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Chauvin's defense calls first witnesses

The first witnesses called by Derek Chauvin’s defense team took the stand in his trial on Tuesday, as his attorneys worked to refute the prosecution’s argument that the former officer’s use of force against George Floyd during an arrest last year led to his death.

Over the past two weeks, the jury saw gripping testimony from bystanders who described watching in horror as Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck during the arrest for more than eight minutes. The jury also heard opinions from a lineup of medical experts brought in by the prosecution, who said Floyd died from a lack of oxygen as a result of the former officer’s arrest tactics. 

As they called their first witnesses to the stand on Tuesday, however, the defense focused on several of the key arguments it has sought to make in recent weeks, including that Chauvin’s use of force was justified during the arrest and that the former officer was distracted by a crowd of bystanders at the arrest scene.

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To argue its case, the defense brought in six witnesses as the trial entered its twelfth day. They included a use-of-force expert that said Chauvin was “justified” in his actions, a Minneapolis Park Police officer who was among the local authorities that responded to the arrest and a former officer who responded to an unrelated arrest with Floyd in 2019.

Use-of-force expert says Chauvin's arrest tactics were 'justified'

Chauvin’s use-of-force during the arrest of Floyd was again a key topic discussed during testimonies on Tuesday.

Barry Brodd, the owner of a police practices and use-of-force consulting company, testified that Chauvin was “justified” in his interactions with Floyd last May, and acted with objective reasonableness. Brodd said he felt Chauvin followed his department's policy and current standards of law enforcement in his interactions with Floyd.

Brodd also said during questioning by Chauvin defense attorney Eric Nelson that he didn't think the former officer’s actions constituted deadly force.

Brodd said he performed a three-part analysis for Chauvin’s case when making the determination. This included determining if the officer had justification to detain the suspect, how the suspect responded to the officer and if the officer’s use of force was proportionate to the level of resistance demonstrated by the suspect.

Brodd also testified that he did not consider a “prone control” position as a use of force. In some cases, he later said, it is “safer” to put a suspect on the ground in “prone position.”

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He added that the prone control position is “a control hold, so the suspect is controlled, hopefully searched, and all you’re doing is putting some minimal body weight to keep their body immobilized.”

Brodd also touched on Floyd saying he couldn’t breathe during the arrest, testifying that if a detainee is shouting, it means they can breathe.

“I have advanced first aid, 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,” Brodd said.

When asked by Nelson if that is a “common misunderstanding within the policing community,” Brodd said he believed as much.

Brodd’s comments directly contrasted with testimony from witnesses called by the prosecution last week, who argued that Chauvin’s use-of-force was “deadly,” and that Floyd speaking while under the former officer’s restraint does not necessarily mean he will be able to breathe seconds later.

During cross-examination, however, Brodd said that a photo he was shown, in which Chauvin’s knee was seen on Floyd’s neck during the arrest, “could be a use of force.”

Brodd also testified during cross-examination that a reasonable officer in Chauvin’s position would know that Floyd was no longer resisting at a certain point in the incident. Schleicher noted that it was at a moment when Floyd “literally could not support his own head.”

Schleicher presented an array of clips from the incident when discussing Chauvin’s use of force. A number of times, Brodd testified that Floyd was not resisting arrest at the moments shown.

In subsequent questioning from Nelson, however, Brodd said using specific short clips for analysis is problematic because it “doesn’t really show the sequence of events, it just shows the highlights of it,” later adding that “they don’t show the full picture.”

New footage surfaces of Floyd during arrest

The defense on Tuesday introduced new body camera footage of Floyd during the arrest last May that offered another angle of the events leading up to the moment Chauvin kneeled on his neck. 

In the video, Floyd is seen being questioned by an officer while in handcuffs as he sat on a sidewalk across the street from the Cup Foods store, where he was reported for trying to pay with counterfeit money.

The footage was captured on a body camera worn by Minneapolis Park Police officer Peter Chang, who had also been responding to the incident. Chang was the fourth witness called to the stand on Tuesday.

At the time, Floyd, who sounds distressed in the clip, can be heard providing officers with his date of birth and other information while he sits on the sidewalk. 

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“I don’t want no problems,” Floyd can be heard saying.

Standing feet next to him in the clip are his associates Morries Hall and Shawanda Hill, who were also being questioned by police outside their vehicle. Hall and Hill were in the vehicle with Floyd before he was detained.

Both Hill and Hall appeared to grow concerned while still waiting on the same sidewalk, as Floyd was being restrained across the street. 

“Can I just see what y’all did to him?” Hill then asks, walking to the end of the corner in what looks like an attempt to try to get a better view of the arrest. 

Floyd is taken into an ambulance not long after.

