Attorneys representing former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin opened his murder trial Monday morning by arguing that their client used a “necessary” level of force while arresting George Floyd, and said that Floyd’s death was the result of a combination of factors outside Chauvin’s control.
Chauvin was filmed pinning African American Minneapolis resident George Floyd to the ground during his arrest in May 2020. Floyd lost consciousness while Chauvin knelt on his neck, and was pronounced dead soon after the incident. The death of Floyd sparked massive riots and protests against police brutality across the U.S.
Attorney Jerry Blackwell, appointed to the prosecution by state Attorney General Keith Ellison, said that prosecutors would show that Chauvin killed Floyd through excessive use of force.
“You will learn that on May 25, 2020, that Mr. Derek Chauvin betrayed this badge when he used excessive and unreasonable force upon the body of Mr. George Floyd,” Blackwell said.
During the trial, “the evidence is going to show that there was no cause in the first place to use lethal force against a man who was defenseless, who was handcuffed, who was not resisting,” Blackwell said. However, Blackwell added that the prosecution would not aim to attack police in general, and would focus only on the allegations against Chauvin.
Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, followed with statements for the defense. Nelson said the defense would show that Chauvin acted within reasonable bounds during his arrest of Floyd.
“You will learn that Derek Chauvin did exactly what he had been trained to do over the course of his 19-year career,” Nelson said. “The use of force is not attractive, but it is a necessary component of policing.”
Nelson emphasized that his case would be built on evidence presented during the trial without reference to political pressures outside the courtroom.
“There is no social or political cause in this courtroom,” Nelson said.
On May 25, 2020, officers arrived at a convenience store after an employee called police, saying Floyd had used a counterfeit $20 bill to purchase cigarettes. The officers attempted to arrest Floyd and place him in the back of a squad car. But Floyd exited the car and fell to the ground, telling officers he had claustrophobia, according to the arrest affidavit.
After Chauvin arrived at the scene, he pinned Floyd down by placing his knee on Floyd’s neck. Chauvin continued to press Floyd to the ground for over eight minutes, with Floyd repeatedly saying he couldn’t breathe. Floyd lost consciousness while pinned down, and medical workers who arrived by ambulance were unable to revive him.
The incident was captured on video and sparked massive riots in Minneapolis, during which rioters burned down a number of businesses as well as the city’s Third Police Precinct, whose officers arrested Floyd. All officers involved in Floyd’s arrest were fired from the department.
Rioting spread to cities across the U.S., causing between $1 to $2 billion in damages. Floyd’s death also sparked a wave of major protests against police brutality, including calls by activists to defund police departments entirely. However, the push to defund police has met with resistance in Minneapolis itself, where the City Council voted in February to increase the police budget in order to attract new recruits to the force.
Chauvin faces charges of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. After initial resistance, Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill agreed to allow the third-degree murder charge earlier this month.