The Trial of Derek Chauvin
On May 25th of 2020, the murder of George Floyd took place. George Floyd was a 46-year-old African American man living in Minneapolis. After purchasing a pack of cigarettes from a grocery store, the police were called on him because an employee believed the $20 bill used to be fake. When the officers arrived, they pulled out their guns and ordered George Floyd put his hands in the air, even though Mr. Floyd appeared to be no threat. In the footage of the incident shared widely on social media, you see Floyd being directly restrained by officer Derek Chauvin. Chauvin places his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than nine whole minutes. During this period of time, Floyd repeatedly states “I can’t breathe,” pleads for his mother and begging “please, please, please” and at one point, “you’re going to kill me, man.” Officer Chauvin replies: "Then stop talking, stop yelling. It takes heck of a lot of oxygen to talk." Mr. Floyd says: "Can't believe this, man. Mom, love you. Love you. Tell my kids I love them. I'm dead." About six minutes into that period, Mr. Floyd became non-responsive. It wasn’t until the paramedics came that Chauvin removed his knee from Floyd’s neck. An hour later, he was pronounced dead.
On March 29th, Derek Chauvin’s trial for a murder everyone saw begins.
The Charges of the Officers Involved
Following the global outrage sparked on social media, Derek Chauvin was initially arrested on May 29th with third-degree murder. Judge Peter A. Cahill, who is overseeing the trial, dismissed the third-degree murder charge, and instead upheld a more serious charge of second-degree murder, as well as a second-degree manslaughter charge against Chauvin, who was released on a $1 million bail.
If convicted of second-degree murder, Mr. Chauvin would likely face about 11 to 15 years in prison, though the maximum penalty is up to 40 years.
The three other former officers involved in Mr. Floyd’s death were charged with “aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.”
Week 1 of the Derek Chauvin Trial
The murder trial for Derek Chauvin began on Monday in Minneapolis. The prosecution and defense focused on the cause of Mr. Floyd’s death and Mr. Chauvin’s use of force. Eric J. Nelson, the lawyer for Mr. Chauvin, argues that Mr. Chauvin had been following his training, that his knee was not necessarily on Mr. Floyd’s neck, and that Mr. Floyd’s death may have been caused by drugs.
One of the prosecutors, Jerry W. Blackwell, urged jurors to “believe your eyes, that it’s homicide — it’s murder.” Many witnesses were brought to court, recounting emotional accounts of what they saw that day. One witness, Darnella Frazier, testified that she has been haunted by what she saw, sometimes lying awake at night “apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more and not physically interacting and not saving his life.”
The use of drugs, a crucial element of Derek Chauvin’s defense, was directly addressed. Courteney Ross, George. Floyd’s girlfriend at the time of his deathwas brought in to share some of her own stories with Floyd. Ms. Ross said that she and Mr. Floyd had first been prescribed painkillers to ease chronic pain. When the pills ran out, they continued to buy them from other people. This began their battle towards sobriety. In the weeks before Mr. Floyd’s death, Ms. Ross said, she suspected that he had begun using again.
Prosecutors argued that Floyd had built up a high tolerance of the drugs, making it less likely that he died of an overdose; “Mr. Floyd had methamphetamine and fentanyl in his system at the time of his death, according to a toxicology report.”
Lt. Richard Zimmerman, the longest-serving officer in the Minneapolis Police Department, testified in court. He said Mr. Chauvin violated police policy and called his actions “totally unnecessary.” Putting a knee on someone’s neck while they are handcuffed in a prone position, he said, qualifies as “deadly force.” “If your knee is on a person’s neck, that can kill them,” Lieutenant Zimmerman said, adding that people who are handcuffed generally pose little threat to officers.
Week 2 of Derek Chauvin’s trial
On the second week of Derek Chauvin’s trial, the issue of what caused George Floyd’s death and whether Mr. Chauvin violated police policies on the use of force, was the primary focus of the trial. Medical and law enforcement experts that centered on the conduct of Mr. Chauvin and the cause of Mr. Floyd’s death was called in to testify.
Chief Medaria Arradondo of the Minneapolis Police Department said Mr. Chauvin “absolutely” violated the department’s policies during the arrest. “Once Mr. Floyd had stopped resisting, and certainly once he was in distress and trying to verbalize that, that should have stopped,” Chief Arradondo said.
The defendant also called in witnesses on the question of force. Officer Nicole Mackenzie, the medical support coordinator for the Minneapolis Police Department, agreed with Mr. Nelson’s (Mr. Chauvin’s lawyer) assertion that a crowd of vocal bystanders could make it difficult for an officer to render medical aid during an arrest. And Lt. Johnny Mercil, a veteran of the Minneapolis Police Department and a use-of-force instructor, also said that hostile bystanders can raise alarm with officers.
Chauvin’s defense brought up the possibility of the cause of Floyd’s death to be from drug use. Breahna Giles, a forensic scientist with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, testified that some of the pills recovered at the search scene were found to contain methamphetamine and fentanyl. However, the medical examiner who performed the official autopsy of Mr. Floyd said he found no fragments of pills in Mr. Floyd’s stomach contents.
Medical experts testified that they saw no evidence that George Floyd died from a drug overdose. Dr. Martin J. Tobin, a pulmonologist and critical care physician from the Chicago area, said that any normal person could have died from being pinned under Mr. Chauvin’s knee for nine and a half minutes. Responding to Mr. Nelson’s suggestion that Floyd died from drug use, Dr. Tobin said Mr. Floyd’s behavior did not correspond with that of a person who was overdosing.
“That is not a fentanyl overdose,” Dr. Smock said. “That is somebody begging to breathe.”