George Floyd trial begins: Police officer Derek Chauvin accused of murder

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The trial of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer accused of murdering George Floyd by kneeling on his neck, has started in Minneapolis.

The trial of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer accused of murdering George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for almost 10 minutes, began in Minneapolis today.

Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter, and could face up to 15 years in jail.

Mr Floyd’s death in May of last year sparked a wave of Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality across the United States.

Footage taken by bystanders showed Chauvin kneeling on Mr Floyd for nine minutes and 29 seconds, as the unarmed man repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe.

The prosecution started its opening statement today by showing the jury a Minneapolis Police Department badge and outlining some of the standards officers swear to uphold, such as never employing “unnecessary force or violence” and respecting “the sanctity of life”.

“It’s a small badge that carries with it a large responsibility and a large accountability to the public,” prosecutor Jerry Blackwell said.

“It represents the essence of the department’s approach to the use of force against its citizens when appropriate. The sanctity of life and the protection of the public shall be the cornerstones of the department’s use of force.

“Officers take an oath when they become police officers. They take an oath that I will enforce the law courteously ad appropriately. And as you will learn as it applies to this case, never employing unnecessary force or violence.

“You will learn that on May 25, 2020, Mr Derek Chauvin betrayed this badge when he used excessive and unreasonable force upon the body of Mr George Floyd.

“He put his knee about his neck and his back, grinding and crushing him until the very breath – no, ladies and gentlemen, until the very life was squeezed out of him.

“You will learn that he was well aware that Mr Floyd was unarmed, that Mr Floyd had not threatened anyone, that Mr Floyd was in handcuffs, he was completely in the control of the police, he was defenceless.”

RELATED: Body camera footage reveals crowd’s horror

Mr Blackwell proceeded to play the full video of Chauvin kneeling on Mr Floyd.

“You will hear Mr Floyd as he’s crying out. You hear him at some point cry out for his mother when he’s being squeezed. He was very close to his mother,” he told the jury.

“You will hear him say, ‘Tell my kids I love them.’ You will hear him talk about his fear of dying. He says, ‘I’ll probably die this way. I’m through. I’m through. They’re going to kill me. They’re going to kill me, man.’

“You will hear him cry out in pain, ‘My stomach hurts, by neck hurts, everything hurts.’ You will hear, ‘Please, I can’t breathe. Please, your knee on my neck.’

“You will hear it and you’ll see at the same time, while he’s crying out, Mr Chauvin never moves. The knee remains on his neck. Sunglasses remain undisturbed on his head. And it just goes on.

“You will see that his respiration gets shallower and shallower, and finally stops when he speaks his last words, ‘I can’t breathe.’”

In total, Mr Floyd protested that he couldn’t breathe 27 times.

Mr Blackwell drew attention to the part of the footage in which Mr Floyd is completely silent “with just sporadic movements”.

“Those sporadic movements matter greatly in this case, because what they reflect (is that) Mr Floyd is no longer breathing when he makes these movements,” he said.

“You will learn about something in this case called an anoxic seizure. It is the body’s automatic reflex when breathing has stopped due to oxygen deprivation.

“You’re going to learn about something called agonal breathing. When the heart has stopped, when blood is no longer coursing through the veins you will hear the body gasp as an involuntary reflex.

“During this period, you will learn that Mr Chauvin is told that they can’t even find the pulse of Mr Floyd. You’ll learn that he’s told that twice. They can’t even find the pulse. You will be able to see for yourself what he does in response. He does not let up.”

He said the medical evidence would show that Mr Floyd’s cause of death, cardiopulmonary arrest, was the direct result of Mr Chauvin restraining him.

The footage also featured comments from bystanders.

“You have got him down, let him breathe,” one person said.

“He is enjoying this. You are enjoying this, you f***ing bum,” said another, speaking to Chauvin.

“He is not even resisting arrest, you are stopping his breathing, you think that’s cool?”

The defence, led by lawyer Eric Nelson, told the jury “there are always two sides to a story” and “the evidence is far greater than nine minutes and 29 seconds” of footage.

“Derek Chauvin did exactly what he had been trained to do over his 19-year career. The use of force is not attractive, but it is a necessary part of policing,” said Mr Nelson.

He said police cameras would show the initial part of Mr Floyd’s encounter with the police, including his attempts to resist being arrested for allegedly using counterfeit money.

“Evidence will show that when confronted, Mr Floyd put drugs in his mouth in an effort to conceal them from police,” he said.

The defence also indicated it would dispute the prosecution’s explanation of Mr Floyd’s cause of death, citing tests that found fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system, along with his enlarged heart and swollen lungs.

“What was Mr Floyd’s actual cause of death? The evidence will show that Mr Floyd died of cardiac arrhythmia that occurred as a result of hypertension, coronary disease, the ingestion of methamphetamine and fentanyl, and the adrenaline flowing through his body, all of which acted to further compromise an already compromised heart,” said Mr Nelson.

He also laid blame on the crowd of bystanders for “diverting” police officers’ attention from Mr Floyd’s wellbeing.

“As the crowd grew in size, seemingly so too did their anger,” he said.

“Remember, there is more to the scene than just what the officers see in front of them. There are people behind them and across the street. There are cars stopping, people yelling. There is a growing crowd and what officers perceived to be a threat. They are called names.

“They’re screaming at them, causing the officers to divert their attention from the care of Mr Floyd to the threat that was growing in front of them.”

With opening statements out of the way, the prosecution called its first witness, the 911 dispatcher from the call that led officers to detain Mr Floyd.

Jena Scurry said she saw the arrest happen on city surveillance cameras, glancing at the footage between taking other calls. She was troubled when she saw what appeared to be the same image multiple times, with officers keeping Mr Floyd motionless on the ground.

“I first asked if the screens were frozen. I was told that it was not frozen,” Ms Scurry said.

“Something was not right. It was an extended period of time.”

Ms Scurry alerted a supervisory sergeant in a phone call, the audio of which was played for the jury.

“I don’t know, you can call me a snitch if you want to, but we have the cameras up for 320’s call and – I don’t know if they had to use force or not, but they got something out of the back of the squad, and all of them sat on this man,” she said.

“So I don’t know if they needed you or not, but they haven’t said anything to me yet.”

Her use of “320” was a reference to the police squad in question.

The high profile case will last up to four weeks. Speaking to reporters today, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki confirmed that President Joe Biden would be paying attention as it unfolded.

“He certainly will be watching closely, as Americans across the country will be watching,” Ms Psaki said.

“He will certainly be provided updates. Obviously this is a trial that’s working its way through law enforcement, our legal process, so we wouldn’t weigh in further than that. But these were events that, at the time, he spoke about as being a reminder of the need to make equity the centre of what we do.”



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