Trial of former police officer accused in George Floyd’s death gets underway

A light rail train is blocked briefly by demonstrators next to the plaza at Hennepin County Government Center on the eve of the start of the trial of Derek Chauvin in the killing of George Floyd, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Minneapolis. (Jeff Wheeler/Star Tribune via AP)A light rail train is blocked briefly by demonstrators next to the plaza at Hennepin County Government Center on the eve of the start of the trial of Derek Chauvin in the killing of George Floyd, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Minneapolis. (Jeff Wheeler/Star Tribune via AP)
The Rev. Al Sharpton, left, elbow bumps a man as he arrived for a vigil for the family of George Floyd at Greater Friendship Church, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Minneapolis. Opening statements are set for Monday in the trial of a former Minneapolis police officer charged with murder and manslaughter in George Floyd’s death. (Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via AP)The Rev. Al Sharpton, left, elbow bumps a man as he arrived for a vigil for the family of George Floyd at Greater Friendship Church, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Minneapolis. Opening statements are set for Monday in the trial of a former Minneapolis police officer charged with murder and manslaughter in George Floyd’s death. (Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via AP)

The trial of a former Minneapolis police officer charged in George Floyd’s death is underway.

The judge briefed the jurors on their duties ahead of opening statements Monday in the case that sparked waves of outrage justice across the U.S. and beyond after bystander video showed Derek Chauvin press his knee to Floyd’s neck for about nine minutes.

Legal experts said they expect prosecutors to play the video to the jury early on to remind jurors of what is at the heart of their case.

Floyd family attorney Ben Crump said outside the courthouse ahead of opening statements that the trial would be a test of “whether America is going to live up to the Declaration of Independence.”

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

A former Minneapolis police officer goes on trial Monday in George Floyd’s death, and jurors may not wait long to see parts of the bystander video that caught Derek Chauvin’s knee on Floyd’s neck, sparking waves of outrage and activism across the U.S. and beyond.

Prosecutors have not said when they will play the video, but legal experts expect it to be early — maybe even in the prosecution’s opening statement — as they seek to remind jurors of what is at the heart of their case.

“If you’re a prosecutor you want to start off strong. You want to frame the argument — and nothing frames the argument in this case as much as that video,” said Jeffrey Cramer, a former federal prosecutor and managing director of Berkeley Research Group in Chicago.

Floyd, 46, was declared dead after Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for about nine minutes. He held his position even as Floyd’s “I can’t breathe” cries faded and he went limp as he was handcuffed and lying on his stomach. Chauvin, 45, is charged with unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter.

Almost all of the jurors selected during more than two weeks of questioning said they had seen at least parts of the video, and several acknowledged it gave them at least a somewhat negative view of Chauvin. But they said they could set that aside.

Outside the courthouse Monday ahead of opening statements, Floyd family attorney Ben Crump said the trial would be a test of “whether America is going to live up to the Declaration of Independence.” And he blasted the idea that it would be a tough test for jurors.

“For all those people that continue to say that this is such a difficult trial, that this is a hard trial, we refute that,” he said. “We know that if George Floyd was a white American citizen, and he suffered this painful, tortuous death with a police officer’s knee on his neck, nobody, nobody, would be saying this is a hard case.”

VIDEO: George Floyd spurred broad push for change globally, activists say

The trial is expected to last about four weeks at the courthouse in downtown Minneapolis, which has been fortified with concrete barriers, fencing, and barbed and razor wire. City and state leaders are determined to prevent a repeat of damaging riots that followed Floyd’s death, and National Guard troops have already been mobilized.

The key questions at trial will be whether Chauvin caused Floyd’s death and whether his actions were reasonable.

For the unintentional second-degree murder charge, prosecutors have to prove Chauvin’s conduct was a “substantial causal factor” in Floyd’s death, and that Chauvin was committing felony assault at the time. For third-degree murder, they must prove that Chauvin’s actions caused Floyd’s death, and were reckless and without regard for human life. The manslaughter charge requires proof that Chauvin caused Floyd’s death through negligence that created an unreasonable risk.

Unintentional second-degree murder is punishable by up to 40 years in prison in Minnesota, with up to 25 years for third-degree murder, but sentencing guidelines suggest that Chauvin would face 12 1/2 years in prison if convicted on either charge. Manslaughter has a maximum 10-year sentence.

After jury instructions, prosecutors will begin with their opening statement, providing a road map of their case and telling jurors what they can expect to see at trial, said Mike Brandt, a local defence attorney who is watching the case closely. They’ll outline what’s to come, highlighting key witnesses

Chauvin’s defence attorney, Eric Nelson, will likely use his opening statement to push back on what prosecutors say, and tell jurors that medical testimony and use of force experts will show a different view. Nelson has made clear that the defence will make an issue of Floyd swallowing drugs before his arrest, seeking to convince the jury that he was at least partially responsible for his death.

The county medical examiner’s autopsy noted fentanyl and methamphetamine in Floyd’s system, but listed his cause of death as “cardiopulmonary arrest, complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression.”

Prosecutors are expected to play the bystander video early, because they will want to put the image of Chauvin with his knee on Floyd’s neck in jurors’ minds.

“It sets the stage for anything to follow,” Brandt said. “No matter what happens after that, we’re done.”

