The defense in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin starts its case Tuesday after prosecution witnesses for 11 days blamed him for the death last year of a Black man, George Floyd, by pressing his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes as he lay face down on a city street.
Chauvin’s defense attorney, Eric Nelson, will try to undercut the evidence presented by prosecutors that Chauvin, for 19 years a policeman before he was fired, violated normal police practices in the way he arrested the 46-year-old Floyd, and medical evidence that Chauvin asphyxiated the suspect by his actions.
Nelson has contended that Chauvin followed his police training in arresting Floyd, who was suspected of passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a convenience store last May, and that Floyd died of a heart attack and underlying health conditions related to his drug use, not because of the way Chauvin arrested him.
The arrest of Floyd and his death triggered weeks of demonstrations last year against police abuse of minorities in cities across the U.S. and in major cities overseas.
It is not known whether the 45-year-old Chauvin, who is white, will take the witness stand in his own defense. But the case is moving rapidly, and closing arguments could be held next week. The racially diverse 12-member jury could then start its deliberations on Chauvin’s guilt or innocence.
Chauvin has pleaded not guilty to murder and manslaughter charges. If convicted, he could face years in prison. Three other police officers who played various roles in Floyd’s arrest last May 25 are awaiting trial, although charges against them would likely be dropped if Chauvin is acquitted.
Minnesota state prosecutors rested their case after presenting an array of evidence against Chauvin, including a video of the policeman pressing his knee on Floyd’s neck and testimony from police experts on the proper use of force in arrests and medical personnel on how Floyd died.
One of the last prosecution witnesses, Seth Stoughton, a professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, testified Monday that Chauvin's actions went beyond the bounds of what a reasonable police officer would have done in arresting Floyd.
"No reasonable officer would have believed that that was an appropriate, acceptable or reasonable use of force," Stoughton said of the way Floyd was held facedown with a knee across his neck.
He said that the failure to roll Floyd over and render aid "as his increasing medical distress became obvious" was not appropriate under the circumstances.
Stoughton said it was unreasonable to think that Floyd might harm officers or escape after he had been handcuffed, as he was sprawled out on the ground.