‘Police Officers Don’t Have to Fight Fair’: Defense Attempts to Frame Derek Chauvin’s Actions as ‘Reasonable’ During Day 12 of Trial

Barry Brodd, a use of force expert testifies as Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill presides, Tuesday, April 13, 2021
Barry Brodd, a use of force expert testifies as Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill presides, Tuesday, April 13, 2021
Image: Court TV-Pool (AP)

The twelfth day of the trial of Derek Chauvin saw the defense begin to argue its case that the former Minneapolis Police officer was not responsible for the death of George Floyd.

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According to the New York Times, the day began with the prosecution resting its case; meaning the remainder of the trial will be focused on the defense making its case that Chauvin acted within reason and was not responsible for Floyd’s death. Defense attorney Eric Nelson first called former Minneapolis Police Officer Scott Creighton about a traffic stop in May 2019 involving Floyd.

Throughout the trial there have been references to that 2019 traffic stop, as Floyd had ingested multiple opioids before being apprehended by authorities. Both Creighton, and former paramedic Michelle Moseng were called in to testify about the incident

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From the New York Times:

The defense questioned Mr. Creighton about an incident on May 6, 2019, a traffic stop during which a passenger, whom he identified as Mr. Floyd, was not responsive to his commands.

“In my mind his behavior was very nervous, anxious,” he said, noting that he turned away continuously as he asked to see his hands.

Michelle Moseng, a former paramedic at Hennepin County Medical Center Emergency Medical Services, was also called to testify about the 2019 traffic stop.

In court, she said she was summoned to the police precinct to care for Mr. Floyd after he had been arrested. That day, she said, Mr. Floyd told her he had been taking some form of opioid “multiple, every 20 minutes” and another as the officers approached.

She recommended that he be transported to the hospital based on his elevated blood pressure. He was ultimately brought to the hospital, she said.

The two were only on the stand for a short amount of time and through them the defense attempted to illuminate Floyd’s prior drug use, health ailments, and encounters with law enforcement. Shawanda Hill, a friend of Floyd’s, was then subpoenaed by the defense to testify. She was in the car with Floyd when the officers came and apprehended him. Hill ran into Floyd at the Cup Foods where the incident took place and he offered to give her a ride home. Her testimony was mostly focused on the state Floyd was in when he was confronted by police.

Peter Chang, a Minneapolis Park Police officer, took the stand after Hill. Chang responded to a call for backup and was on scene when the incident happened. New footage of the incident captured on Chang’s body camera provided another look at the moment before Floyd’s death.

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From the New York Times:

Mr. Floyd is seen handcuffed and sitting on the street near a Chinese restaurant, giving his name and birth date to one of the first police officers who arrived at Cup Foods after a clerk called to report that Mr. Floyd had used a fake $20 bill to buy cigarettes.

The footage was from the body camera of Peter Chang, a Minneapolis ParkPolice officer who arrived to back up the two rookie officers who first responded to the scene, before Mr. Chauvin and his partner arrived. Officer Chang’s testimony was the first in the trial from an officer who responded to the incident before Mr. Floyd had died.

The new footage was shown on the first day of testimony presented by Eric J. Nelson, the lawyer for Derek Chauvin, and provided a new glimpse of events that day, mostly from the perspective of two of Mr. Floyd’s companions: Morries Lester Hall and Shawanda Hill. As the officers struggled with Mr. Floyd across the street, Mr. Chang remained behind and watched Mr. Hall and Ms. Hill, who seemed to have no idea about the gravity of what was unfolding.

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When questioned by the defense, Chang testified that the crowd was “very aggressive.” Throughout the trial, the defense has argued that the aggressive nature of the bystanders was a contributing factor as to why Chauvin left his knee on Floyd’s neck and back for over 9 minutes.

Upon cross examination, the prosecution managed to push back against some of the defense’s arguments. When questioned by prosecutor Matthew Frank about Floyd’s behavior when he arrived at the scene, Chang said that Floyd was peaceful and responsive to the officer’s commands. The prosecution also attempted to highlight the fact that because Floyd was already subdued when Chang arrived, there was no need for more force to be used.

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The defense brought out their own use of force expert in Barry Brodd. He just looked like the kind of guy who retired and thought “Man, I should use my knowledge to make sure cops never have to face consequences.” That’s exactly what he did, too. Brodd started a consultant firm after a career in law enforcement, and was the same use of force expert who argued that the use of force in the shooting of Laquan McDonald was justified.

“I felt that Derek Chauvin was justified, and was acting with objective reasonableness, following Minneapolis Police Department policy and current standards of law enforcement, in his interactions with Mr. Floyd,” Brodd testified. He also compared Floyd’s death to that of a man who may have died after being tased and hitting their head on the ground.

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Brodd’s testimony was uncomfortably victim blame-y at parts, and maybe that impersonal approach works in cases where the entire world didn’t watch a man die over the course of eight minutes, but I didn’t find it terribly effective here. Not simply because I’m biased, but after two weeks of hearing expert after expert go into specific detail about how and why the force used wasn’t justified, Brodd’s reasonings just weren’t as compelling.

From the New York Times:

To judge use-of-force cases, Mr. Brodd said he considered whether an officer had justification to detain a person, how the person responded to the officer — with compliance or varying degrees of resistance — and whether the officer’s use of force correlated with the level of resistance.

Mr. Brodd said that Mr. Chauvin’s use of force was appropriate for the level of resistance from Mr. Floyd, and that the officers would have been justified in using even more force.

“Police officers don’t have to fight fair,” he said. “They’re allowed to overcome your resistance by going up a level.”

Mr. Brodd said that officers had used force when they pulled Mr. Floyd from the police car and onto the ground, but that he did not consider keeping Mr. Floyd in a prone position, with his wrists handcuffed behind his back, to be a use of force. When questioned later by the prosecution, he amended this claim, saying the position and the officers on top of Mr. Floyd could have caused him pain and therefore qualified as use of force.

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So yeah, the defense got off to a start today. Was it a good one? Well, that’s for the jury to ultimately decide. In my opinion, their use of force expert wasn’t as engaging or convincing as the ones called by the prosecution.

It seems like this should obviously end with a conviction, but unfortunately, we know exactly what country we live in. 

The stylin', profilin', limousine riding, jet flying, wheelin' and dealin' nerd of The Root.

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