- The trial of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer who kneeled on George Floyd’s neck, started Monday, marking the first in a series of trials over Floyd’s high-profile death.
- Chauvin has already pleaded not guilty to second-degree unintentional murder and second-degree manslaughter. Another charge of third-degree murder is currently being debated by higher courts.
- Jury selection, which has been complicated by the widespread news coverage of the case, is expected to take three weeks, and deliberations are set to start in late April or early May.
- Minneapolis has been preparing for possible fallout from the trial for months by drastically ramping up security, though demonstrations have so far been largely peaceful.
Derek Chauvin’s Hearing Starts
The first trial in the death of George Floyd officially kicked off Monday. The trial will focus entirely on Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who was seen with his knee on Floyd’s neck for several minutes.
The trial, which been described as one of the most important in the nation’s history, comes nearly a year after Floyd’s death prompted months of civil unrest all across the country and ushered in a new era of civil rights reforms and discussions.
What Is Chauvin Charged With?
Chauvin currently faces two charges.
The first charge is second-degree unintentional murder, which alleges that Chauvin killed Floyd “without intent” while committing or attempting to commit felony third-degree assault. The charge is punishable by up to 40 years in prison.
The second charge is second-degree manslaughter, which alleges that Chauvin “consciously took the chances of causing death or great bodily harm.” If found guilty, he could face up to 10 years in prison.
To prove their case, prosecutors have indicated that the evidence they will show will likely include the viral video of Floyd’s death. That footage was shot by a 17-year-old civilian and was also caught on body cameras from the other officers on the scene.
According to reports, the prosecutors have sought to introduce evidence of past examples where Chauvin used force as a police officer, including several arrests in which he used a similar neck restraint.
Notably, prosecutors also filed an additional charge of third-degree murder that was dismissed in October by Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill, who is overseeing the case. Cahill argued the charge requires the actions of Chauvin to be “eminently dangerous ‘to others,’” which he said did not happen in this instance.
On Friday, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that Cahill should reconsider the state’s motion, a decision that the defense said they will take to the state’s Supreme Court if necessary. A final decision has yet to be made.
What’s Chauvin’s Defense?
Chauvin has pleaded not guilty to both claims. His attorney said in an October court filing that he will argue that the former officer is not guilty because he acted in self-defense and used reasonable and authorized force.
One of the main elements of Chauvin’s defense is the argument that Floyd died from the drugs found in his system by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner as well as other underlying health problems, such as heart disease.
That specific argument, however, might be tenuous. It is true that the examiner listed heart disease, Floyd’s recovery from COVID, and his recent fentanyl and methamphetamine use as other “significant conditions” that lead to his death.
Still, the examiner also declared Floyd’s death a homicide, listing “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression” as the specific cause of death.
The Issue of Jury Selection
Chauvin’s defense team has also argued it will be impossible for him to have an impartial jury in Minnesota because the case was so widely reported on, highlighting the complicated nature of jury selection in the high-profile case.
Cahill said that the issue would exist in any court in the country, and has taken special precautions for enlisting a jury. He began the jury process much earlier than usual, sending a 16-page questionnaire to prospective jurors back in December about their views on policing, how much they knew about the case, and if they participated in the protests.
The jury selection is currently expected to take about three weeks. Cahill has said that opening arguments will start no later than March 29.
A Long Road Ahead
While Monday marks the first day of the trial process, it will not be wrapped up quickly. The trial itself effectively will not start until the end of the month, and parties involved in the case believe a jury will not start deliberations until late April or early May.
Even then, once the decision is handed down, there still will be a trial for the three other officers implicated in Floyd’s death, which is currently scheduled for August.
The city of Minneapolis, however, has been preparing for this for months, taking a number of precautions to prevent violence and unrest. In addition to ramping up security all over the city, including preparing the deployment of the National Gaurd if needed, the Hennepin County Government Center has also been surrounded by fencing and barricades, and extreme limits on who can enter the vicinity have been imposed.
Demonstrations seen so far have been largely peaceful, with protesters gathering for vigils. One person was killed and another injured near a memorial over the weekend, though little details have been provided. More protests and vigils will likely take place in the coming weeks and months.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (CNN) (USA Today)
Texas Doctor Says He Violated Abortion Law, Opening Matter Up for Litigation
Under the state’s new law, any citizen could sue the doctor, which would make the matter the first known test case of the restrictive policy.
