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Catch up on the key moments in the Derek Chauvin trial

Catch up on biggest moments in Derek Chauvin murder trial

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Monday 24 May 2021 15:05 BST
Derek Chauvin’s tactics ‘in no way shape or form’ followed training, Minneapolis police chief says

The trial of Derek Chauvin, the white former Minneapolis police officer charged with murdering George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, resulted in the former police office being found guilty on all three counts he was charged with, two of murder and one of manslaughter.

“This was not at accident,” prosecutor Steve Schleicher had argued. “He did what he did on purpose, and it killed George Floyd. That force for 9 min and 29 seconds, that killed George Floyd. And he betrayed the badge and everything it stood for.”

The 12 jurors in the case were sequestered until they reach a verdict in the case, in which Mr Chauvin faced two counts of murder and one of manslaughter, after kneeling on Mr Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes during an arrest last May for a counterfeit $20 bill.

Mr Chauvin was only the second Minneapolis police officer charged with murder while on duty in the department’s more than 150 year history, and one the few officers around the country to face jail time after killing a civilian. He was found guilty in April, with a sentencing date set for 16 June.

Here are the key moments from this historic case:

29 May: Derek Chauvin is charged with murder

On 29 May, 2020, Hennepin County attorney Mike Freeman charged Mr Chauvin, who’d already been fired from the Minneapolis Police Department, with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, four days after the former officer killed Mr Floyd during an arrest for a counterfeit $20 bill. The day before Mr Chauvin was charged, he was prepared to accept a deal to plead guilty to murder to avoid federal civil rights charges, before then Attorney General William Barr scuttled the deal, according to reporting from The New York Times. Charging documents from the state argued Mr Chauvin knew kneeling on Mr Floyd’s neck was “inherently dangerous,” and doing so meant taking an “unreasonable risk” which could cause “death or great bodily harm to George Floyd”.

31 May: Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison takes over the case

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, the first Black man and Muslim elected to statewide office in the state, assumes leadership of the Chauvin case, following calls from lawmakers, protesters, and George Floyd’s family that he take over. This reflected a widespread distrust in the criminal justice system from communities of colour, according to Minnesota governor Tim Walz.

“They believe time and time again, the system works perfectly well as it was designed: to deny those rights and deny justice to communities of colour,” he said at the time.

Later that summer, Mr Ellison levied an additional second-degree murder charge against Mr Chauvin, and charged the three other officers who assisted with Mr Floyd’s arrest: Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J Alexander Kueng, each with unintentionally aiding and abetting both second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

12 January: The trial is split

Among the most important pre-trial decisions was that to try Mr Chauvin separately from his three former colleagues. Hennepin County judge Peter Cahill ruled that prosecuting four officers at once in the same courtroom made “it impossible to comply with Covid-19 physical restrictions”.

This decision, Attorney General Ellison argued, would drain state resources and the community.

“The evidence against each defendant is similar and multiple trials may re-traumatise eyewitnesses and family members and unnecessarily burden the state and the court while also running the risk of prejudicing subsequent jury pools,” he said at the time. 

11 March: A third charge returns

A few weeks before opening argument, the third-degree murder charge against Mr Chauvin was reinstated, after a Minnesota appeals court ruling in the murder case against another former Minneapolis officer, Mohamed Noor, held that third-degree murder charges could be applied to violence against a single person, rather than against a group.

12 March: A $27m settlement with the Floyd family

With jury selection underway, the city of Minneapolis unanimously approved a $27 million settlement with George Floyd’s family, the biggest in city history and one of the largest of all time.

“There is no amount of money that can replace a brother, a son, a nephew, a father, a loved one,” council member Andrea Jenkins said of the decision. “But what we can do is continue to work towards justice and equity and equality in the city of Minneapolis.”

Mr Chauvin’s defence said the settlement, which ended the Floyd family’s civil lawsuit against the city, “gravely concerned” them, for the jury could see it as an official declaration of wrongdoing.

19 March: The trial stays in Minneapolis

Despite efforts from the defence to delay or relocate the trial, Judge Cahill ruled the case would stay in Minneapolis, even though he acknowledged most residents of the city had some level or knowledge or opinion about what happened to Mr Floyd.

“I do not think it that would give the defendant any kind of a fair trial beyond what we are doing here today,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any place in the state of Minnesota that has not been subjected to extreme amounts of publicity on this case."

23 March: The jury is finalised

After days of grilling potential candidates about their opinions on police and racism, a mostly white jury is seated: three Black men, one Black woman, two multi-racial women, as well as two white men and four white women, plus three alternates, all of them white women.

