State vs. Chauvin: Defense presents their case on Tuesday

WDIO/KSTP
Updated: April 13, 2021 10:42 PM
Created: April 13, 2021 09:38 AM

Peter Chang, Minneapolis Park Police | Peter Chang, Minneapolis Park Police |

The defense for a former Minneapolis police officer charged in George Floyd’s death is set to start presenting its case. This follows 11 days of a prosecution narrative that combined wrenching video with clinical analysis by medical and use-of-force experts to condemn Derek Chauvin’s actions.

Prosecutors called their final witnesses Monday, leaving only some administrative matters before they were expected to rest Tuesday.

Once the defense takes over, Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson is expected to have his own experts testify that it was Floyd’s drug use and bad heart, not Chauvin’s actions, that killed him.

Prosecutors effectively wrapped up their case Monday with tender memories from George Floyd’s younger brother and testimony from a police use-of-force expert. RELATED STORY: Week three begins with testimony on Monday

Trial Proceedings of Derek Chauvin: Streaming while court is in session

The defense now takes over, calling their first witness to the stand. This witness will talk about an occurrence with George Floyd in May 2019 during a traffic stop. The witness is identified as Scott Creighton, a retired Minneapolis Police officer. He served over 20 years for the department. Cahill warned the jury he will testify about "what ingestion of opioids may or may not have had on the physical well-being of Floyd," not his character. 

Creighton talked about the traffic stop involving Floyd. 

They are playing body camera footage of the incident in court. The officer is heard repeatedly telling Floyd to put his hands on the dashboard. He had his gun extended during the interaction. Creighton described the traffic stop with Floyd, saying he was "unresponsive and non-compliant" during the interaction. 

After the defense gets confirmation from Creighton that the man in the video is Floyd, state prosecutor Erin Eldridge takes over cross-examination. 

Creighton tells Eldrige that Floyd was awake, conscious, but Creighton says he was "incoherent" during the interaction. She is pointing out the escalation in the video by police while interacting with Floyd. 

Floyd is heard saying "don't beat me up" in the video, to which Creighton confirms. 

"And Mr. Floyd didn't drop dead while you were interacting with him?" Eldridge asked.

"No," Creighton replied. He was then excused from the witness stand.

The next witness is called to the stand by the defense. Michelle Moseng takes the stand. She is now retired, but before she was a paramedic with Hennepin County for 34 years.

She is talking about a May 6, 2019 incident involving Floyd. She says it was "quite hard to assess him" that day. 

Moseng said Floyd told her about taking an opiate. She started to say he was agitated, but Cahill had the answer stricken. He told her to wait for the question. 

She stated Floyd told her that he had been taking "multiple, like every 20 minutes." She explained he said he was taking "7 to 9" opiates during the time. Moseng said Floyd's blood pressure was 216 over 160. She had made recommendations for Floyd to go to the hospital.

"Initially he denied medical issues, but then when I discovered his blood pressure I specifically asked again. He said yes, he had a history of hypertension and had not been taking his medication," Moseng said. 

He indicated to the former paramedic that he had been addicted to opioids. 

After a few follow-up questions around the same framework used on Creighton, Moseng steps down from the witness stand. Cahill calls a 5 to 10-minute break.

The court has reconvened without the jury. A woman is being addressed by Cahill before being formally sworn in. After a brief discussion, the jury reenters. 

The woman says she was with Floyd on May 25, 2020, the day he died. She has been identified as Shawanda Hill. She was seen in the SUV with Floyd and Morries Hall last May near Cup Foods.

She tells Nelson Floyd was "happy, normal, talking, alert" while in the grocery store. He offered to give her a ride. She says they were talking for the first 8-10 minutes she was in the car but then she took a phone call, and while she did, she claims Floyd fell asleep during that time. 

Hill said Floyd was also tired because he had been working a lot lately. 

She said the police woke up Floyd when he was in the SUV. 

After a few follow-up questions by the state and a redirect by the defense, the witness is excused.

The defense calls Peter Chang to the witness stand. He is employed by the Minneapolis Park Police.

He responded to the scene at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in south Minneapolis last May. Chang says it's common for park police to assist on calls with the Minneapolis Police Department. He self-assigned after hearing dispatchers call for backup.

Once on scene, he described seeing J Alexander Kueng with Floyd, who was handcuffed on the ground. He was monitoring what the two passengers — Hill and Hall — were doing at the time. He was told by former officers Kueng and Thomas Lane to do so.

He noted the bystanders to be "loud and aggressive." He said it caused concern for officer safety.

The court plays Chang's body camera footage.

Morries Hall is heard telling Chang his name as "Ricardo." He tells Chang he was also handed fake bills, but he tore his up and points to what looks like paper on the ground.

The video shows Genevieve Hansen, the off-duty Minneapolis firefighter, walk by Chang. They did not interact with each other.

Chang tells Hill and Hall, "they're calling an ambulance for him ... he might have hurt himself."  Shawanda Hill says "they did something to him..." and Chang tells Hill & Hall that they called an ambulance for Floyd. Hill say "They hurt him?" She then walks over to the corner, ignoring Chang's commands. "He's on the ground and everything!" she said.

