On Thursday, former officer Derek Chauvin invoked his fifth amendment right to not testify in his own defense. Chauvin is accused of both manslaughter and murder of George Floyd. On May 25, 2020, Floyd, 46 was accused of using a fake $20 at a convenience store. As a result, Minneapolis Police were called to the scene. After being handcuffed in the prone position, Chauvin held his knee on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds. Showing no signs of life on the scene or en route to Hennepin County hospital, Floyd was pronounced dead around 9:25 p.m.
On Monday, closing arguments began with Judge Peter Cahill reviewing a set of instructions on conduct with the jury. “It is your duty to decide the questions of fact in this case,” he stated. “It is my duty to give you the rules of law that you must apply in arriving at your verdict.” Judge Cahill followed with a reminder for the jury to only consider the evidence heard in the courtroom and to disregard what they have heard elsewhere.
The prosecution led with a snapshot of Floyd and his family. “George Floyd was surrounded by people he cared about and who cared about him,” said Steve Schleicher. The attorney reminded the jury that George Floyd is not on trial and maintained a strong focus on the inappropriate use of force exhibited by Chauvin.
For nearly three hours, defense attorney Eric Nelson argued that expert witness testimony and detailed transcripts show that former officer Chauvin followed proper protocol according to department standards and the actions of a reasonable officer.
The burden of proving guilt is on the state and the outcome of this case ultimately falls on their ability to prove Chauvin’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” What exactly is “reasonable doubt”? By definition, reasonable doubt is “a doubt based upon reason and common sense. A fact may be proven by either direct or circumstantial evidence or by both.”
According to Judge Cahill, “The law does not prefer one form of evidence over the other.”
Use of Force
“Believe your own eyes.” The use of force remained a key element of the prosecution’s argument. With over 800 hours of training and the distinction of a field officer, the prosecution questioned why Chauvin would be distracted by the commentary of bystanders. Even more, Attorney Schleicher wanted to know why Chauvin opted not to listen to bystanders who voiced concern and why he [Chauvin] showed indifference to the pain that was being inflicted upon Floyd, causing substantial bodily harm.
“George Floyd said, ‘I can’t breathe’ 27 times within the first 24 minutes,” said Schleicher. "This is not an anti-police prosecution,” said Schleicher. “It’s a pro-police prosecution.”
Schleicher reminded the jury about the testimony of Sgt. Richard Zimmerman, the longest-serving member of the Minneapolis police department; who called Chauvin’s use of force “Totally unnecessary.”
“It is not an excuse for the shocking abuse that you saw with your own eyes and you can believe your own eyes.”
There’s No Such Thing as a Super Human
”There was no super strength that day.“ The prosecution did not shy away from the fact that Floyd, did, in fact, struggle with drug addiction. However, the prosecution was also clear that drug use was not the cause of death, but oxygen deprivation–asphyxia. “The defendant pressed down on George Floyd so his lungs did not have the room to breathe.” The prosecution also contended that expert witnesses testified confirming that the amount of fentanyl in Floyd’s system was below the ratio of people who die from an overdose.
Over time, excited delirium has been mentioned as a cause of death. “There was no superhuman strength because there’s no such thing as a superhuman,” said Schleicher. “Those exist in comic books.”
In his closing statement, the prosecutor stated that “If someone is telling you they can’t breathe and you keep doing it, you’re doing it on purpose.”
“The only doubts remaining are unreasonable doubts.” Attorney Nelson offered a lengthy defense stating that Chauvin’s use of force was reasonable by law and depending on the level of resistance, a knee on the neck is reasonable. Additionally, he reminded the jury that heart disease, hypertension, excited delirium, paraganglioma, and toxicology should all be taken into consideration as Floyd’s cause of death.
"The standard is not what should the officer have done in these circumstances," Nelson said. Additionally, Nelson said that there are things a police officer is entitled to take into consideration based on facts when they are on the scene. The analysis for Chauvin to quickly consider, according to his attorney, was that the suspect, Floyd, was large in stature and potentially under the influence.
“A reasonable police officer would understand that Mr. Floyd was able to overcome the efforts of three police officers, while handcuffed, with his legs and his body strength.”
Nelson reminded the jury that about fifteen years ago, the Minneapolis police department adopted ground defense tactics, getting people on the ground to control them. “Control the head, control the body,” said Nelson. “These are the tactics that have been employed by the Minneapolis police department for 15 years. Why? Because it’s safer for the officers and it’s safer for the suspects.”
Nelson continued, “It keeps people contained, controlled, and confined until they no longer are resisting.”
The prosecution also suggested that it is not uncommon for suspects to feign or pretend to have a medical emergency to avoid being arrested. “Unfortunately, that is the reality. Nobody likes being arrested and reasonable police officers know that.”
Mistakes, They Do Happen
“Officers are human beings.” Attorney Nelson described how the crowd played a role in the way Floyd’s arrest was handled by offering an explanation of “perception versus perspective.” According to Nelson, he attended the same high school as Darnella Frazier, the teen who filmed George Floyd’s death, and Minneapolis Police Chief, Chief Medaria Arradondo. Nelson stated that while they saw many of the same things at the school, their perceptions of that experience may have been different. Meaning the perspective of bystanders versus that of the officers on the scene could be reasonably different–based on the impact of differing perspectives and perceptions.
Nelson closed with a reminder to the jury stating that “Officers are human beings capable of making mistakes in highly stressful situations.”
Prosecutor Blackwell offered a rebuttal that focused on Chauvin’s use of deadly force.
“There is no excuse for police abuse,” Blackwell repeated. “You were told for example that Mr. Floyd died because his heart was too big … and the truth of the matter is that the reason George Floyd is dead is because Mr. Chauvin’s heart was too small.”
The jury sequestered and began deliberating the facts of the case. About 3,000 National Guard troops have been deployed to Minneapolis as the world awaits a verdict.
VERDICT REACHED: On April 20th, the jury reached a verdict in the Derek Chauvin murder trial. After three weeks of expert testimony, remarks from witnesses, and the Floyd family, jurors reached a unanimous verdict of guilty in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin for killing George Floyd. Former Hennepin County police officer, Derek Chauvin was found guilty of unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter.
The jury consisted of a diverse panel of 12 jurors, including two multi-race women, three Black men, a Black woman, four white women, and two white men.
Chauvin now faces up to 40 years in prison. Sentencing will take place next week.
Monique Wingard is an entrepreneur, educator, and doctoral student in communication, culture, and media studies. Follow her on Instagram @moniquewingard.