Derek Chauvin refuses to testify in George Floyd murder trial

Former police officer has remained largely silent throughout the trial

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Friday 16 April 2021 00:03 BST
Derek Chauvin refuses to testify in George Floyd murder trial
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All testimony is officially finished in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, the white former Minneapolis police officer charged with murdering George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, after both sides rested their case on Thursday.

And despite being at the centre of the closely watched civil rights case, Mr Chauvin himself won’t testify, after he invoked the 5th Amendment in court in Minneapolis. He was not expected to take the stand.

A verdict could come as early as next Monday after closing statements, but it’s unlikely any decision will put long-simmering tensions in Minneapolis between communities and police to rest. Protests continue following the recent shooting of Daunte Wright, an unarmed, 20-year-old Black man, during a traffic stop in the nearby suburb of Brooklyn Center.

Mr Chauvin has been in court every day, but hasn’t said anything during his trial, even as numerous witnesses have shared their side of the story. There has also been hours of video from bystanders, police body cameras, and a Minneapolis surveillance post, revealing numerous angles on what happened on 25 May 2020, when Mr Chauvin fatally arrested Mr Floyd over a counterfeit $20 bill.

Jurors will be instructed not to regard this lack of testimony as an indication of guilt or innocence.

Lacking any direct testimony, jurors will only have a few brief video clips to inform their opinion about what Mr Chauvin was thinking.

Understanding an officer’s mindset is central to the legal standards around determining whether they used reasonable amounts of force, and whether they did enough to provide for a suspect in their custody’s medical care. Both of these factors will ultimately help jurors decide whether to convict Mr Chauvin on the charges of murder and manslaughter he is facing.

In video of the incident, the former officer seemed to justify his use of potentially deadly force because he believed Mr Floyd was a large man who was on drugs. “We’ve got to control this guy because he’s a sizeable guy,” Mr Chauvin tells a bystander, Charles MacMillian, after Mr Floyd was carried away by paramedics. “It looks like he was probably on something.”

During the arrest itself, Mr Chauvin downplayed Mr Floyd’s repeated pleas that he couldn’t breathe.

“You’re going to kill me, man,” Mr Floyd says at one point, according to body camera footage.

“Then stop talking, stop yelling. It takes a heck of a lot of oxygen to talk,” Mr Chauvin replies.

Multiple medical experts have testified during the trial that someone can be in medical and respiratory distress even if they can speak or breathe.

“There is a possibility that somebody could be in respiratory distress and still be able to verbalise it,” Nicole Mackenzie, a former EMT and the medical support coordinator for the Minneapolis Police Department, testified last week. “Just because they’re speaking doesn’t mean they’re breathing adequately.”

Officers are both trained and legally required to treat people for medical crises in custody.

“That person is yours,” Minneapolis police lieutenant Richard Zimmerman, the longest serving officer on the force, said in his testimony. “He’s your responsibility. His safety is your responsibility. His well being is your responsibility.”

As it became evident Mr Floyd was in clear distress, another officer, Thomas Lane, who goes on trial later this summer, can be heard on body camera footage asking Mr Chauvin if officers should roll Mr Floyd onto his side in the so-called “recovery position”. “Should we roll him on his side?” Mr Lane asks him.

“No, he’s staying put where we got him,” Mr Chauvin responds, keeping Mr Floyd pressed chest-first against the ground with his knee on Mr Floyd’s neck.

Officer Lane then says he’s worried about Mr Floyd going into “excited delirium,” a medically unrecognised condition some police describe as a combination of psychosis and other factors.

“Well that’s why we have the ambulance coming,” Mr Chauvin responds.

Police called an ambulance early into their detention of Mr Floyd, but remained on top of him for minutes, including after officers could no longer find a pulse and Mr Floyd went unconscious, only letting him off the ground to load his motionless body onto a stretcher.

That’s essentially the entire extent of Mr Chauvin’s remarks on what happened.

The rest of the trial has been dominated by medical experts probing how Mr Floyd died, police use of force experts condemning Mr Chauvin’s conduct, and bystanders describing the traumatic moments when Mr Floyd died in front of them as they pleaded with officers to let him up or check his vital signs.

As the Chauvin trial concludes, the case against former officer Kim Potter, accused of manslaughter in the shooting of Daunte Wright, is just getting started.

Ms Potter, who served on the police force in Brooklyn Center, is charged with manslaughter after shooting Mr Wright, with authorities saying she thought she was wielding her non-lethal Taser stun gun, rather than her pistol. She appeared in court for the first time on Thursday, after nightly protests at the Brooklyn Center police station calling for justice, which have been met with heavy use of force by police with riot control weapons.

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