Charles McMillian can be seen in the video telling Hill they might want to call Floyd's family. He explained what happened to her.  At the end of the video, McMillian can be seen talking to Chauvin. 

The state now cross-examines. 

The witness is eventually excused from the stand. The judge has put the court on a 10-minute break to check on the next witness.

The defense recalls Minneapolis Police Officer Nicole MacKenzie. She previously testified for the state.

She works as the medical support coordinator for the department. Nelson asks MacKenzie about excited delirium. 

MacKenzie testifies that cadets are trained on asking for more resources and calling for EMS if they suspect someone is experiencing excited delirium. However, veteran officers did not go through this training. She testifies that it is discussed with more senior officers during in-service training, such as use of force. 

The court has reconvened after a lunch break. The defense calls use-of-force expert Barry Brodd to the witness stand.

Brodd testifies to teaching the use of force among other topics to the law enforcement officer. He says he taught "verbal judo" which was developed after the Rodney King incident to help officers learn better communication tools. Brodd tells the court he has reviewed use of force in more than 140 cases. He adds he has testified in civil/criminal cases and both state and federal cases 10 times since 2016.

He testified that Chauvin's use of force was "justified" when used on Floyd.

"So as you're reviewing an incident, such as this, you have to try to see it through the eyes of the officers on the scene," Brodd said. 

Brodd says he did not consider this case to involve deadly force. He also claims that drugs played a big role in this case. He says officers should keep people who are under the influence handcuffed until they're taken to a medical facility. 

"I felt the level of resistance exhibited by Mr. Floyd justified the officers, and higher levels use of force that they chose not to select," Brodd testified. 

He believes Floyd was still resisting while handcuffed on the ground.

The defense finishes questioning. The state will now reexamine after a five-minute break. 

State prosecutor Steve Schleicher takes over. After going back and forth about whether Brodd considers Chauvin's knee on Floyd's neck a use-of-force incident, Brodd said "it could be."

He agreed with the state prosecutor that risk and threat are two different things. 

Schleicher says "Let's say that you're distracted by something, Mr. Nelson's doing. Let's say maybe he's even threatening. That's not a justification for you to use force against me, is it?" Brodd answers, "No."  Schleicher says, "Because I certainly have not control over Mr. Nelson."

Schleicher asks if Brodd agrees with the proposition that in law enforcement, once somebody is in your custody, they're in your care.  Brodd said he agrees. Schleicher states that it is MPD policy and training, in your custody, in your care. "Is that correct?"  Brodd answers, "Yes."

The state is continuing questioning but Cahill called a break at 3 p.m.

Cross-examination of the witness continues by the state. Schleicher is asking about bystanders that were on the scene. Brodd stated earlier that a growing crowd could create tension for officers while at the scene.

"You heard Mr. Thao say he's talking, referring to Mr. Floyd?" Schleicher asks.  Brodd replies, "Yes."

Schleicher points to each of the bystanders and Brodd confirms he only heard one of the bystanders speak. Schleicher says, "He said he was you're cutting off his breathing, right?"  Brodd said, "Okay."  Schleicher asks if it is fair to say he was expressing concern? Brodd responds, "Yes."

He also said he doesn't believe Chauvin and the other officers used deadly force when they pinned Floyd on his stomach, with his hands cuffed behind his back and Chauvin's knee on his neck or neck area for what prosecutors say was 9 1/2 minutes.

Brodd likened it to a situation in which officers used a Taser on someone fighting with officers, and the suspect fell, hit his head and died: "That isn't an incident of deadly force. That's an incident of an accidental death."

But Brodd said: "I felt that Officer Chauvin's interactions with Mr. Floyd were following his training, following current practices in policing and were objectively reasonable."

Under cross-examination by prosecutor Steve Schleicher, Brodd agreed that the use of force must always be reasonable and that officers must stop or lessen that force until it becomes reasonable.

"Because that's really the standard ... reasonability, right?" Schleicher asked.

"Yes," Brodd replied.

The witness said it appeared to him that Floyd was still struggling while he was on the ground.

After Brodd initially said Chauvin's knee was on Floyd's neck area, top of the spine or upper back, Schleicher showed Brodd a still image from a body camera and got him to concede that Chauvin's left knee was on Floyd's neck.

Under questioning by Nelson, Brodd also testified that the bystanders yelling at the officers to get off Floyd complicated the situation for Chauvin and the others.

"The crowds started to grow in size, start to become more vocal. So now officers are always trained to deal with, right, so what threat is the biggest threat?" he said.

"Is it the suspect on the ground in front of me in handcuffs that we have relatively controlled? Or is it the unknown threat posed by the crowd that could go from verbal to trying to interfere with my arrest process in a matter of seconds?"

Brodd appeared to endorse what prosecution witnesses have said is a common misconception: that if someone can talk, he or she can breathe.

"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," he said.

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