Trial of Derek Chauvin

By: Nikita Vandrangi — Political Editor

Former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, who arrested and killed George Floyd last May after kneeling on his neck for nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds, has been convicted of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. Chauvin is facing up to 40 years, 25 years, and 10 years respectively in prison for each of the charges. 

This verdict was delivered on April 20, 2021, after the jury had deliberated for over 10 hours. The identity of the 12 jurors, three black men, one black woman, two multiracial women, two white men, and four white women, were kept anonymous.

The trial began on March 29 and ended on April 19. Judge Peter A. Cahill, a judge of 14 years, presided over the trial. Cahill had previously served as a public defender, private defense lawyer and prosecutor, and was the chief deputy under Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar during her time as county attorney. 

Prosecutor Jerry W. Blackwell, a corporate lawyer, led the prosecution and worked pro bono. Steve Schleicher delivered the closing arguments, and he is a trial and appellate lawyer and a former federal prosecutor, working for 13 years in the US Attorney’s office in Minnesota. Erin Elridge, an assistant attorney general in the criminal division, and Matthew Frank, an assistant attorney general, both appeared for questioning of witnesses. Included in the prosecution team but not present in court were Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, Neal Katyal, the acting solicitor general under President Obama, and Sundeep Iyer and Harrison Gray Kilgore, two pro hac vice lawyers from Hogan Lovells. 

Derek Chauvin’s defense lawyer, Eric J. Nelson, was a rotating counsel for the legal defense fund of Minnesota Police and the Peace Officer’s Association. He was assisted by Amy Voss. 

Darnella Frazier, the woman who filmed the video of George Floyd, recounted those events on the stand. She had walked with her cousin out of the Cup Foods before which Derek Chauvin was kneeling on George Floyd, and she told her cousin to go back inside, not wanting to witness the events. 

Frazier stated she stayed because she saw Floyd suffering and in pain. She saw “a man terrified, scared, begging for his life.” 

Charles McMillan, a witness who had been driving by in his car, grew emotional on the stand during his testimony as he recalled the killing. 

Courteney Ross, George Floyd’s girlfriend, told stories of how they first met and their first kiss. She recounted that they loved going out to eat. Ross says that drug use and recovery were a part of the relationship. She and Floyd both suffered from an opioid addiction and worked hard together to break it. 

Derek Smith, a paramedic called to the scene, testified to his response. Smith recalled that the police officers were on George Floyd when he arrived. He checked for a pulse, which he could not locate, and checked his pupils, which were large and dilated. 

“In lay terms, I thought he was dead,” said Smith. 

Chief Medaria Arradondo of the Minneapolis Police Department testified to Derek Chauvin’s use of force throughout the arrest. He was shown an exhibit, a picture of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck, and Chief Arradondo stated it was not reasonable to force. He further stated that Chauvin should have stopped once Floyd had stopped resisting, especially given that he was in distress and verbalizing it and later fell unconscious. 

“That in no way shape or form is anything that is by policy. It is not part of our training, and it is certainly not part of our ethics or values,” Arradondo said.

Arradondo was also asked about the policy surrounding providing aid to those in distress, like Floyd, and responded with, “I agree that the defendant violated policy in terms of rendering aid.” 

Sergeant Jody Stiger of the Los Angeles Police Department and an expert on force testified to the specific circumstances of Chauvin’s use of force. Sgt. Stiger explained that an officer is only allowed to use the amount of force that is proportional to the crime and the level of resistance from the subject. 

“My opinion was that no force should have been used once he was in that position,” said Sgt. Stiger referring to the handcuffed, prone, and nonresistant position Floyd was in. 

Dr. Martin J. Tobin, a pulmonologist, described the cause of Floyd’s death. “Mr. Floyd died from a low level of oxygen and this caused damage to his brain that we see and it also caused a PEA arrhythmia that caused his heart to stop.” 

Tobin stated that the low level of oxygen was caused by shallow breathing due to being in a prone position, handcuffed, and with a knee to the neck and side. Tobin further stated Chauvin’s boot is off the ground, referring to an exhibit that displays a picture of Chauvin with his knee on Floyd’s neck. Tobin described that this means all of Chauvin’s body weight is directed on Floyd’s neck to the ground. 

Tobin was shown a 17-second clip in which Floyd was breathing normally prior to Chauvin’s use of force. Tobin counted the breaths, stating a respiratory rate of 22, and then stated that fentanyl would reduce the respiratory rate by 40% at around 10, but Floyd’s was normal. 

Dr. Bill Smock, a police surgeon of the Louisville Metropolitan Police Department, stated that “Mr. Floyd died from positional asphyxia which is a fancy way of saying he died because he had no oxygen left in his body.”

Smock further stated that fentanyl overdose subjects are not typically capable of “[displaying] air hunger” or crying out in pain. 

Dr. David Fowler, the former chief medical examiner of Maryland, stated that the placement of Chauvin’s knee did not impact the vital structures of Floyd’s neck. Fowler further stated that all of Floyd’s injuries were to the front of the body and his face, where he was restrained, but not where Chauvin’s knee was located. 

“[T]here was no absolutely no evidence of any injury on the skin, to the subcutaneous tissue, or the deeper structures of the back or the neck.” 

Fowler stated that there was bruising or abrasion to the skin and no bleeding to subcutaneous tissue or muscle of the neck and back, in reference to the knee placement of Chauvin. Fowler stated that the amount of force used was “less than enough to bruise him.” 

On cross-examination, Fowler classified Floyd’s death as a sudden cardiac arrest and stated that immediate medical attention may revive a person who has gone into cardiac arrest. He agreed that Floyd should’ve been given medical attention, and he is critical of the fact that he wasn’t. 

Chauvin invoked his fifth amendment right, and he did not testify on the stand. 

Once the verdict was delivered, many across the country felt a great rush of relief.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris delivered remarks following the announcement of the verdict. 

“Today, we feel a sigh of relief. Still, it cannot take away the pain. A measure of justice isn’t the same as equal justice. This verdict brings us a step closer, and the fact is we still have work to do,” said Harris. She mentioned the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which she sponsored in the summer of 2020 during her time in senate, citing it as a step to combating a long history of systemic racism. 

“Here’s the truth about racial injustice: It is not just a Black America problem or a people-of-color problem. It is a problem for every American.” 

Biden called George Floyd’s death “a murder in the full light of day.”

“The systemic racism is a stain on our nation’s soul,” he said. Biden mentioned that he had spoken with Floyd’s family, including his young daughter, Gianna, who famously declared that “Daddy changed the world.” 

“We must not turn away. We can’t turn away. We have a chance to begin to change the trajectory in this country. It’s my hope and prayer that we live up to the legacy,” said Biden.

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