Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin squeezed the life out of George Floyd when he arrested him in May, a prosecutor told jurors in his opening statement at Chauvin’s murder trial on Monday.
Jerry Blackwell, a prosecutor at the Minnesota attorney general’s office, told jurors that officers wearing the Minneapolis police badge promise never to use “unnecessary force or violence.”
“You will learn that on May 25, Derek Chauvin betrayed this brand when he used excessive and unreasonable force on George Floyd’s body,” Blackwell said.
He showed a still image from a spectator’s phone video of Chauvin, who is white, with his knee on the neck of Floyd, a 46-year-old black man in handcuffs, and said it showed Chauvin “grinding and crushing him to the breath. – no, ladies and gentlemen – life itself was squeezed out of him. ”
Chauvin’s lead lawyer, Eric Nelson, said in his introductory statement that the videos that make up the heart of the prosecution show that the former official was following his police training.
‘Not attractive but necessary force’
Prosecutors played the most-watched spectator video to jurors on Monday in the courtroom, near the top floor of a tower in central Minneapolis, ringed with high barriers, barbed wire and soldiers from the State National Guard. Small groups of protesters rejecting police brutality sometimes blocked traffic on the surrounding streets.
Chauvin, wearing a gray suit, a blue face mask and a blue shirt and tie, took pages of notes on a yellow legal pad as Floyd’s dying moan and the screams of terrified spectators filled the courtroom. Chauvin could be heard repeatedly shouting that he was a “rogue” and demanded that the police check Floyd’s pulse as Floyd was immobile.
Chauvin, 45, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree murder, with his lawyers claiming that the main cause of Floyd’s death, as the county investigator determined a murder caused by police restrictions, was a drug overdose. He faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted on the most serious charges.
Minneapolis police fired Chauvin and the three other officers involved the day after the arrest.
Defense attorney Nelson used his 25-minute opening statement to describe Floyd’s drug abuse, his underlying health problems and a chaotic scene during the arrest.
“This was not an easy fight,” he said, adding that the screaming of spectators stopped “causing officers to divert their attention from Mr Floyd’s care.”
“Derek Chauvin did exactly what he was trained to do during his 19-year career,” Nelson told the jury. “The use of force is not attractive but it is a necessary part of the police.”
Prosecutors warned the jury to ignore defense arguments that Floyd’s death was caused by an overdose of opioids. Blackwell hung his head and closed his eyes, condemning stupidity and telling the jury that anyone who overdosed on fentanyl should not be unconscious and not “scream for their mother”.
“It’s not what an overdose of opioids looks like,” he said.
‘My instinct says something is wrong’
The first witness accused by prosecutors was Jena Scurry, an emergency transmitter from Minneapolis 911 who sent police to the Cup Foods store and watched videos from live surveillance showing a police car rocking back and forth outside the store as four officers fought to get Floyd to stay in the back seat.
She said she watched the video, which was played for jurors, with growing concern.
“I first asked if the screen had frozen,” she said. Each time she looked up, she testified that the officers were still on top of Floyd.
“My instinct says something is wrong,” said Scurry, who called a supervising police sergeant. Lawyers heard her say she did not mean to be a “snitch” but she wondered if the officers needed more help.
Floyd’s death sparked a global protest movement, and during the two previous weeks of jury selection, many Hennepin County District Judges Peter Cahill and lawyers on both sides acknowledged that they acknowledged the scrutiny of their deliberations, not least by those who see the trial as a bill for how black people are policed in the United States.
“It’s been a long time coming,” sang a gospel choir on Sunday night at a prayer service attended by Floyd’s relatives. “But I know a change will come.”
The service was held in a church a few blocks east of the deadly arrest.
Philonise Floyd, a brother of George Floyd, said before the service began that he believed prosecutors from the Minnesota attorney general’s office would see Chauvin convicted.
“The video is the proof,” he said.
The courtroom of a tower in central Minneapolis was surrounded by concrete barriers, barbed wire and soldiers from the State Guard. For neighborhoods, businesses and windows are closed up, for fear of a repeat of the arson and other property damage that occurred after Floyd’s death.
Less than 30 miles away, residents hold a guard at the intersection where Chauvin held the knee of a handcuffed Floyd’s neck for about 9 minutes as Floyd uses his last breath to plead for his life. Chauvin and three other officers arrested Floyd on suspicion of sending a fake $ 20 bill to a nearby Cup Foods grocery store.
Four sets of barricades prevent police from reaching the intersection, now known as George Floyd Square, which is filled with flowers, posters, murals and other tributes to Floyd.
The jury, including three deputies, consists of six white women, three white men, three black men, one black woman and two multiracial women, according to court records.
“I’m grateful it’s a diverse jury,” said Paris Stevens, a cousin of Floyd’s nurse in North Carolina, in a telephone interview. “I’m very worried you do not know what’s going to happen, but I’m just glad this process is starting.”
She and other relatives have been told by the court that they must switch between using a single chair reserved for Floyd’s family in the courtroom, which is equipped with plexiglass screens, hand disinfection stations and other measures against coronavirus.
Chauvin has also been assigned a single chairman for his supporters, who has not been used by anyone since the trial began with the selection of the jury on March 8, with the exception of a temporary sheriff’s deputy who oversees security and wants to take the weight off his feet.
Activists take the knee
Legal experts have noted that US police have almost never been found criminally responsible for killing a citizen. Chauvin’s lawyers have said they will try to convince the jury that fentanyl, an opioid painkiller found in Floyd’s blood by the doctor, played a greater role in killing Floyd than the officer’s restraint.
Pastor Al Sharpton, the civil rights activist who joined the Floyd family at Sunday’s service, reiterated prosecutors, calling it an “attempt to smear his name”.
On Monday morning outside court, Sharpton, Floyd’s relatives and local activists quietly went down on one knee for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in a tribute to Floyd.
Tiffany Jeffers, a former Maryland prosecutor and Georgetown law professor, said she saw the fall of the defense as an uphill battle, in part because of the widely publicized video. All jurors have said they have already seen at least some excerpts from it.
( Jowharwith REUTERS)