The state of Minnesota rested its case in former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s trial on Tuesday after just over two weeks of testimony. The prosecution maintains that Floyd died of asphyxiation due to the force of Chauvin’s knee on his neck. Defense attorney Eric Nelson believes he can prove that George Floyd died because of high levels of drugs in his system and their deleterious effect on an underlying heart condition.
Floyd’s team of attorneys, Matthew Frank and Erin Eldridge, and two outside lawyers, Jerry Blackwell and Steve Schleicher, as well as 10 others “working behind the scenes,” some for free—say that Floyd died due to asphyxiation because of “nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds” of Chauvin’s knee on his neck. Recent video footage has put the location of Chauvin’s knee in question. A timeline of highlights of the court proceedings from day one can be found here. Live coverage is available here.
Blackwell, a prominent Black civil rights attorney, and one of the founders of the Minnesota Association of Black Lawyers, delivered his 25-minute opening statement on Mar. 29. Blackwell is known for his “unique ability to translate complicated legal jargon into information jurors can understand,” according to those familiar with his work.
He reminded the jury of some of Floyd’s oft publicly repeated final words, including his allusions to his “fear of dying” that day. “I’ll probably die this way. I’m through, I’m through. They gonna kill me. They gonna kill me, man…please, I can’t breathe, please, your knee on my neck.”
With his death on May 25, protests and, at times, violent riots broke out in Minneapolis, resulting in deaths, devastating fires, and property destruction throughout the U.S. At the time and many still say on social media that the disturbances were merely “peaceful protests.” According to the New York Times report on Mar. 28, at least 140 cities erupted in protest, and the “National Guard was activated in 21 states” due to the violence and property damage in multiple cities. Floyd died in custody while bystanders shot video footage with cellphones of the officers’ actions that day.
The video report below is one of many from the period following his death. Officers were seriously injured during what appeared to be riots.
On May 29, former police officer Derek Chauvin, who allegedly pinned Floyd to the ground with his knee on his neck, was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Chauvin, 44, who was wearing a bodycam, faces charges that could mean a “maximum 35-year sentence.” A judge reinstated the third-degree murder charge on Mar. 11 after “the Minnesota Supreme Court declined to take up the issue” and sent it back to the lower court. Floyd’s death set in motion repeated calls for police reform and racial justice and ignited heated debate and continued violence with the hashtags #Icantbreathe and #NoJusticeNoPeace on social media platforms that continue to this day.
The fatal police shooting of another Black man, Duante Wright, on Sunday caused the Mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul to announce curfews on Monday.
Police clashed with protesters for a second night in the Minneapolis suburb where a police officer fatally shot 20-year-old Daunte Wright on Sunday.
The shooting sparked riots in an area already in turmoil over the trial for the death of George Floyd.https://t.co/aYHjCm9AL5
— The Wire (@thewire_in) April 13, 2021
Expert witnesses seem to disagree about why and how Floyd died. Witnesses for the prosecution state that he died of asphyxiation and that Chauvin used “excessive and unnecessary force in restraining George Floyd.” According to CourtTV.com on day 6, “Minneapolis Police Chief Mederia Arrodando testified that Derek Chauvin violated the department’s policies, including ignoring the sanctity of life and using excessive and unnecessary force in restraining George Floyd, and failing to administer aid when it was clear Floyd was in medical distress.” The same day, Dr. Bradford Wankede Langenfeld, the doctor who treated Floyd, testified that he thinks “Floyd’s heart stopped as a result of hypoxia or asphyxia.”
However, camera angles seem to now be a compelling piece of evidence in the Defense’s case, according to reports by CourtTV. Defense attorney Eric Nelson “raised the concept of camera angle bias during the cross-examination of Police Chief Arrondanodo; playing side by side clips of bystander video and Officer Kueng’s body camera, suggesting that from Keung’s point of view, Chauvin appeared to be on Floyd’s shoulder blade and not his neck.” The footage is a critical piece of evidence because it contradicts footage shared virally for months about the location of Chauvin’s knee on Floyd’s body which contributes to questions about the cause of death.
