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Chauvin Jury Gets Case After Emotional Closing Arguments

Ayanna Alexander and Ian Lopez
·6 min read

(Bloomberg Law) -- The case of the former Minneapolis police officer accused of killing George Floyd went to the jury after Derek Chauvin’s defense attorney said the viral video of him kneeling on Floyd’s neck and back doesn’t tell the entire story.

Moments after jurors went into deliberation, defense attorney Eric Nelson pleaded with Judge Peter Cahill to declare a mistrial, pointing to the “public context” and “profound” media attention of the trial, including criticisms from Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and television shows. Waters urged protesters to “get more confrontational” if Chauvin isn’t convicted, according to news reports.

Cahill shot down Nelson’s bid, though he acknowledged that the defense may have something to work with on appeal.

“A congresswoman’s opinion really doesn’t matter a whole lot,” Cahill said.

The closing arguments come amid heightened tension in Minnesota and nationwide over police use of force. A 20-year-old Black man, Daunte Wright, was shot and killed by an officer in nearby Brooklyn Center, Minn., during the Floyd trial, spurring protests that could possibly erupt further following a verdict in the Chauvin trial. Nelson has spent the trial laying ground work for potential appeals if Chauvin is convicted, arguing Cahill should have sequestered the jury sooner to keep them from being influenced by news coverage.

The jury will decide if the state proved Chauvin is guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, or manslaughter. Chauvin faces up to 40 years in prison.

The jury’s deliberations on the first day ended at 8 p.m., according to the court, without a verdict on the counts against Chauvin. The jury is set to resume deliberations Tuesday morning.

Nelson in his closing argument broke down videos of Floyd’s arrest on May 25, 2020, to show the various decisions Chauvin and other officers had to make in the moment as they sought to subdue the suspect safely.

Chauvin had to evaluate how aggressive Floyd was and whether he posed a risk to police officers or bystanders shouting at officers as they sought to arrest him. Officers were constantly evaluating Floyd’s resistance and health, Nelson said as he walked jurors through video of Floyd’s arrest and death.

“A reasonable officer should be able to use a reasonable amount of force to overcome a suspect’s resistance,” Nelson told jurors.

Arrest Footage

Police were called to Cup Foods in Minneapolis May 25, 2020, after reports that a customer used a possible counterfeit bill. According to body camera footage shown to jurors, Floyd became agitated when officers approached him in his car with their guns drawn. He shouted he was afraid of being shot, echoing what he said during a 2019 traffic stop also shown to jurors.

The confrontation escalated after police got Floyd out of his car and attempted to put him in the back of a squad car. Floyd screamed he was claustrophobic and couldn’t breathe.

Chauvin arrived on the scene to assist two rookies—one of whom Chauvin trained—attempting to arrest Floyd. Chauvin had to make a series of snap decisions to assess the risks Floyd posed to police and bystanders, Nelson said.

When officers were struggling to get Floyd into a police car, “not a single use of force expert who testified, not a single police officer who testified said anything that happened to this point was unreasonable,” Nelson said.

The “dispute” over whether Chauvin killed Floyd begins when officers pulled Floyd to the ground after he refused to get into the car. Nelson broke down video of officers restraining Floyd to show they were assessing the suspect’s health and whether further force was warranted, showing Chauvin was following police procedure, Nelson said.

‘Betrayed the Badge’

Prosecution in its closing arguments emphasized that only Chauvin is on trial and not the practice of policing itself.

Special prosecutor Steve Schleicher praised the “most noble profession of policing” while making his final argument that Chauvin should be found guilty in Floyd’s death. Schleicher laid out the case that Chauvin violated police department policy and training when he was filmed kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes on May 25, 2020, painting Chauvin as a rogue actor.

“What the defendant did was not policing. What the defendant did was an assault,” Schleicher said during closing arguments. “There’s nothing worse for good police than bad police.”

Chauvin “betrayed the badge and everything it stood for,” he added.

Prosecutors posited that police ignored Floyd’s cries for help amid the arrest and during his struggle. Schleicher said that Floyd near the end of his life referred to Chauvin as “Mr. Officer.”

“We call the police when we need help. And he pleaded with Mr. Officer,” Schleicher said. “He asked for help with his very last breath. But Mr. Officer did not help, the defendant did not help, he stayed on top of him.”

Schleicher showed footage of Floyd’s arrest to the jurors to make the case that Chauvin and the other officers failed to provide aid as required by department training and policy. Rather than rolling Floyd to his side to aid his breathing, as is required, the officers held Floyd prone while he shouted he couldn’t breathe.

Garland’s View

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland urged the public to wait for the verdict in the Chauvin trial while adding that racism still plagues the country.

“We do not yet have equal justice under law,” Garland said in an interview that aired Monday with ABC News. The Justice Department has an ongoing investigation into whether Chauvin violated federal civil rights laws, which will continue regardless of the verdict in the murder trial.

Asked if he believes there’s racism and bias within law enforcement agencies, Garland said, “Racism is an American problem. It’s plain to me that there has been and remains discrimination against African Americans and other communities of color, and other ethnic minorities.”

Finishing the state’s argument, special prosecutor Jerry Blackwell pushed back on defense claims that Floyd died from an enlarged heart.

“The reason George Floyd is dead is because Mr. Chauvin’s heart is too small,” Blackwell said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Ayanna Alexander in Washington at aalexander@bloomberglaw.com; Ian Lopez in Washington at ilopez@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Andrew Childers at achilders@bloomberglaw.com; Bernie Kohn at bkohn@bloomberglaw.com; Meghashyam Mali at mmali@bloombergindustry.com

(Updates on jury ending first day of deliberations.)

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