Derek Chauvin Trial: What You Should Know So Far

By: Nicholas Kweyu


Derek Chauvin (right) and his defense attorney Eric Nelson – USA Today

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s trial for the murder of George Floyd began on Monday. The incident which occurred in May 2020 sparked widespread protests against police brutality and racism as the white police officer was caught on video holding his knee against the neck of the black victim.

Chauvin is now facing charges of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter all for which he has pleaded not guilty.

Just prior to the beginning of the trial, Floyd’s family, their lawyer, Benjamin Crump, and the Reverend Al Sharpton took a knee outside a county government center for eight minutes and forty-six seconds. This was the estimated amount of time that Chauvin had knelt on Floyd’s neck and has now come to symbolize the latter’s death.

During opening statements, the prosecutor, Jerry Black well, played a video recorded by a bystander showing Chauvin kneeling on Floyd while restraining him and stating that it was “a homicide”.

“On May 25th of 2020, Mr. Derek Chauvin betrayed this badge when he used excessive and unreasonable force upon the body of Mr. George Floyd,” said Blackwell.

Floyd family attorney Ben Crump (center), Reverend Al Sharpton (third from right) and members of George Floyd’s family take the knee outside the courthouse on the first day of the trial -Craig Lassig

Countering the claim that Chauvin directly caused Floyd’s death, Derek Chauvin’s Defense attorney Eric Nelson stated that Floyd’s death was caused by a cardiac arrhythmia which was caused by a number of factors.

These included the use of drugs, Floyd’s pre-existing coronary disease and adrenaline which all “acted to further compromise an already compromised heart”. Nelson also told the jury that the use of force while not attractive, was a necessary component of policing.

The jury has now heard testimony from eleven witnesses as of the third day of the case.

911 dispatcher Jena Lee Scurry testified on Monday and said how she watched the surveillance footage of the officers restraining George Floyd. She noted that the officers had held him down for so long that she asked someone “if the screens were frozen”. Following an instinct that something was not right, she said she called the sergeant.

Donald Williams, an MMA fighter who testified on Tuesday, said that he witnessed Chauvin holding Floyd in a “blood choke”. He admitted to calling 911 after Floyd was taken away on an ambulance.

“I did call the police on the police,” he said. “I believe I had witnessed a murder.”

“The man stopped breathing. He wasn’t resisting arrest or nothing. He was already in handcuffs. They pretty much just killed that dude — I don’t even know if he’s dead for sure, but he was not responsive when the ambulance just came and got him,” Williams said on the audio of the call which was played in the courtroom.

On the same day, Daniella Frazier, who recorded the video of Floyd’s arrest that went viral, also testified.

“I heard George Floyd saying ‘I can’t breathe. Please, get off of me. I can’t breathe.’ He cried for his mom. He was in pain,” she said. “It seemed like he knew, it seemed like he knew it was over for him. He was terrified. He was suffering. This was a cry for help, definitely.”

On Wednesday, the court heard testimony from Christopher Martin, the Cup Food Cashier who had served Floyd on the day of the incident. Martin testified that he noticed the $20 bill that Floyd paid with was fake but he still accepted it. He said that Floyd seemed high and therefore was not aware that the bill was fake.

“I thought I’d be doing him a favour,” said Martin.

He went on to recount how his manager asked him and another employee to follow Floyd and ask him to come back inside to discuss the situation. When Floyd refused, a coworker called 911.

On the fourth day of the trial, George Floyd’s girlfriend, Courtney Ross, testified of their shared issues with opioids sparing no details. She even recounted past overdose episodes.

“We both tried really hard to break that addiction many times,” she said but added that she believes addiction to be a lifelong struggle.

Ross said that they both became addicted to opioids after suffering from chronic back pain.

In this image from video, witness Courtney Ross answers questions as Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill presides Thursday, April 1, 2021, in the trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minn. Chauvin is charged in the May 25, 2020 death of George Floyd – Court TV via AP, Pool

Although seemingly helpful to Chauvin’s case, airing Floyd’s drug struggle was apparently a legal maneuver by prosecutors according to former federal prosecutor Joyce Vance.

“They’re educating the jury about the fact even if the drugs in George Floyd’s system contributed in some way to his death, that importantly he was brought back in earlier overdose situations with medical treatment which wasn’t provided here.” Said Vance following Ross’ testimony.

The trial is set to run for about four weeks with the case being made up of 12 jurors. For their safety, the jurors’ faces will not be revealed on camera and they will not be referred to by name despite the trial being recorded and broadcast. The only information available about the members of the jury is that they are diverse in age and ethnicity.

According to the Star-Tribune, the jury includes “a multi-race woman in her 20s, a multi-race woman in her 40s, two Black men in their 30s, a Black man in his 40s, a Black woman in her 60s, four white women in their 50s, a white woman in her 40s, a white woman in her 20s, a white man in his 30s and two white men in their 20s.”

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