Derek Chauvin’s Actions Come Under Scrutiny in Trial
The trial will continue to look at whether Mr. Chauvin violated department policy by keeping his knee on George Floyd for several minutes. Here’s the latest.,
Reporting from Minneapolis
The judge is not going to rule today on whether Morries Hall, the friend of George Floyd’s who was with him in the moments before his death in May, can be forced to testify. The judge will likely rule later this week. Derek Chauvin’s lawyer has many questions for Mr. Hall, but almost all of them have the potential to incriminate him, and Mr. Hall has said he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Reporting from Minneapolis
Before the jury is brought in this morning, court starts with an appearance from Morries Lester Hall, a friend of George Floyd’s who was in the car with him on May 25, the day Floyd died, in the moments before the police arrived. His lawyer says he does not want to testify and would invoke his Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate himself. This hearing is over whether he can be forced to testify against his will. He is currently being held in jail on charges unrelated to Floyd’s death and is appearing on video.
Reporting from Minneapolis
Derek Chauvin’s defense lawyer has outlined a long list of questions that he wants to ask Hall. Among them are questions about his interactions with Floyd in Cup Foods, about Floyd’s use of drugs, about Hall’s decision to leave the state after Floyd’s death, and much more. Almost all of those things have the potential to incriminate Hall.
Morries Lester Hall, a friend of George Floyd’s who was in a car with him on May 25, moments before the police pulled Mr. Floyd out of the car and pinned him to the ground, is hoping to avoid testifying in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin.
Mr. Hall, who is currently in jail on charges unrelated to Mr. Floyd’s death, appeared in court by video conference on Tuesday morning for a hearing over whether he can be forced to testify. A lawyer for Mr. Hall said prosecutors and Mr. Chauvin’s lawyer had subpoenaed him, and she noted that Mr. Chauvin’s lawyer had mentioned Mr. Hall in opening statements.
Last week, Mr. Hall’s lawyer filed a notice with the court saying that, if subpoenaed to testify, Mr. Hall would invoke his Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate himself. Because he would not give substantial testimony, Mr. Hall’s lawyer argued, he should not be forced to take the stand.
Judge Peter A. Cahill, who has overseen the trial, is expected to decide on whether prosecutors can force Mr. Hall to take the stand after hearing arguments on Tuesday morning.
The first week of the former police officer Derek Chauvin’s trial was emotional, marked by gut-wrenching eyewitness accounts, combative exchanges and vivid videos. But according to Justin Hansford, a law professor at Howard University, Monday marked the start of a more critical part of the trial.
The prosecution began laying out the evidence that Mr. Chauvin’s decision to kneel on George Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes violated department policy and that his actions led directly to Mr. Floyd’s death on May 25. That’s the “meat” of the prosecution’s case and is the only evidence that the jury can use to reach a verdict, said Mr. Hansford, who has been watching the trial daily.
Prosecutors should have started with “a more substantive argument early on, rather than an emotional one” because that is what the jurors are asked to consider in their decision, Mr. Hansford said. “We should be watching the expert testimony closely because that will be grounds” for the verdict, he said.
On Monday, the jurors heard none of the harrowing accounts of Mr. Floyd’s arrest. Instead, the prosecution guided the Minneapolis police chief, Medaria Arrodondo, through more than two hours of questions about the law, police training and standards. Prosecutors followed that with questions to the Police Department’s former training director about how often Mr. Chauvin would have received guidance on tactics such as restraining suspects, use of force and medical aid.
Chief Arrodondo testified that Mr. Chauvin violated the department’s policy when he pinned Mr. Floyd for more than nine minutes and failed to render aid.
Unequivocal condemnation from the chief of the Minneapolis Police Department has pushed the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former officer charged in the death of George Floyd, into new territory.
Questions about whether Mr. Chauvin violated department policy by keeping his knee on Mr. Floyd for nine and a half minutes will remain important as the trial moves forward on Tuesday. The judge, Peter A. Cahill, said he would limit the number of police officers who could testify about use of force, though one more officer is expected to answer questions on the crucial topic.
On Monday, Chief Medaria Arradondo rebuked Mr. Chauvin — saying he pinned Mr. Floyd for too long and failed to render aid — in a rare example of a police chief testifying against a police officer. Though Mr. Chauvin’s restraints may have been justified at first, “Once Mr. Floyd had stopped resisting, and certainly once he was in distress and trying to verbalize that, that should have stopped,” the chief said.
Other witnesses included an emergency room doctor and veteran officer.
Dr. Bradford T. Wankhede Langenfeld, who attempted to save Mr. Floyd’s life at a hospital for about 30 minutes before declaring his death, said he believed that asphyxia, or the deprivation of oxygen, was one of the more likely causes of death. The prosecution has sought to validate that claim, while the defense has pointed to complications from drug use and a heart condition.
Inspector Katie Blackwell, a veteran police officer in Minneapolis, told jurors that officers should move suspects who are facedown and handcuffed “as soon as possible” because the position can make it difficult to breathe. Mr. Floyd was kept on his stomach even after he lost consciousness.
Mr. Chauvin’s lawyer, Eric J. Nelson, argued that officers sometimes have to juggle multiple things when applying force, such as possible threats from bystanders. Regarding Mr. Floyd’s cause of death, Mr. Nelson got Dr. Wankhede Langenfeld to confirm that drug use could cause asphyxia.
Ultimately, Monday’s testimony may prove problematic for the defense. The criticism by Chief Arradondo, in particular, could encourage the jury to break from the norm of giving police officers the benefit of the doubt when it comes to split-second decisions on when, and how, to apply force.
