Society

Update on The Derek Chauvin Trial

READING TIME ~ 5 MINUTES

Key Questions to Consider:

  1. What has Derek Chauvin done? What charges is he facing?
  2. Trial: Prosecution versus Defense
  3. Key Witnesses
  4. What happens next?

1: What has Derek Chauvin done? What charges is he facing?

On May 25, 2020, 46-year-old black man George Floyd was arrested by four officers from the Minneapolis Police Department over suspicions of using a counterfeit $20 bill. During the arrest, Floyd fell onto the ground. As Floyd laid handcuffed, officer Derek Chauvin placed his knee on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes to further restrain him. Two police officers assisted Chauvin (J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane), while another officer (Tou Thao) blocked bystanders from interfering. Under Chauvin’s knee, Floyd repeatedly cried “I can’t breathe” before he went motionless six minutes later. Despite pleas from bystanders, Chauvin refused to lift his knee until medics dictated him to do so. Video footage of Floyd’s death widely circulated in the media, inciting worldwide outrage against police brutality and structural racism. 

Now, Derek Chauvin is facing the following charges:

  • Second-degree unintentional murder
  • Third-degree murder
  • Second-degree manslaughter
Floyd (left) and Derek Chauvin (right) (Essence.com)

2: Trial: Prosecution versus Defense

According to NPR, “There are two central questions in this murder trial: What exactly killed George Floyd, and did Chauvin use excessive force?” Here is what each side has to say:

Prosecution: Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell began his opening statement emphasizing the amount of time George Floyd was pinned to the ground — 9 minutes and 29 seconds.  This time, Blackwell contends, was long enough to cause oxygen deficiency and ultimately lead to death. Thus, it was Chauvin’s actions that killed Floyd.

Defense: In his opening statement, defense attorney Eric Nelson asserts that there are “two sides to a story” and the “evidence is far greater than 9 minutes and 29 seconds.” Nelson argues that Floyd’s health conditions and drug use, not Chauvin’s actions, led to a cardiac arrhythmia and eventual death. Furthermore, Nelson suggests that the “growing crowd” at the scene distracted officers from focusing their full attention on Floyd. 

Jerry Blackwell (left) and Eric Nelson (right) (Associated Press)

3: Key Witnesses

  • Darnella Frazier: the now 18-year-old who captured Floyd’s arrest on video recalled the traumatizing experience and stated that she continues to feel remorse “for not doing more and not physically interacting and not saving his life.” Frazier was one of several witnesses who were called to testify and share their memories and reactions of the arrest. By highlighting the witnesses’ emotional trauma, the prosecution sought to prove that Chauvin’s actions were excessive to the people who saw them in real-time.
  • Lt. Richard Zimmerman: Minneapolis Police Department’s homicide unit head testified that Chauvin’s actions were “totally unnecessary…[and] uncalled-for.” On cross-examination, however, defense attorney Nelson pointed out that Zimmerman has not served as a patrol officer in many years and does not teach defensive tactics.
  • Sgt. Jody Stiger: “use-of-force expert” from the Los Angeles Police Department Inspector General’s Office testified that “no force should have been used” by Chauvin because Floyd “was in the prone position…handcuffed.not attempting to resist…[or] assault the officers.” The defense, however, countered by suggesting that even if people do not appear dangerous, they may quickly pose a threat.
  • Courteney Ross: George Floyd’s former girlfriend recounted her relationship with the deceased, including where they first met, their first date, etc. Ross also spoke at length about the couple’s shared opioid addiction, which began after both were prescribed painkillers to alleviate chronic pain. Through Ross’s testimony, the prosecution sought to “present a fuller picture of who Floyd was” and show that “Mr. Floyd had built up a high tolerance of the drugs, making it less likely that he died of an overdose; Mr. Floyd had methamphetamine and fentanyl in his system at the time of his death, according to a toxicology report.”
Some of the witnesses at Chauvin’s trial (Star Tribune)
  • Dr. Bradford T. Wankhede Langenfeld: the senior resident at Hennepin County Medical Center attempted to resuscitate Floyd before pronouncing him dead on May 25, 2020. In the trial, Dr. Langenfeld testified that he believed Floyd died of “asphyxia” or a lack of oxygen. On cross-examination, however, Dr. Langenfeld identified that drug use can also cause asphyxia. Nevertheless, Dr. Langenfeld pointed out that the chance of survival for patients experiencing cardiac arrest decreases by 10 to 15 percent every minute C.P.R. is not administered; C.P.R. was not administered by the police at the scene.
  • Dr. Martin J. Tobin: the pulmonologist and critical care physician provided a detailed analysis of Floyd’s arrest video, identified the “moment the life goes out of his body,” and testified that “A healthy person subjected to what Mr. Floyd was subjected to would have died.” Ultimately, it was not fentanyl or methamphetamine that altered Floyd’s breathing, but the pressure applied by Chauvin’s knee.
  • Officer Nicole Mackenzie (medical support coordinator) & Lt. Johnny Mercil (use-of-force instructor): both witnesses agreed with the defense’s assertion that a crowd of vocal bystanders may raise alarm with officers and hinder an officer’s ability to provide medical aid and may raise alarm with officers.

4: What happens next?

The Derek Chauvin trial has just finished its second week of statements and testimonies; over 20 prosecution witnesses have already been called to the stand. The defense is expected to present their witnesses next week, and testimonies are expected to last through the end of the week. Following witness examination, closing arguments may begin as soon as the week after next. Next, the jury will begin deliberations.

The three officers who assisted Chauvin — J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, and Tou Thao — are facing charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter and scheduled for trial in August.


TL;DR:

  • Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, is being charged with second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter for the death of George Floyd.
  • The prosecution seeks to prove that Chauvin’s excessive force was the cause of Floyd’s lack of oxygen and ultimate death; the defense seeks to prove that Floyd’s death was caused by his underlying health conditions and drug use.
  • Thus far, over 20 witnesses for the prosecution have been called to the stand. The key witnesses have been: Darnella Frazier, Lt. Richard Zimmerman, Sgt. Jody Stiger, Courtney Ross, Dr. Bradford T. Wankhede Langenfeld, Dr. Martin J. Tobin, Officer Nicole Mackenzie, and Lt. Johnny Mercil.
  • Defense witnesses are expected to be called later next week, followed by closing statements and jury deliberations. 

Sources:

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/here-s-what-was-revealed-first-week-derek-chauvin-trial-n1262932

https://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2021/04/04/derek-chauvin-trial-a-recap-of-week-1/

https://abcnews.go.com/US/key-takeaways-1st-week-derek-chauvin-trial-death/story?id=76838030

https://www.npr.org/sections/trial-over-killing-of-george-floyd/2021/03/30/982640380/what-we-learned-from-day-1-of-the-chauvin-trial

https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/derek-chauvin-trial-explained

https://www.startribune.com/who-are-the-witnesses-in-the-derek-chauvin-trial-for-the-killing-of-george-floyd-in-minneapolis/600042794/

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