He said that while the video is key, the case is really going to be a battle of experts on authorized use of force and cause of death.

Cramer agreed the video gives the prosecutors some “firepower,” but said it’s not going to be where the case is fought. He said people know Floyd died, but the key point of dispute is going to be why it happened and whether Chauvin acted reasonably in that moment.

“Obviously the result was tragic, but were the actions reasonable at that time for that officer,” he said.

The defence, he said, only needs one juror to believe prosecutors didn’t prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Fifteen jurors will appear in court Monday when the case starts, but Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill said the 15th was chosen simply to ensure that 14 would be in place once the trial begins. He’s expected to dismiss that person immediately.

Two of the remaining 14 will be alternates, but the court hasn’t made clear which ones.

The panel of 15 includes nine people who are white and six who are Black or multiracial, according to the court. Jury selection took more than two weeks, as jurors were questioned individually about their views on police, racial justice issues and pretrial publicity in the case.

On Sunday night, national civil rights leaders appeared at a prayer service alongside several of Floyd’s family members. Several dozen attendees congregated in the benches at Greater Friendship Missionary Church. The speakers called for justice in Floyd’s death, mirroring the words spoken by leaders during a protest earlier Sunday in downtown Minneapolis.

“This case to us is a slam dunk, because we know the video is the proof, it’s all you need,” Floyd’s brother Philonise said Monday on NBC’s “Today” show. “The guy was kneeling on my brother’s neck … a guy who was sworn in to protect. He killed my brother in broad daylight. That was a modern-day lynching.”

___

Steve Karnowski And Amy Forliti, The Associated Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

PoliceRacial injusticeUSA

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Dreamfish are hung on the fence at Annunication School in Prince Rupert on April 17 as part of the Stream of Dream eco-education program teaching about local watersheds and salmon habitats. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Stream of Dreams fish swim the fence at Prince Rupert School

Students at Annunciation school learned about watershed protection and salmon habitat

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson outlines the province’s three-year budget in Victoria, April 20, 2021. (B.C. government video)
B.C. deficit to grow by $19 billion for COVID-19 recovery spending

Pandemic-year deficit $5 billion lower than forecast

Registered Nurse, Teresa Friesen immunizes Dunrovin resident, Richard Brophy. Resident’s at the home were the first in Quesnel to receive COVID-19 vaccines. (Submitted Photo)
COLUMN: Vaccine floodgates should be opened

This editor’s column first appeared in the April 14 edition of the Quesnel Cariboo Observer

BC CDC mapping for the week ending April 4, shows a sharp decrease in COVID-19 cases to 27 in Prince Rupert down 45 from the week prior. (Image: BCCDC)
Sharp decline in Prince Rupert COVID-19 cases

Prince Rupert lab-confirmed cases are down 62.5 per cent in one week

A large crowd protested against COVID-19 measures at Sunset Beach in Vancouver on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. (Snapchat)
VIDEO: Large, police-patrolled crowds gather at Vancouver beach for COVID protests

Vancouver police said they patrolled the area and monitored all gatherings

Ocean Legacy Foundation members conduct a shoreline pollution cleanup in Vancouver. (OLP)
It’s time to end ‘suffocating’ plastic pollution along B.C. shorelines, advocates urge

This Earth Day, Ocean Legacy Foundation is launching a free educational platform to educate the public about plastic pollution

A teacher-librarian in Nanaimo was fired in 2019 for checking out an age-inappropriate graphic novel to a student. The discipline agreement was published Wednesday, April 21. (News Bulletin file photo)
B.C. teacher-librarian fired for checking out too-graphic graphic novel to student

Teacher had been previously disciplined and suspended on two occasions

Former University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams is photographed in the stands during the Greater Victoria Invitational at CARSA Performance Gym at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, November 29, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Former B.C. university rowing coach ‘deeply sorry’ after complaints

Barney Williams says he’s been committed to ensuring no other member of the roster had a similar experience

Aria Pendak Jefferson cuddles ChiChi, the family cat that ran away two years ago in Ucluelet. The feline was missing until Courtney Johnson and Barry Edge discovered her in the parking lot of the Canadian Princess earlier this month. Aria and her parents were reunited with ChiChi in a parking lot in Port Alberni. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
B.C. girl’s wish granted as her cat came back, two years later

Courtenay family reunited with cat that went missing in Ucluelet in 2019

(Bandstra Transportation photo)
Smithers family-owned business institution sold to publicly-traded company

Bandstra Transportation and Babine Trucking acquired by Mullen Group

FILE – The Instagram app is shown on an iPhone in Toronto on Monday, March 19, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
Judge acquits B.C. teen boy ‘set up’ on sex assault charge based on Instagram messages

The girl and her friends did not have ‘good intentions’ towards the accused, judge says

Kai Palkeinen recently helped a car stuck on the riverbed near the Big Eddy Bridge. While the car could not be saved, some of the driver’s belongings were. It’s common for vehicles to get stuck in the area due to significantly changing river levels from Revelstoke Dam. (Photo by Kai Palkeinen)
“I just sank a car’: Revelstoke resident wants Columbia River better protected

Although it’s not permitted, the riverbed near the city is popular for off roading

Most Read