person’s shoulder blades at the base of the neck when restraining them, he also said “officers are always cautioned to try to stay away from the neck as much as possible.”

“Neck compression” was among the factors listed as Floyd’s cause of death in the report released by the Hennepin County medical examiner in Minnesota in the days after he died. 

Nelson’s claims about Chauvin’s knee placement come as the defense has continued to try to downplay the role the former officer’s conduct played in Floyd’s death.

Crowd of bystanders’ potential influence during arrest

Both the prosecution and defense discussed the crowd that gathered at the scene where Floyd was detained on Wednesday, with both sides arguing over whether the crowd distracted Chauvin from being attentive to Floyd’s state during the period of restraint.

When asked by prosecutor Steve Schleicher if he factored the crowd gathered at the scene of Floyd’s arrest in his analysis of the incident, Stiger responded, “no,” adding: “I did not perceive them as being a threat.”

“They were merely filming, and they were, most of it was their concern for Mr. Floyd,” Stiger said, when asked why he did not view the crowd as a threat.

While Stiger agreed that he acknowledged it would be possible for a “loud group” to distract an officer from being attentive to Floyd’s state during the arrest, the expert said he did not believe that occurred.

“You can hear Mr. Floyd displaying his discomfort and pain and you can also hear the defendant responding to him,” Stiger said. 

He also rejected any notion that an officer is able to increase the use of force on a person based on conduct of a third party over whom the subject has no control.

“The officers can only use force based on the subject’s actions,” Stiger said. He added in such cases that where officers face name-calling or loud noise that the officer must “continue to assess and reassess their force, or they would attempt to lower any type of threat level that they may perceive.”

He added that Chauvin’s eight hundred-plus hours of paid training should have “absolutely” been sufficient training to prepare the defendant for any distraction faced from a crowd during Floyd’s arrest. 

The defense team also concentrated on the crowd at the scene during their cross-examination, largely focusing on the possibility that Chauvin may have been distracted by the crowd when he was restraining Floyd.

“Ultimately, when an officer is on scene and is making a decision to use force and the crowd assembles, whether they’re peaceful or not peaceful, an officer, a reasonable officer, has to be aware of what they’re doing, right?” Nelson asked.

“Absolutely,” Stiger answered, later adding, when prompted by Nelson, that the crowd can “in certain instances” be distracting to an officer, including when individuals are trying to talk to an officer.

Nelson then threw expletive-filled insults at Stiger, adding “a reasonable officer could perceive that as a threat.”

Stiger, however, pushed back on Nelson’s assessment, saying it “depends on an officer’s training and experience,” later adding that it could be seen as a “potential threat.”

“But an officer, a reasonable officer, could perceive the words that people are saying and the tone that it is being said in as a threat or a risk to the officer’s safety, agreed?” Nelson asked.

“Possibly, but officers are typically trained, when it comes to verbal threats in themselves, that you can’t just use that only to justify force,” Stiger responded.

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