In addition, witnesses testified that Chauvin’s method of restraint was something officers are trained to do— with limits. According to CourtTV, “Minneapolis police supervisor Lt. Johnny Mercil testified that ‘knee on the neck would be something does happen in the use of force,’ but when the subject has been brought under control and handcuffed, this manner of restraint would not be reasonable and not approved.”
New video footage shown on April 13 from Park police Officer Chang’s bodycam, who stayed with the two friends who were inside Floyd’s vehicle, shows the two friends, now standing outside, seemingly frustrated with what seems to be a stubborn reluctance to cooperate with the police. “Damn, he still won’t get in the car. Just sit down, George! They gotta push him in this car. He’s fightin’ to get out. What is he doin’??! Look, they still fightin’ him!”
Toxicology reports show that Floyd had significant levels of drugs in his system at the time of his arrest. Reporting by Reuters indicated that during his arrest, he was attempting to hide pills by swallowing them when confronted by the officers. In footage shown during the trial, Floyd seems to admit that he “ate too many drugs.”
Experts disagree about the cause of his death due to the presence of two different autopsy reports; one supplied by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner and one provided by independent experts hired by his family.
According to CNN, “The independent autopsy says Floyd died of ‘asphyxiation from sustained pressure’ when his neck and back were compressed by Minneapolis police officers during his arrest last week. The pressure cut off blood flow to his brain, that autopsy determined. But the medical examiner’s office, in its report, also released Monday, said that the cause of death is ‘cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression.'”
On Wednesday, defense witness Dr. David Fowler said that George Floyd did not conclusively die from asphyxiation. “All of his injuries were where the knee was not.” Fowler testified that Floyd’s cause of death is “undetermined” because he had “so many conflicting potential mechanisms of death.” Fowler also testified during cross-examination by Blackwell that “in a substantial number of the cases” where somebody dies “from asphyxia—or low oxygen levels—there is not necessarily any physical evidence of trauma in the autopsy.”
The experts supporting the Defense’s position believe that Floyd died of cardiac arrest due to the presence of “lethal amounts of fentanyl and smaller amounts of methamphetamine in his system at the time of this death,” as shown by his toxicology report. According to unwokenarrative.com,
“Excited delirium poses a serious risk of sudden death. This is particularly true for people who have severe coronary artery disease and hypertensive heart disease, like George Floyd. Floyd had a “heavy heart,” and “at least one artery was approximately 75% blocked.” This condition is made even worse when the person is intoxicated with fentanyl, excited by methamphetamine, and agitated. These factors, unknown to the Officers, put George Floyd at great risk of suffering a sudden and fatal cardiac rhythm disturbance.”
As seen in the dialogue captured above, the officers were concerned about the possibility of excited delirium at the time of the arrest. However, “seventeen minutes after the first squad car arrived at the scene, Floyd was unconscious and pinned by three police officers, showing no signs of life. Officer Chauvin did not remove his knee even after Floyd lost consciousness and for 1 minute and 20 seconds after paramedics arrived. Floyd was ‘unresponsive’ and ‘pulseless’ in the ambulance before he was pronounced dead at Hennepin County Medical Center,” according to documentation reported by unwokenarrative.
George Floyd's death sparked unrest because many believed he was killed for being Black.
To this day, there is no proof of that narrative. A breakdown of the event makes it clear. 2/
— Unwoke Narrative (@UnwokeNarrative) March 9, 2021
Prior to the beginning of the trial, the city of Minneapolis on Friday agreed to pay $27 million to settle a civil lawsuit from George Floyd’s family in early March. The family’s attorney, Ben Crump, thanked city leaders with the following statement:
“It’s going to be a long journey to justice. This is just one step on the journey to justice,” Crump said. “This makes a statement that George Floyd deserved better than what we witnessed on May 25, 2020, that George Floyd’s life mattered, and that by extension, Black lives matter.” His sister Floyd added, “Even though my brother is not here, he’s here with me in my heart. If I could get him back, I would give all this back.”
According to Crump, it is the largest pre-trial settlement ever for a civil rights claim. Multiple lavish funeral services were held for Floyd, with celebrities attending one of them in Houston, where he was buried in a golden casket paid for by a GoFundMe sponsored by former American Boxer, Floyd Mayweather, who “collected $13 Million in donations from around the world.” Al Sharpton presided at the funeral.