If you look closely, you may find remnants of an actual defense in the case against the ex-Minneapolis police officer accused of murdering George Floyd when he kneeled on his neck for more than nine minutes. Problem is, jurors may find even those remnants to be nothing more than loose threads the defense is trying to rebrand as essential fibers. The end result, of course, even to the untrained eye is a quilt of racism—racism used to defend racism to be more precise. In his defense of Derek Chauvin, the ex-cop at the center of the trial, attorney Eric Nelson repeatedly asked used use-of-force trainers and first responders if an angry crowd may cause an officer to miss signs of fading life, if a subject’s size may affect the amount of force applied, and if it's possible for someone who lost consciousness to regain it in a violent fit.
As journalist Elie Mystal put it in a tweet: “Ahh, we've reached the ‘isn't it true that Black people can develop super human strength and doesn't that mean more force can be used to crush the windpipes of these aliens who use the sun's power against us?’ stage of the Chauvin defense.”
The trial had barely started for the day on Tuesday morning when Nelson tried to assure the jury would be made aware of a suspected link between Floyd and an accused drug dealer. That man, Morries Hall, was a friend of Floyd's who was with him before his death, and he made an appearance in court before the jury was called in, The New York Times reported. Hall has said he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right protecting him against self-incrimination if he is subpoenaed to testify. Adrienne Cousins, Hall's attorney, said in court that Hall’s car has been searched twice and drugs have been found inside of it both times. “This leaves Mr. Hall potentially incriminating himself into a future prosecution of third-degree murder,” she said. The charge applies when someone is directly or indirectly involved in drug activity that leads to an overdose.
Judge Peter Cahill said it appears this would be a “proper invocation of his Fifth Amendment rights” in all cases except for his observations sitting in the passenger seat of the car Floyd was in just before officers apprehended him. Cousins said even that exposes Hall to a potential third-degree murder charge because it places him in that car in close proximity to Floyd before drugs were found in his system. Cahill hasn't ruled on whether Hall will have to testify, but he ordered Chauvin's defense to come up with potential questions by Thursday, the Times reported.
The majority of the trial day Tuesday highlighted expert and veteran police testimony analyzing Chauvin’s use of force with Floyd on the day of his death, May 25, 2020, near the Cup Foods store in Minneapolis.
Even though use of force instructor and Minneapolis Police Lt. Johnny Mercil testified that a person can be rendered unconscious with a neck restraint in less than 10 seconds, Chauvin was said to remain on Floyd for nine minutes and 29 seconds. Nelson, however, showed Mercil a photo of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd's shoulder area and asked if that appeared to be a neck restraint. “No,” Mercil answered.
His answer could prove to be an important part of Nelson’s defense, as could be the lieutenant's admittance that suspects do sometimes say “'I can't breathe'" when trying to avoid arrest. But when asked if he has experienced a person who had been rendered unconscious “continue to fight after they come back to consciousness”, Mercil responded: “I have not experienced somebody fighting after a neck restraint.” Mercil also testified that a photo from witness video of Chauvin on top of Floyd was not part of department training.
Jody Stiger, an expert witness and sergeant with the Los Angeles Police Department, testified that when Floyd stopped resisting officers "should have slowed down or stopped their force as well." “My opinion was that the force was excessive," the sergeant said, having trained nearly 3,000 officers in use-of-force techniques.
Stiger also said in his testimony that it’s fair to consider providing a counterfeit $20 bill, the crime Floyd was accused of, a low-level offense. "Typically, you wouldn't even expect to use any type of force," Stiger said.
Sgt. Ker Yang, the Minneapolis Police Department's crisis intervention training coordinator, testified that he trains officers in dealing with people in crisis or "beyond a person's coping mechanism” to "bring them back down," according to the Star Tribune. "When it is safe and feasible, we shall de-escalate," he said.
Nelson seemed to be focusing on how onlookers prevented officers from de-escalating the situation. He asked Nicole Mackenzie, the Minneapolis police medical support coordinator, whether "certain circumstances where there's a lot of noise, or a lot of commotion" would make it easier to mistake agonal breathing or breathing in distress with effective breathing. She replied, “yes.” Mackenzie also explained that just because a person is talking doesn’t mean he is breathing effectively.
Prosecutor Steve Schleicher asked her if “the activities of a group of onlookers excuse a police officer from the duty to render emergency medical aid to a subject who needs it." And Mackenzie responded: "Only if they were physically getting themselves involved, I would say."
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