After over a week of testimonies, it’s become increasingly clear that the defense is leaning on the idea that George Floyd’s drug use was what caused his death and not former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s knee on his neck.
The day began with Sgt. Jody Stiger, a use of force expert with the Los Angeles Police Department, continuing his testimony from yesterday. According to the New York Times, Stiger testified that Chauvin used deadly force in a situation where he didn’t need to use force at all.
Stiger also noted that it appeared Chauvin used a “pain compliance” technique in one of the body camera videos. Chauvin was seen manipulating Floyd’s fingers while he was handcuffed and Stiger said he could hear the handcuffs tightening in one of the videos. He said that while the technique Chauvin used could be used to make a belligerent suspect comply, there was no opportunity for Floyd to further comply.
“At that point, it’s just pain,” Stiger testified.
Stiger also reiterated that once Floyd was handcuffed and placed on the ground, he should’ve been put in “recovery position,” as laying on his stomach could’ve led to asphyxia. “When you add body weight to that, it just increases the possibility of death,” he said.
Eric J. Nelson, Chauvin’s attorney, then cross-examined Stiger and once more reiterated the idea that it was the chaos of the scene that caused Chauvin to suddenly forget everything he was trained to do.
From the New York Times:
The lawyer for Mr. Chauvin, Eric J. Nelson, played a short video of Mr. Floyd handcuffed on the ground and asked the sergeant if it sounded like Mr. Floyd was saying, “I ate too many drugs.” Sergeant Stiger said he could not make out what Mr. Floyd had said, at which point Mr. Nelson asked him if things can be “missed” in a chaotic scene. The sergeant agreed that they could.
Sergeant Stiger also agreed, in response to Mr. Nelson’s questioning, that it would have been appropriate for Mr. Chauvin to use a Taser on Mr. Floyd when he first arrived on scene, given that Mr. Floyd appeared to be resisting officers’ efforts to get him into a police car. Still, the jury has heard from many experts — including Sergeant Stiger — who said that the appropriate level of force changed once Mr. Floyd was on the ground and no longer resisting.
That “I ate too many drugs,” question would come to cause controversy when Senior Special Agent James D. Reyerson of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension was asked the same thing by the defense. Initially, Reyerson said that it sounded like Floyd said “I ate too many drugs,” in one of the videos of the incident. Reyerson would later retract that testimony after reviewing a longer video of the incident and said it sounded instead like Floyd said “I ain’t do no drugs.”
Floyd’s drug use was the focus of the majority of the day’s testimony, with forensic scientists taking the stand for the rest of the day’s proceedings.
McKenzie Anderson, a forensic scientist at the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, took the stand after Reyerson. Anderson was the person who processed Chauvin’s police cruiser after the incident. She initially found traces of Floyd’s blood in the cruiser from when he was briefly put inside. It wasn’t until Chauvin’s defense team requested a search of the cruiser over six months after Floyd died that she found pills with Floyd’s DNA on it. It was an oversight that Judge Peter Cahil called “mind-boggling.”
Breahna Giles, another forensic scientist with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, took the stand and provided details about the pills that were found at the scene of Floyd’s death. Testing found that the pills contained methamphetamine and fentanyl even though they were marked to look like they contained pharmaceutical-grade Acetaminophen and Oxycodone.
According to CNN, Susan Neith, a forensic chemist at NMS Labs in Pennsylvania, was the last person to take the stand for the day. Neith was the person responsible for analyzing the pills that were recovered from Chauvin’s vehicle. “They were not complete tablets,” Neith testified. “They had a portion that appeared to be cut off, so I couldn’t read the exact monogramming on either tablet. They appeared to be round tablets, nothing out of the ordinary.”
While the use of force experts all have essentially said Chauvin basically did everything wrong in how he handled Floyd, the prosecution has to prove without a reasonable doubt that Chauvin was responsible for Floyd’s death.
The traces of drugs in his system and the ones found at the scene seem to be the defense’s best bet at reasonable doubt, and their strategy has basically boiled down to “It’s not that our client was bad at his job, it was the drugs.” Time will only tell how effective a case that will be.