Derek Chauvin was “justified” when he put his knee on George Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes last May, a police trainer and use-of-force expert testified in the former officer’s murder trial on Tuesday.
“I felt that officer Chauvin’s interactions with Mr Floyd were following his training, following current practices in policing, and were objectively reasonable,” said Barry Brodd, a witness for the defence.
Mr Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, is charged with two counts of murder and one of manslaughter after kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a handcuffed, unarmed Black man, for more than nine minutes during an arrest last May for a counterfeit $20 bill.
Mr Brodd’s testimony on Tuesday marked the beginning of the defence phase of the trial. He is Mr Chauvin’s legal team’s first major witness, and the first to offer this positive interpretation of Mr Chauvin’s actions. Numerous senior Minneapolis police officers and an independent use of force expert have argued that the former officer went way overboard, violated proper police protocols, and failed to properly carry out his legal duty to medically care for someone in his custody.
Contrary to these previous opinions, Mr Brodd testified that the “prone control” position, pressing someone against the ground to handcuff or otherwise overpower them, was not inherently a use of force because it was unlikely to cause pain, though he conceded under questioning it was possible.
“It doesn’t hurt,” he said. “You’ve put the suspect where it’s safe for you, the officer, safe for the the suspect, and you’re using minimal effort to keep them on the ground.”
Throughout his arrest, Mr Floyd expressed over and over again that he was in pain and couldn’t breathe, and officers verbally registered that they heard him. Mr Brodd acknowledged a reasonable officer would take into account these pleas in deciding what amount of force to use.
Minneapolis police department policy considers using restraints a use of force.
Under questioning from state prosecutor Steve Schleicher, Mr Brodd conceded that restraining someone in the prone “control” position as they’re being handcuffed could cause pain, which would amount to unjustified force if inflicted on a compliant person. “If someone is not resisting, and they’re compliant, the use of ‘control,’ as you put it, that could produce pain, is just not justified is it?” Mr Shleicher asked.
“No,” Mr Brodd responded.
Mr Schleicher argued that Mr Chauvin didn’t continue to use a proportionate amount of force on Mr Floyd, despite changes to the situation on the ground.
According to body camera video, Mr Floyd at first resisted attempts from officers to get him into a squad car, but later thanked them as he was brought out and put onto the pavement on his knees. From there, three officers restrained Mr Floyd, who was already in handcuffs, and he slowly stopped moving and began losing consciousness over nine minutes.
“What part of this is not compliant?” the prosecutor said, pointing to a segment of body camera video late in the interaction, where Mr Floyd was barely moving or speaking.
Mr Brodd and the defence pointed to moments where Mr Floyd’s legs kicked out as evidence of “active resistance” to officers even once he was on the ground.
Lindsey Thomas, a forensic pathologist called by the state, argued last week those body jerks on the ground were involuntary reactions to police squeezing the oxygen out of his body.
“That’s the point at which you can tell by looking, that’s where he no longer is getting oxygen to his brain,” she said. “Then the restraint and subdual and compression continue for many minutes more, even after someone checks and says there’s no pulse, they maintain the position. At that point his heart has also stopped.”
Previously, senior Minneapolis police officers like Lieutenant Richard Zimmerman, the longest serving officer on the force, said kneeling on someone’s body constitutes deadly force and breaks with Minneapolis police training.
“Totally unnecessary,” he said when asked whether that sort of move was justified in a situation like Mr Floyd’s arrest.
“First of all, pulling him down to the ground face-down and putting your knee on a neck for that amount of time is just uncalled for. I saw no reason why the officers felt they were in danger, if that’s what they felt, and that’s what they would have to have felt to use that kind of force.”
“That would be the top tier: the deadly force ... because of the fact that if your knee is on somebody’s neck, that could kill him,” he added.
Others have said the move didn’t follow Minneapolis policy use of force policy either, which formally advocates protecting the public and honouring the “sanctity” of life.
Jurors heard on Tuesday that Mr Chauvin received nearly 900 hours of paid training as part of his employment with the Minneapolis police force.
“There’s an initial reasonableness in trying to get him under control in the first few seconds,” Minneapolis police chief Medaria Arradondo testified last week. “Once there was no longer any resistance, and clearly when Mr Floyd was no longer responsive and even motionless, to continue to apply that level of force to a person proned out, handcuffed behind their back, that in no way shape or form is by policy, is not part of our training, and is certainly not part of our ethics or values.”
Tuesday’s proceedings also focused on the moments that led up to Mr Floyd’s fatal arrest, from a 2019 encounter with police that revealed his underlying heart problems, to the minutes and seconds before officers began arresting him in May of 2020.
The defence has argued these moments show Mr Floyd’s underlying health vulnerabilities, which they argue contributed to his death, while most of the medical experts in the trial so far have argued police killed him, including Hennepin County medical examiner Andrew Baker, who ruled the death a homicide after an autopsy.
Paramedic Michelle Monseng told jurors about treating Mr Floyd in 2019, where she noticed he had high blood pressure, and Mr Floyd told her he was “addicted” to opioids.
“He was upset and confused,” she said, describing Mr Floyd’s state of mind when he arrived.
Shawanda Hill was at the Cup Foods grocery store and in the car with Mr Floyd in the minutes leading up to his arrest. Inside the store he was “normal, talking, alert”, but later became sleepy as his friends tried to “wake him up over and over”, as Ms Hill described.
The trial is one of the most closely watched policing cases in decades, yet as it unfolded in Minneapolis court on Tuesday, the city was focused on another use of force scandal, after an officer in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center shot and killed 20-year-old Daunte Wright, who is Black, during a traffic stop.
The officer, Kim Potter, resigned on Tuesday, as did Brooklyn Center police chief Tim Gannon.
The families of both Mr Wright and Mr Floyd gathered outside the court house where the Chauvin trial was ongoing to demand justice and police reform.
“It is unbelievable,” Ben Crump, a civil rights attorney representing both families, said. “It is just something I could not fathom, that in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a suburb, 10 miles from where the Chauvin trial in regard to George Floyd was taking place, that a police officer would shoot and kill another unarmed Black man.”