MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Former Officer Derek Chauvin was justified in pinning George Floyd to the ground because he struggled and frantically resisted, a use-of-force expert testified for the defense Tuesday, contradicting a parade of authorities from both inside and outside the Minneapolis Police Department.
Taking the stand at Chauvin’s murder trial, Barry Brodd, a former Santa Rosa, California, police officer, said officers don’t have to wait for something bad to happen; they need only to have a reasonable fear that there’s a threat and then adjust their actions accordingly. He stoutly defended Chauvin’s actions, even as a prosecutor pounded away at the witness, banging the lectern at one point during cross-examination and growing incredulous when Brodd suggested Floyd was struggling because he wasn’t “resting comfortably” on the pavement.
“It’s easy to sit and judge … an officer’s conduct,” Brodd testified. “It’s more of a challenge to, again, put yourself in the officer’s shoes to try to make an evaluation through what they’re feeling, what they’re sensing, the fear they have, and then make a determination.”
He also said he didn’t believe Chauvin and the other officers used deadly force when they pinned Floyd on his stomach, with his hands cuffed behind his back and Chauvin’s knee on his neck or neck area for what prosecutors say was 9 1/2 minutes.
Brodd likened it instead to a situation in which officers use a Taser on someone fighting with officers, and the suspect falls, hits his head, and dies: “That isn’t an incident of deadly force. That’s an incident of an accidental death.”
Several top Minneapolis police officials—including the police chief—have testified that Chauvin used excessive force and violated his training. And medical experts called by prosecutors have testified that Floyd died from a lack of oxygen because of the way he was restrained. But Brodd said: “I felt that Officer Chauvin’s interactions with Mr. Floyd were following his training, following current practices in policing and were objectively reasonable.”
The question of what is reasonable is important: Police officers are allowed certain latitude to use deadly force when someone puts the officer or other people in danger. Legal experts say a key issue for the jury will be whether Chauvin’s actions were reasonable in those specific circumstances.
Prosecutor Steve Schleicher used his cross-examination to once again painstakingly go through video clips of a pinned-down Floyd gasping that he couldn’t breathe and then going limp.
The prosecutor hammered away at Brodd, saying that a reasonable officer in Chauvin’s position would have known Floyd stopped resisting, that another officer told him he couldn’t find a pulse, and that others said Floyd had passed out and was no longer breathing.
“And the defendant’s position is, and was, and remains, as we see here at this moment, in this time, in this clip—on top of Mr. Floyd on the street. Isn’t that right?” Schleicher asked, as he banged his hand on the lectern repeatedly.
“Yes,” Brodd replied.
At one point, Brodd argued that Floyd kept on struggling instead of just “resting comfortably” on the ground.
“Did you say ‘resting comfortably’?” an incredulous Schleicher asked.
Brodd: “Or laying comfortably.”
Schleicher: “Resting comfortably on the pavement?”
The prosecutor went on to say that Floyd was moving, but it was because he was struggling to breathe by shoving his shoulder into the pavement.
Under questioning, Brodd also testified that the bystanders yelling at the officers to get off Floyd complicated the situation for Chauvin and the others. “The crowds started to grow in size, start to become more vocal. So now officers are always trained to deal with right, so what threat is the biggest threat?” he said. “Is it the suspect on the ground in front of me in handcuffs that we have relatively controlled? Or is it the unknown threat posed by the crowd that could go from verbal to trying to interfere with my arrest process in a matter of seconds?”
Brodd also appeared to endorse what prosecution witnesses have said is a common misconception: that if someone can talk, he or she can breathe. “I certainly don’t have medical degrees, but I was always trained and feel it’s a reasonable assumption that if somebody’s, ‘I’m choking, I’m choking,’ well, you’re not choking because you can breathe,” he said.
Chauvin, a 45-year-old white man, is on trial on charges of murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death last May after his arrest of suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 at a neighborhood market.
Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson has argued that the 19-year Minneapolis police veteran did what he was trained to do and that Floyd died because of his illegal drug use and underlying health problems, including high blood pressure and heart disease. Fentanyl and methamphetamine were discovered in his system.
As the defense began presenting its case on Tuesday after the prosecution rested following 11 days of testimony and a mountain of video evidence, Nelson sought to plant doubt in jurors’ minds. He brought up a 2019 arrest in which Floyd suffered from dangerously high blood pressure and confessed to heavy use of opioids, and he suggested that the Black man may have suffered from “excited delirium” —what a witness described as a potentially lethal state of agitation and even superhuman strength that can be triggered by drug use, heart disease, or mental problems.
Nicole Mackenzie, a Minneapolis police training officer, was called by Nelson to expound on excited delirium. While Floyd was pinned to the ground, a relatively new officer at the scene had mentioned that Floyd might be suffering from such a condition.
Mackenzie testified that the signs of excited delirium can include incoherent speech, extraordinary strength and sweating, and that officers are trained to call paramedics, because a person in that state can rapidly go into cardiac arrest.
An expert in forensic medicine previously dismissed Nelson’s excited-delirium suggestion during the prosecution’s case, saying Floyd met none of the 10 criteria developed by the American College of Emergency Physicians.
Nelson’s first witnesses, a now-retired Minneapolis police officer and paramedic, testified about a May 6, 2019, incident in which Floyd was pulled from a car and arrested by Minneapolis police. That was a year before his fatal encounter with Chauvin.
Another witness, now-retired paramedic Michelle Moseng who responded to that call, testified that Floyd told her he had been taking multiple opioids about every 20 minutes. “I asked him why and he said it was because he was addicted,” said Moseng, who described Floyd’s behavior as “elevated and agitated” before the judge struck that remark from the record.
Moseng said she recommended taking Floyd to the hospital-based on his high blood pressure, which she measured at 216 over 160. On cross-examination, prosecutor Erin Eldridge got Moseng to testify that Floyd’s respiratory output, pulse, heart rate, EKG, and heart rhythms were normal. Eldridge said Floyd was taken to the hospital and released two hours later.
The prosecution’s expert witnesses rejected the notion that Floyd’s drug use or underlying health problems caused his death. In fact, a cardiology expert on Monday said that Floyd appeared to have “an exceptionally strong heart.”
Another defense witness Tuesday was Shawanda Hill, who was in the SUV with Floyd before his ill-fated encounter with Chauvin.
Another defense witness Tuesday was Shawanda Hill, who was in the SUV with Floyd before his ill-fated encounter with Chauvin. She said that Floyd fell asleep at some point and seemed startled when he realized police were there, that he panicked and cried over and over when they first approached his SUV at gunpoint on the day of his death. When he saw an officer at the window with a gun, Floyd “instantly grabbed the wheel and he was like, ‘Please, please, don’t kill me. Please, please, don’t shoot me. Don’t shoot me. What did I do? Just tell me what I did,'” Hill testified.
Also testifying was Minneapolis Park Police Officer Peter Chang, who helped at the scene that day. He said he saw a “crowd” growing across the street that “was becoming more loud and aggressive, a lot of yelling across the street.”
“Did that cause you any concern?” Nelson asked.
“Concern for the officers’ safety, yes,” Chang replied.
Former Officer Scott Creighton said he drew his gun and pulled Floyd from a car after Floyd did not comply with orders to show his hands. Nelson twice asked questions aimed at getting the jury thinking about Floyd swallowing drugs, but Creighton said he did not see Floyd take anything.
Nelson hasn’t said whether Chauvin will take the stand. Testifying could open him up to devastating cross-examination but could also give the jury the opportunity to see any remorse or sympathy on the officer’s part.
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