Hill, who also testified on Tuesday, said she was with Floyd in the car near Cup Foods moments before they were approached by police that day. She said Floyd had been sleeping when police “tapped on the window with the flashlight.” 

“He looked back, and he instantly knew, when you see the man had a gun at the window … he instantly grabbed the wheel, and he was like, ‘please please, don't kill me! Don't shoot me! Don't shoot me!’” she said.

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Hall previously said he would not testify in the trial of Chauvin, invoking his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.

The defense also presented footage from a 2019 arrest involving Floyd, during testimony from former Minneapolis police officer Scott Creighton.

As he testified, Creighton remarked at how the footage showed the incident “escalated real quick,” after Floyd, who was in a vehicle at the time, did not comply with orders from police to put his hands on the car’s dashboard. Floyd could also be seen asking police not to hurt him.

The judge told jurors the evidence was admitted “solely for the limited purpose of showing what effects the ingestion of opioids may or may not have had on the physical well-being of George Floyd.”

“This evidence is not to be used as evidence of the character of George Floyd,” he added.

Defense argues bystanders were a distraction for Chauvin

A park police officer who responded to the scene of Floyd’s arrest testified that the crowd gathered at the street of the incident caused him “concern for the officers’ safety.” He also said the crowd “was becoming more loud and aggressive, a lot of yelling across the street” during the arrest.

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When asked about the tone or tenor of the voices of the crowd, Chang said they were “aggressive towards the officers,” and that the volume increased.

During his time on the stand, Brodd also discussed the influence bystanders had on Chauvin while detaining Floyd, testifying that the crowd gathered at the scene of Floyd’s arrest “started to grow in size, started to become more vocal.”

When asked by Nelson how he factored the crowd into his analysis of the case, Brodd said he saw Chauvin’s “focus started to move from Mr. Floyd to the crowd.”

“I could see that Officer Chauvin’s focus started to move from Mr. Floyd to the crowd, to one point I think officer Chauvin felt threatened enough that he withdrew his pepper spray canister and gave verbal commands to the crowd to stay back. So now he's dealing with the bigger threat,” Brodd said.

He later confirmed to Nelson that a reasonable officer should be prepared to expect a change in a crowd, as “part of the situational awareness and planning process.”

During cross-examination, however, Brodd said that bystanders an officer finds threatening, irritating, distracting or annoying do not justify use of force against someone who is not directing those activities.

“If a bystander is doing something that an officer finds threatening or irritating or distracting or annoying, those activities don't justify the use of force against someone who is not directing those activities, fair?” Schleicher asked.

“Yes,” Brodd responded.

Brodd, during cross-examination by Schleicher, also testified that the bystanders, at specific moments, were not doing anything that would have been threatening, distracting or preventing the defendant from attending to Floyd.

In testimony last week, Jody Stiger, a use-of-force expert brought in by prosecution, said he did not factor the crowd gathered at the scene of Floyd’s arrest in his analysis of the incident because he “did not perceive them as being a threat.”

“They were merely filming, and they were, most of it was their concern for Mr. Floyd,” Stiger said, when asked why he did not view the crowd as a threat.

He also testified that Chauvin’s eight hundred-plus hours of paid training should have “absolutely” been sufficient training to prepare the defendant for any distraction faced from a crowd during Floyd’s arrest.

Stiger did note in cross-examination, however, that the crowd can “in certain instances” be distracting to an officer, including when individuals are trying to talk to an officer.

Floyd's and Daunte Wright's families holds conference

Floyd’s family attended a press conference with the family of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man fatally shot by police in Minnesota during a traffic stop this past weekend, during the trial on Tuesday.

Wright’s aunt, Naisha Wright, said at the press conference that a former girlfriend of Floyd had also been her nephew's teacher at one point. 

The conference was held by attorney Benjamin Crump, who is representing both the Floyd and Wright families.

Wright was fatally shot in Brooklyn Center, Minn., during a traffic stop on Sunday by an officer that police identified as Kim Potter. Police said the officer thought she was deploying her taser but instead fired her service weapon. 

Potter resigned during the trial on Tuesday. 

Protests have broken out in parts of the country in response to Wright’s death in recent days. The city where Wright was killed is about 10 miles from where Chauvin’s trial is taking place in Minneapolis.

The police killing has added fuel to the nationwide discussion around police treatment of Black Americans, as the country awaits a verdict in Chauvin's trial over Floyd’s death. 

The conference comes after Nelson sought earlier this week to have the jury for the trial sequestered due to the recent shooting. He argued that coverage and response to the shooting could sway the jury ahead of the verdict.  

The judge, however, denied the motion by Nelson on Monday, pointing to the differences in both incidents. He instead said jurors will sequestered after closing arguments later this month.