On one hand, the jury over-represents Black people compared to their roughly 20 percent share of the Minneapolis population, yet Black people are even more over-represented in terms of who police in the city use force upon, experiencing police violence at a rate seven times higher than white residents. Activists also argued some Black jurors with the most direct experience of police racism were stricken without cause, including juror number 76, who had once lived in the neighbourhood where Mr Floyd was killed.

29 March: Argument begins with two very different versions of what happened

Opening arguments revealed just how far apart the state and Mr Chauvin’s attorneys stood on what had happened the day Mr Floyd died.

The defence argued that the former officer followed proper police procedure, using force in a situation he believed was dangerous, and that Mr Floyd’s death was ultimately a result of underlying health risks rather than the knee on his neck.

“Derek Chauvin did exactly what he had been trained to do over his 19-year career,” attorney Eric Nelson said. “The evidence will show that Mr Floyd died of a cardiac arrhythmia that occurred as a result of hypertension, his coronary disease, the ingestion of methamphetamine and fentanyl, and the adrenaline flowing through his body – all of which acted to further compromise an already comprised heart,” he added.

Meanwhile, the prosecution argued that Mr Chauvin was way out of line and “betrayed his badge” when he continued to press his knee against Mr Floyd’s neck long after any force was necessary, or Mr Floyd was even conscious.

“This case is not about all police, or all policing,” prosecutor Jerry Blackwell said. “Police officers have difficult jobs. They have to make split-second decisions. They sometimes have split second life or death decisions.”

”This case is not about split-second decision making,” he added, noting that George Floyd had told officers he couldn’t breathe 27 times before he died.

30 March: Bystanders recount a traumatic scene

Even before video of the incident travelled around the world, Mr Floyd’s death happened fully in public view. The trial began with a number of bystanders from the crowd that formed around officers testifying about their fruitless efforts to get police to let Mr Floyd up or offer him medical care.

“It’s been nights I stayed up, apologising and apologising to George Floyd for not doing more, and not physically interacting and not saving his life,” said Darnella Frazier, 18, whose livestreamed cell phone video of the arrest was shared widely, setting off nationwide protests. “When I look at George Floyd, I look at my dad, I look at my brothers, I look at my cousins, my uncles, because they’re all Black,” she added. “I have a Black father. I have a Black brother. I have Black friends.”

Donald Williams, who had extensive martial arts training, recalled telling Mr Chauvin his restraint amounted to a “blood choke” that could kill someone, prompting him to berate officers and eventually call 911.

“I believe I witnessed a murder. I felt the need to call the police on the police,” he said. “He just pretty much killed this guy that wasn’t resisting arrest,” he added.

Others, like off-duty firefighter Genevieve Hansen testified about her efforts to provide first aid to Mr Floyd, and how officers kept her away even as Mr Floyd went unconscious and they couldn’t find a pulse, with Mr Chauvin reaching for his mace at one point to keep her away.

“There was a man being killed, and had I had access to a call similar to that I would have been able to provide medical attention to the best of my abilities and this human was denied that right,” she told the court.

1 April: Remembering George Floyd the man, not the hashtag

Courteney Ross, George Floyd’s girlfriend, recounted his struggles with opioid addiction and depression after the death of his mother, as well as more joyful moments together, like the day they met.

Ms Ross met Mr Floyd in the lobby of the local Salvation Army, where he was working as a security guard. She became emotional as she waited alone in the lobby to meet her father’s son to talk, and Mr Floyd came over to comfort her.

“Floyd has this great, deep Southern voice – raspy,” she said. “He was like, sis; you OK, sis? And I wasn’t OK. I said, no, I’m just waiting for my son’s father. Sorry. He said, ‘Well, can I pray with you?’”

Mr Floyd’s younger brother Philonise testified later that month about how Mr Floyd was a doting mama’s boy, as well as a “leader in our household”.

“George couldn’t cook, but he’ll make sure you had a snack or something to get in the morning,” Philonise Floyd said.

6 April: The “Blue Wall of Silence” Breaks

It’s rare for police to face charges for killing people in the line of duty, and facing testimony from their fellow officers is rarer still . Observers have called this reluctance to punish wrongdoing from the inside the “Blue Wall of Silence”. But that didn’t stop numerous current and former Minneapolis police officers from testifying that Mr Chauvin wasn’t following his training when he knelt on Mr Floyd’s neck while he was handcuffed on the pavement, given the risk of that position.

“There’s an initial reasonableness in trying to get him under control in the first few seconds,” Minneapolis police chief Medaria Arradondo said. “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.”

7 April: A disputed piece of video

The defence argued that in the chaos of Mr Floyd’s arrest, officers might not’ve been aware of the totality of Mr Floyd’s health condition.

