The defense began its case Tuesday, April 13, 2021, at the murder trial of former Officer Derek Chauvin, seizing on a 2019 confrontation between police and George Floyd in which Floyd suffered dangerously high blood pressure and confessed to heavy use of opioid painkillers.
Chauvin lawyer Eric Nelson has argued that the now-fired white officer did what he was trained to do and that Floyd died last May because of his illegal drug use and underlying health conditions, not because of Chauvin pinning him to the pavement.
Moments after the prosecution rested its case Tuesday after 11 days of testimony and a mountain of video evidence, the defense put on its first witness, a retired Minneapolis police officer who testified about a May 6, 2019, incident in which Floyd was arrested, a year before his fatal encounter with Chauvin.
Scott Creighton said he drew his gun when Floyd, who was a passenger in the car, did not comply with orders to show his hands. Nelson played body camera video that showed Creighton approaching the vehicle on the passenger side, drawing his gun, and pulling him out of the car.
Chauvin’s lawyer twice asked questions aimed at getting the jury thinking about Floyd swallowing drugs, but Creighton said he did not see Floyd take anything.
Another witness who responded to that call, retired paramedic Michelle Moseng, 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 also described Floyd’s behavior as “elevated and agitated” before the judge struck that remark from the record.
Moseng also said she recommended taking Floyd to the hospital-based on his high blood pressure, which she measured at 216 over 160, but he resisted.
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.
Eldridge also made a point of noting that officers gave Floyd contradictory commands, with Creighton telling him to put his hands on the dashboard and another officer telling him to put his hands on his head. She noted that another officer threatened to use a stun gun on him, while Floyd asked not to be shot or beaten up.
Judge Peter Cahill cautioned jurors that the evidence from the earlier stop was only for the limited purpose of showing the effects that ingesting opioids might have had on Floyd – and that they were not to use it to judge Floyd’s character.
During the prosecution side of the case, the wrenching video of Floyd gasping for air was played for the jury along with other bystander footage and police body-camera video of the 46-year-old Black man’s slow-motion death.
Law enforcement experts and veteran Minneapolis police officials, including the police chief himself, testified that Chauvin’s knee on Floyd’s neck for as much as 91/2 minutes was excessive and contrary to his training and departmental policy.
And medical experts testified that Floyd died of a lack of oxygen because his breathing was constricted as police held him down on his stomach, his hands cuffed behind his back and his face jammed against the ground. The experts rejected the notion that his drug use or heart condition caused his death.
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.