Chauvin trial: Former cop says Floyd was not a threat when officers used force

Monday's court proceedings have ended for the day

A man testifies in court.
Seth Stoughton, a use-of-force expert and law professor from South Carolina, testifies in ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin's trial Monday.
Screenshot of Court TV video

MPR News is streaming live coverage of the trial. Some images or material discussed during the trial will be disturbing to many viewers. Watch the morning proceedings here. Watch the afternoon proceedings here.

3 things to know:

  • Defense expected to start presenting its case this week; judge rejects sequestering jurors early due to Brooklyn Center police shooting.

  • Medical examiner who ruled George Floyd’s death a homicide said stress of police restraint was too much for Floyd given underlying health conditions, drugs in system

  • Case expected to hinge on responsibility for Floyd’s death; defense points to Floyd’s health conditions, drugs; prosecution points to Chauvin’s actions


Updated 6:20 p.m.

The prosecution’s final witness in the trial of Derek Chauvin was a use-of-force expert who testified that placing George Floyd in a prone restraint position on the street was unreasonable.

Seth Stoughton, an associate professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, told jurors on Monday that when Floyd was pulled from the back seat of a squad car while in handcuffs, he posed no threat to officers.

“Given the range of other alternatives available to the officers, it's just not appropriate to prone someone who is, at that point, cooperative,” said Stoughton, a former police officer.

Stoughton said he evaluated two forms of deadly force used in the incident, the prone position and the knee of officer Derek Chauvin on his neck. Both were unreasonable use of force under the circumstances, he said.

Prosecutors don’t intend to call any more witnesses after Stoughton. Judge Peter Cahill told jurors that he expects the defense case to start Tuesday. He said he expects the defense to finish presenting their arguments by the end of the week, and for closing arguments to likely start on Monday. Jurors will be sequestered while they deliberate — Cahill told them to “pack a bag” in preparation.

Under cross-examination, defense attorney Eric Nelson pushed Stoughton on the standards Graham v. Connor, a U.S. Supreme Court case that outlines what qualifies as excessive police use of force.  

“The analysis of an officer’s use of force is viewed through the totality of the circumstances, correct?” Nelson asked Stoughton. “In fact, one of the standards that Graham v. Connor establishes is that it shouldn’t be viewed from the 20/20 lens of hindsight.”  

Stoughton said the decision focuses more on the information that was available to a “reasonable officer,” and should be looked at through an “objective lens.”

“The 20/20 lens of hindsight is an admonition to not rely on evidence that wasn’t available to officers at the time,” Stoughton said. “It, of course, doesn’t mean we can’t evaluate the officer’s use of force after the fact.”

Another cry of ‘mama, mama’

Earlier in the day, Philonise Floyd, George Floyd’s brother, took the stand, recounting how his brother used to make the best banana and mayonnaise sandwiches, how he marked his height on a wall as he grew, and how he was a “mama’s boy” who loved his family.

A man testifies in court.
Philonise Floyd, George Floyd's brother, testifies during ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin's trial on Monday.
Screenshot of Court TV video

Minnesota is among just a handful of states that allows "spark of life" testimony. It allows personal testimony from loved ones about who the victim was. And it's allowed before jurors settle on a verdict.

Philonise Floyd grew emotional on the stand as he was shown photos of George Floyd with his young daughter, and of their late mother.

When she died in May 2018, George Floyd wasn’t able to make it Texas before she passed.

A photo of a woman holding a sleeping child.
A photo of George Floyd with his mother. It was used as evidence during the trial of ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on Monday.
Screenshot of Court TV video

"That alone hurt him a lot. When we went to the funeral, George just sat there by the casket  over and over again. He’d just say ‘mama, mama,’ over and over again,” Philonise Floyd said. “He was just kissing her and kissing her, he didn’t want to leave the casket.”

Among their siblings, he said George Floyd was a leader, making sure they all got dressed and to school on time.

“And like I said, George couldn’t cook, but he’d make sure you’d have a snack or something in the morning,” he said.

Chauvin faces murder and manslaughter charges in George Floyd’s death while in police custody last year.

Bystander video showed Chauvin with his knee pressed against Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes as the man lay handcuffed and face down on the pavement, pleading that he couldn’t breathe. He was arrested after allegedly trying to use a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes. Chauvin and three other officers on the scene were fired from the force.

Judge rejects sequestering jury now due to Brooklyn Center shooting

Earlier Monday, the defense called for the jury to be sequestered due to the fatal shooting of a man Sunday by police in Brooklyn Center. The judge rejected the idea, however, noting that jurors will be sequestered once they begin deliberations, which is expected next week.

Defense attorney Eric Nelson asked for the jury to be sequestered, saying that one juror lives in Brooklyn Center and others have “connections” to the Minneapolis suburb.

Nelson said he fears jurors hearing about the clash between police and protesters Sunday night where a Black man was killed by police during a traffic stop.

Judge Peter Cahill said he understood the shooting in Brooklyn Center may heighten jurors’ anxiety. But he said sequestering them now could make that worse.

“I think the better way is to just continue with the trial as we’ve been going,” he said.

Nelson also asked the court to ask jurors if the recent events have affected them. Prosecutors objected. Cahill said he would not question jurors about their possible exposure to the news of the shooting given that it’s a separate case from Chauvin’s trial.

Nelson said he understood that but remained concerned the “emotional response that case creates sets the stage for a jury to say ‘I’m not going to vote not guilty because I’m concerned about the outcome.’ ”

Chauvin’s defense is expected to start making its case to jurors this week as testimony resumes. Cahill says he expects closing arguments to begin April 19.