“We don’t look at force in a vacuum,” defence attorney Eric Nelson argued. “The suspect may be saying some things. Bystanders may be saying some things. In the chaos it’s easy to miss some things.”

This included Mr Floyd allegedly telling officers, “I ate too many drugs,” Mr Nelson argued, before playing a chaotic video snippet of the remarks, though none of the witnesses who were played the tape agreed that’s what he said.

9 April: The coroner takes the stand

In addition exploring whether Mr Chauvin used an appropriate, legal amount of force, the second leg of the cause was about answering what ultimately caused Mr Floyd’s death.

Dr Andrew Baker, the county medical examiner who performed Mr Floyd’s autopsy, reiterated his finding that the death was a homicide, with police restraints as the main cause and other factors like Mr Floyd’s heart disease and drug use playing a role without being “direct causes”.

“Mr Floyd’s use of fentanyl did not cause the subdual or neck restraint,” he said. “His heart disease did not cause the subdual or the neck restraint.”

Outside experts called by the state reached similar conclusions, ruling out a drug overdose or heart disease. Dr Martin Tobin, a lung specialist, compared police treatment of Mr Floyd to a “vice” that squeezed the air out of his body.

“A healthy person subjected to what Mr Floyd was subjected to would’ve died as a result,” he said.

Another, Dr Bill Smock, argued that officers should’ve carried out their legal duty to provide medical care to someone in their custody much sooner, rather than waiting for the ambulance they called Mr Floyd.

“As soon as Mr Floyd is unconscious, he should’ve been rolled over,” Mr Smock said. “We have documentation on the video that the officer says, ‘I can’t find a pulse.’ That’s clearly, when you look at the video, it should’ve been started way before.”

11 April: Another Black man is killed by police

Just 10 miles from where Mr Chauvin’s trial took place, police in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center shot another unarmed Black man, 20-year-old Daunte Wright, during a traffic stop as he briefly attempted to flee. Body camera footage showed Kim Potter, a veteran officer, shooting Mr Wright when she mistakenly grabbed her gun instead of her Taser, according to authorities. This set off a new wave of mass protests against police brutality, and an equally intense police response, where state troopers and National Guard units used riot control weapons on largely peaceful demonstrators.

The defence argued the protests were cause to delay the case, but the court overruled them.

Ms Potter later resigned and was charged with manslaughter.

13 April: Derek Chauvin’s defence begins

Mr Chauvin’s defence was centred on two big claims: that he used reasonable force, and that his actions didn’t kill Mr Floyd.

Derek Chauvin was “justified” when he put his knee on George Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes last May, police trainer and use-of-force expert Barry Brodd testified.

“I felt that officer Chauvin’s interactions with Mr Floyd were following his training, following current practices in policing, and were objectively reasonable,” he said.

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.

14 April: A new medical diagnosis –and two main witnesses avoid the stand

The next day, Dr David Fowler, a former Maryland chief medical examiner and an expert witness for the defence, argued a confluence of different factors – fentanyl intoxication, pre-existing heart disease, potential exposure to carbon monoxide from a police car’s tailpipe, and officers’ restraints – all had an impact on Mr Floyd’s death.

“When you put all of those together, it’s very difficult to say which of those is most accurate,” Dr Fowler said, as part of his day-long turn on the witness stand. “I would fall back to ‘undetermined’ in this particular case.”

Earlier that day, Mr Chauvin announced he wouldn’t take the stand himself, his only comments in the trial so far. Otherwise, jurors have only heard what police body cameras recorded of the former officer, such as him telling a bystander the incident was justified because Mr Floyd was a large man who appeared high on drugs.

“We’ve got to control this guy because he’s a sizeable guy,” Mr Chauvin tells a bystander, Charles MacMillian, on body camera video, after Mr Floyd was carried away by paramedics. “It looks like he was probably on something.”

Another clip, during the arrest itself, captures Mr Chauvin casting doubt that Mr Floyd really wasn’t able to breathe.

“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.

Morries Hall, set to be the defence’s star witness, also avoided taking the stand, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Mr Hall, who Mr Floyd’s girlfriend accused of selling him opioids, previously told police Mr Floyd was in something of a catatonic state in the moments before officers arrived. Mr Chauvin’s legal team hinted early in the trial they would use this testimony to suggest Mr Floyd’s intoxication.

20 April: The verdict

The jury of 12 people unanimously found Chauvin guilty. He faces up to 40 years in prison, with sentencing set for 16 June. Following the verdict, Mr Floyd’s brother Philonise said: “Today, we are able to breathe again”.

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