Defence claims George Floyd told police ‘I ate too many drugs’, but witnesses disagree

‘I believe Mr Floyd was saying, “I ain’t do no drugs”,’ says Minnesota criminal investigator who reviewed the case

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Wednesday 07 April 2021 20:29 BST
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Minnesota special agent agrees George Floyd denied taking drugs during arrest
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George Floyd allegedly told officers “I ate too many drugs” while he was being handcuffed during his fatal arrest, according to a brief, noisy video clip defence attorneys played in court on Wednesday during the Derek Chauvin murder trial.

“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,” he said as he introduced the recording.

Witnesses who reviewed the footage before and during the trial of Mr Chauvin disagreed that Mr Floyd admitted to using drugs on tape.

James Reyerson, a special agent with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension who investigated Mr Floyd’s death, at first said he hadn’t heard that specific clip during his review of the incident and couldn’t make out Mr Floyd’s remarks upon listening in court. After hearing the clip for a second time on Wednesday, Mr Reyerson agreed that it did sound like Mr Floyd was talking about ingesting drugs before he was excused. Finally, upon being recalled to the stand and hearing it for a third time, this time in an extended clip to put Mr Floyd’s words in fuller context, he concluded Mr Floyd didn’t say he had taken drugs, but rather the exact opposite.

“I believe Mr Floyd was saying, ‘I ain’t do no drugs,’” Mr Reyerson said.

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Determining the true cause of Mr Floyd’s death last May is perhaps the central question of the trial, where former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin faces multiple murder charges after kneeling on the neck of Mr Floyd, an unarmed, handcuffed Black man, for more than nine minutes during a 2020 arrest for a counterfeit $20 bill.

Mr Chauvin’s lawyers have blamed George Floyd’s death in part on a drug overdose. He denies all the charges against him.

“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,” attorney Eric Nelson said during his opening statement last week.

And according to police body camera footage, Mr Chauvin, who has yet to testify, said drugs also framed how he saw the arrest for which he is now on trial.

“We’ve got to control this guy because he’s a sizeable guy,” Mr Chauvin told a bystander, Charles MacMillian, in an exchange following the arrest. “It looks like he was probably on something.”

But neither of the witnesses on Wednesday who viewed the video of Mr Floyd allegedly talking about drugs agreed. Earlier in the day, another witness called by the state, Jody Stiger, a use of force expert with the Los Angeles Police Department, told the court he couldn’t hear what Mr Floyd was saying in the clip.

The state, meanwhile, argues it was Mr Chauvin’s knee on George Floyd’s neck which ultimately killed him.

People who are having opioid overdoses, prosecutor Jerry W Blackwell argued last week in his opening statement, are “not screaming for their lives, they’re not calling for their mothers, they’re not saying ‘Please, please, I can’t breathe,’ that’s not what opioid overdose looks like.”

Medically related testimony has thus far has backed up that interpretation.

Mr Stiger, the state’s LAPD force expert, said that officers should have realised “something is not right” as Mr Floyd began to struggle to breathe. Evidence in court on Wednesday suggests officers remained on his back for at least two minutes once he became unresponsive.

“As the time went on, early in the video, you could see that Mr Floyd’s health was deteriorating,” Mr Stiger said. “His breath was getting lower. His tone of voice was getting lower. His movements were starting to cease at that point. As an officer on the scene, you have duty to realise something is not right.”

Officers have a legal duty to provide medical care to those in their custody, Mr Stiger, the use of force expert explained.

“Once you take someone into custody then you’re responsible for their care,” he said. “You’re obligated to as part of your duty.”

On body camera footage of the arrest, Mr Chauvin can be heard acknowledging Mr Floyd’s repeated pleas that he can’t breathe.

“Takes a heck of a lot of oxygen to talk,” Mr Chauvin says in response.

On Tuesday, a Minneapolis police medical training coordinator said this is an erroneous belief.

“There is a possibility that somebody could be in respiratory distress and still be able to verbalise it,” Nicole Mackenzie said. “Just because they’re speaking doesn’t mean they’re breathing adequately.”

Mr Stiger added that most officers are trained to “immediately” sit someone up or place them in a “side recovery position” once they’ve been handcuffed on the ground to allow for easier breathing.

Dr Bradford Langenfeld, the then-resident at the Hennepin County Medical Center who treated Mr Floyd after he was rushed into an ambulance, said he hadn’t been informed of any drug or heart problems when the man arrived in his care. After examining the evidence, “asphyxia, as it’s commonly understood,” a lack of oxygen to the body, seemed to him the most likely cause of death.

Wednesday’s proceedings also dug into the details of the state police investigation that followed Mr Floyd’s death, including forensic evidence that Mr Floyd was injured during his arrest and that drugs were found on the scene.

Multiple state and private forensic scientists on Wednesday testified that pills and blood stains were recovered from the police squad car officers tried unsuccessfully to push Mr Floyd into during his arrest. Pills recovered from the police cruiser, as well as Mr Floyd’s own car recovered on the scene, contained methamphetamine and fentanyl.

During the trial today, Mr Nelson, the defence attorney, also highlighted clips from the final moments of George Floyd’s arrest as paramedics arrive, which he argued showed Mr Chauvin’s knee wasn’t on Mr Floyd’s neck the entire time.

“A single photograph isn’t going to capture the dynamics of what’s happening,” Mr Nelson said.

The entire arrest was recorded from multiple angles and police body cameras, and numerous witnesses and experts have testified that Mr Chauvin’s knee was on Mr Floyd’s neck, a move which four senior Minneapolis police officers have said so far did not following proper training.

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