Cardiologist: Floyd’s heart stopped due to low oxygen

In cross-examining prosecution witnesses the past two weeks, Nelson has posited that Floyd’s underlying medical problems and the drugs in his system were responsible for his death. Prosecutors say Chauvin’s actions to subdue Floyd killed him.

The prosecution’s argument got another boost Monday, when cardiologist Dr. Jonathan Rich testified that Floyd’s heart stopped due to low oxygen. He blamed the prone restraint Floyd was placed in by police officers for hindering his ability to get enough air.

A man behind a desk speaks.
Cardiologist Dr. Jonathan Rich testifies during the trial of ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Rich works at Northwestern Hospital in Chicago and was called as an expert witness by the prosecution Monday.
Screenshot of Court TV video

Rich also ruled out factors the defense has brought up as alternative causes of Floyd’s death.

“I see no evidence at all to suggest a fentanyl overdose caused Mr. Floyd’s death,” he said, and also noted that the amount of methamphetamine found in Floyd’s system was low and played no substantive role in his death.

Though Floyd had coronary artery disease and high blood pressure, Rich said Floyd showed no signs of a having a heart attack. And he said Floyd’s medical records showed he was not being treated for chronic heart problems.

His testimony was the latest in a slew of medical experts who told jurors that police restraint led to Floyd’s death. On Friday, Hennepin County Medical Examiner Andrew Baker — who conducted the autopsy on Floyd’s body and ruled the man’s death a homicide last year — said the actions by Chauvin and other officers to subdue Floyd as they arrested him on May 25 tipped the man from life to death.

Floyd's enlarged heart and narrowed arteries left him short of oxygen while his stress level jumped as he lay handcuffed and pinned to the pavement, said Baker.

“In my opinion, the law enforcement subdual restraint and the neck compression was just more than Mr. Floyd could take by virtue of those heart conditions,” Baker told jurors during his highly anticipated testimony.

A man testifies in court.
Hennepin County Medical Examiner Dr. Andrew Baker testifies during ex-officer Derek Chauvin's trial on Friday.
Screenshot of Court TV video

Baker said Floyd went into cardiopulmonary arrest as then-officer Chauvin kept his knee pressed on the neck of the prone, handcuffed man.

Baker's report also identified “hypertensive heart disease,” “fentanyl intoxication” and “recent methamphetamine use” as other “significant conditions.”

Last week, he stood by his findings and described Floyd’s health problems and the drugs in his system as contributing — not direct — causes of his death.

“He experienced a cardiopulmonary arrest in the context of law enforcement subdual restraint and neck compression,” Baker said in court, recalling what he told the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office. “It was the stress of that (police) interaction that tipped him over the edge, given his underlying heart disease and his toxicological status,” Baker testified.

Other experts who pushed back on the defense’s assertion that Floyd died as a result of poor health and drug use included a forensic pathologist.

“This was not a sudden death. There was nothing sudden about his death. That’s what I would have expected if it was a cardiac arrhythmia,” Dr. Lindsey Thomas told the court, adding that it was also not the type of death seen in a fentanyl overdose, where a person becomes “very sleepy” and then “calmly” stops breathing.


Trial basics

Two men sit behind a desk.
Ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin (right), charged in the killing of George Floyd, right, and his defense attorney Eric Nelson take notes on Thursday.
Screenshot of Court TV video

Who’s who: A look at the key players in the trial.

Need to know: Key questions about the trial, answered.

What we know about the jurors: The 12 jurors and two alternates picked to review the case include a chemist, a youth volunteer, a cardiac nurse and an IT professional.

Chauvin's lawyer is outnumbered, but has help: No fewer than four attorneys have appeared for the prosecution so far, compared to a single attorney to defend Derek Chauvin.

Legion of Chauvin prosecutors, each with own role: Viewers may be struck by the array of prosecutors taking turns presenting their case. The choice of who does what is no accident.

MPR News on its coverage: Nancy Lebens, the newsroom’s deputy managing editor, answered audience questions about our reporting plans.


George Floyd and his legacy

People stand arm in arm and pray in front of a large building.
George Floyd's brother Terrence Floyd (second from left) Rachel Noerdlinger (left), attorney Ben Crump and the Rev. Al Sharpton (right) pray during a press conference outside of the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis on Tuesday.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Remembering George Floyd, the man: Before he became a symbol in the fight for racial justice, friends say George Floyd was a “gentle giant” who sought a fresh start.

Making George Floyd Square: Here’s how the site of George Floyd’s killing — 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis — is being reshaped.

Rescuing the plywood — and memorializing a movement: Two Black women are leading the effort to preserve the murals painted on storefront boards in the Twin Cities.

Calls for change: Here’s what some activists tell MPR News about their experiences with race in Minnesota, why they march and what they hope for the future.


Read more

Community organizer Jay Webb talks to kids at George Floyd Square
Community organizer Jay Webb talks to kids at George Floyd Square during the People's Power Love Fest on Sunday in Minneapolis.
Kerem Yücel for MPR News

What the Chauvin trial feels like for the neighbors keeping vigil in George Floyd Square: People in the community talk about Black liberation, “vulturistic” visitors and why there’s not a TV showing the trial. (Sahan Journal)

How the Spokesman-Recorder is covering the Chauvin trial from the Black perspective: '[Other media are] looking at it as news, and we're looking at it as like, we deal with this daily.” (NPR)

Racism is making us sick. How can equity in medicine help us heal? Two doctors and a medical researcher talk about how racism affects their patients’ health — and how racism in medicine leads to inadequate medical education and poor care. (Sahan Journal)

NPR’s live blog: The latest from the murder trial of Derek Chauvin.


Questions about the Chauvin trial? Ask us

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