Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin “betrayed his badge” when he knelt on George Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes as he was arresting him for using a counterfeit $20 bill, a jury has heard at the start of his murder trial.
Opening arguments began on Monday in the trial of the white former police officer charged with murdering an unarmed Black man, whose death inspired worldwide civil rights protests.
“You’re going to learn in this case a lot about what it means to be a public servant and to have the honour of wearing this badge,” prosecutor Jerry W. Blackwell told the court. “It’s a small badge that carries with it a large responsibility and a large accountably to the public.”
Jurors also watched a long section of video that a bystander shot of the arrest, where state attorneys said Mr Floyd pleaded over and over again—27 times in one form or another—that he couldn’t breathe, before losing consciousness and falling limp.
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“This case is not about all police, or all policing,” Mr Blackwell continued. “Police officers have difficult jobs. They have to make split-second decisions. They sometimes have split second life or death decisions.”
But, the prosecutor added, “This case is not about split-second decision making.”
Instead, the state plans to argue, Mr Chauvin went against common police training as he continued to pin Mr Floyd against the ground for 9 minutes and 29 seconds, even after he lost consciousness and paramedics arrived, arguing that officers have a duty of care towards suspects once they’re in custody, and care was “not a feeling” but “a verb.” It was this alleged lack of care, they’ll ultimately argue, that caused Mr Floyd’s death.
“When Mr Floyd was in distress, Mr Chauvin wouldn’t help him, didn’t help him,” he said. “You’re also going to see, he stopped everyone else from trying to help him.”
The state plans to call witnesses including bystanders, who can be heard in video yelling at officers to take Mr Floyd’s pulse and let him off the ground. One, Genevieve Hansen, is a Minneapolis firefighter who was on the scene that day.
Meanwhile, Mr Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, argued “there are always two sides of a story” and said the case will ultimately come down to concrete evidence of what happened and whether force was reasonable.
“There is no political or social cause in this court room,” he said. “But the evidence is far greater than 9 minutes and 29 seconds.”
According to the defence, Mr Chauvin used appropriate tactics after a drawn out arrest where Mr Floyd failed to comply with previous requests from officers.
“Derek Chauvin did exactly what he had been trained to do over his 19-year career,” Mr Nelson added. “The use of force is not attractive, but it is a necessary part of policing.”
The trial is being seen as a test to what extent the justice system prosecutes officers charged with grave misconduct, after numerous high-profile cases like it before have ended in non-convictions
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