During his testimony on Monday, Medaria Arradondo, the Minneapolis police chief, said that he learned about the widely seen bystander video when a community member called him close to midnight after George Floyd’s death and said, “Chief, have you seen the video of your officer choking and killing that man at 38th and Chicago?”
Nekima Levy Armstrong, a civil rights lawyer, said in an interview on Monday that she was the community member who had that conversation with the chief about 10 months ago. She watched his testimony in the case of Derek Chauvin, the former officer accused of murder in Mr. Floyd’s death, and said she was pleased.
“He set a powerful example that police chiefs across the nation should follow when they know that their officers have violated people’s human rights and constitutional rights,” Ms. Armstrong said.
Residents and political leaders have been intensely debating the future of the city’s police department, with some activists and City Council members advocating the dismantling of the department and creating a new public safety agency that would oversee law enforcement. Some have said that the head of the new agency should not be a police officer, but Ms. Armstrong said that Chief Arradondo’s testimony instilled confidence in her that he should continue to lead law enforcement in Minneapolis.
“I think the fact that Chief Arradondo — not once, but twice — has been willing to break that blue wall of silence is incredibly important,” she said.
Other activists were not as impressed with the chief. D.A. Bullock is a local activist and filmmaker who said he favored defunding and dismantling the Police Department, and eventually abolishing it all together. He said he was disturbed that Chief Arradondo suggested that there were times when it was appropriate for officers to place their knees on the necks of suspects to get them under control.
That, Mr. Bullock said, “means to me that they are going to continue the practice of putting their knees on Black men’s necks.”
Like other supporters of efforts to defund the police, Mr. Bullock said he thought that Chief Arradondo was well intentioned. But he argued that the problems within the department were so systemic that there was little the police chief could do to make policing better.
“I encourage people again to look at the policy and not look at his performance,” Mr. Bullock said. “I don’t feel very confident in that testimony about actual changes in the Police Department.”
In testimony that often seemed more like he was teaching a criminal law class, the Minneapolis police chief, Medaria Arradondo, spent more than two hours on Monday detailing the training his officers must complete and the standards they must comply with. Navigating jargon and statutes, his testimony in former officer Derek Chauvin’s trial is crucial in determining whether Mr. Chauvin is criminally responsible for George Floyd’s death.
The prosecution must show that Mr. Chauvin “acted unreasonably and out of the bounds” of his training and the standards set by Minnesota, said David Schultz, a law professor at the University of Minnesota. Prosecutors need to show he “went rogue.” If the defense can prove that Mr. Chauvin followed all protocols, then “the case is all over” for the prosecution, Mr. Schulz said.
Mr. Arradondo fired Mr. Chauvin and backed an F.B.I. investigation shortly after Mr. Floyd’s death, calling it a “murder.” His prior comments will very likely face scrutiny when Mr. Chauvin’s lawyer, Eric J. Nelson, cross-examines him.
Proving that Mr. Chauvin broke policy is one of the two most important tasks for prosecutors, Mr. Schultz said. The other is proving that Mr. Floyd died as a direct result of Mr. Chauvin kneeling on his neck and restraining him. The defense has argued instead that Mr. Floyd died of a combination of factors, including an overdose, and that Mr. Chauvin was following Minnesota policing standards.
Minnesota has fairly clear and high standards for police officers, and unlike other states, it licenses and regulates its police officers, Mr. Schultz said. The defense will remind the jury that police officers across the country have statutory authorization to use force by way of a Supreme Court decision on qualified immunity, Mr. Schultz said.
“What Arradondo and the other police officers last week are doing is saying that Chauvin wasn’t a responsible police officer” based on the standards and training he had received, Mr. Schultz said. “This is what they have to do to show he engaged in criminal activity” and therefore lost his qualified immunity, he said.
On May 25, Minneapolis police officers arrested George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, after a convenience store employee called 911 to report that Mr. Floyd had bought cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. Seventeen minutes after the first squad car arrived at the scene, Mr. Floyd was unconscious and pinned beneath three police officers, showing no signs of life.
By combining videos from bystanders and security cameras, reviewing official documents and consulting experts, The New York Times reconstructed in detail the minutes leading to Mr. Floyd’s death. Our video shows officers taking a series of actions that violated the policies of the Minneapolis Police Department and turned fatal, leaving Mr. Floyd unable to breathe, even as he and onlookers called out for help.
The trial of Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd is unusual for many reasons: It is being livestreamed from Minneapolis, attendance is severely limited because of the coronavirus and the public’s interest in the case may make this one of the highest-profile trials in recent memory.
The trial can be watched on nytimes.com, via a livestream provided by Court TV, which is also airing the trial in full. Witness testimony and lawyers’ presentations of evidence should last several weeks before the jury begins to deliberate over the verdict.
Among the people allowed in the courtroom, on the 18th floor of the Hennepin County Government Center, are: the judge, jurors, witnesses, court staff, lawyers, Mr. Chauvin and only a handful of spectators.
The judge, Peter A. Cahill, wrote in an order on March 1 that only one member of Mr. Floyd’s family and one member of Mr. Chauvin’s family would be allowed in the room at any time. Two seats are reserved for reporters, and various journalists, including from The New York Times, are rotating throughout the trial.
The lawyers, spectators, jurors and witnesses are required to wear masks when they are not speaking. Spectators are prohibited from having any visible images, logos, letters or numbers on their masks or clothing, according to Judge Cahill’s order.