Dr. Braid’s Op-Ed
A Texas doctor revealed in an op-ed published in The Washington Post Saturday that he performed an abortion in violation of the state’s law that bans the procedure after six weeks, before most people know they are pregnant.
The law, which is the most restrictive in the country and does not have exceptions for rape and incest, also allows civilians to sue anyone who helps someone receive an abortion after six weeks.
In the op-ed, Dr. Alan Braid, who has been practicing as an OB/GYN in Texas for 45 years, said that just days after the law took effect, he gave an abortion to a woman who was still in her first trimester but already beyond the state’s new limit.
“I acted because I had a duty of care to this patient, as I do for all patients, and because she has a fundamental right to receive this care,” he wrote. “I fully understood that there could be legal consequences — but I wanted to make sure that Texas didn’t get away with its bid to prevent this blatantly unconstitutional law from being tested.”
Braid went on to say that he understands he is taking a personal risk but that he believes it is worth it.
“I have daughters, granddaughters and nieces,” he concluded. “I believe abortion is an essential part of health care. I have spent the past 50 years treating and helping patients. I can’t just sit back and watch us return to 1972.”
If someone does opt to sue Braid over this matter, he could potentially be the state’s first test case in playing out the legal process. However, it is unclear if anti-abortion groups will follow through, despite their threats to enforce the law.
A spokesperson for Texas Right to Life, which set up a website to report people suspected of violating the ban, told reporters this weekend that it is looking into Braid’s claims but added, “It definitely seems like a legal stunt and we are looking into whether it is more than that.”
Even if abortion opponents hold off on Braid’s case, there are other legal challenges to the Texas law.
Shortly after the policy took effect, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit attempting to stop it. Last week, the department filed an emergency motion asking a federal judge in the state to temporarily block the ban while that legal battle plays out, with a hearing for that motion set for Oct. 1.
Regardless of what side the federal judge rules for, the other is all but ensured to sue, and that fight could take the question to the Supreme Court in a matter of months.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Texas Tribune) (The Wall Street Journal)
Pfizer Says Low Dose of COVID-19 Vaccine Is Safe and Effective in Kids 5 to 11
Pfizer Says Kids’ Vaccine Works
Pfizer announced Monday morning that its joint COVID-19 vaccine with BioNTech is safe and effective in kids ages 5 to 11.
While Pfizer’s vaccine candidate for younger children is the same version the FDA has already approved for people 12 and older, the children’s dose is only one-third of the amount given to adults and teens. Still, Pfizer said the antibody response they’ve seen in kids has been comparable to the response seen in older participants.
Similarly, the company said side effects in children have been similar to those witnessed in adults.
Pfizer said it expects to finish submitting data, which still needs to be peer-reviewed and then published, to the FDA by the end of the month. From there, the agency will ensure that Pfizer’s findings are accurate and that the vaccine will be able to elicit a strong immune response in kids at its current one-third dosage.
That process could take weeks or even all of October, but it does open the possibility that the vaccine candidate could be approved around Halloween.
While experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have called Pfizer’s announcement largely predictable, they’ve also urged people to let the research run its course.
With cases among children skyrocketing in recent months, some parents have begun urging pediatricians to give their children the jab early. Those kinds of requests are likely to increase with Pfizer’s announcement; however, officials have warned parents about acting too quickly.
“No one should really be freelancing — they should wait for the appropriate approval and recommendations to decide how best to manage their own children’s circumstances,” Bill Gruber, Pfizer’s senior vice president of vaccine clinical research and development, said according to The Washington Post.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (Axios)
Contradicting Studies Leave Biden’s COVID-19 Booster Plan Up in the Air
While some studies show that the effectiveness of Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID vaccines decrease over time, other publications argue the decline is not substantial and a full-flung booster campaign is premature.
Booster Rollout in Flux
President Joe Biden’s plan to offer COVID-19 booster shots is facing serious hurdles just a week before it is set to roll out. Issues with the plan stem from growing divisions among the scientific community over the necessity of a third jab.
The timing of booster shots administration has been a point of contention for months, but the debate intensified in August when Biden announced that, pending regulatory approval, the government would start offering boosters on Sept. 20 to adults eight months after they received their second dose of Pfizer or Moderna.
The announcement was backed by the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, among others.
However, many scientists and other health experts both inside and outside of the government have continually criticized the plan. They have claimed the data supporting boosters was not compelling and argued that, while the FDA approved third doses for immunocompromised Americans, the push to give them to the general public was premature.
The plan also drew international backlash from those who argued the U.S. should not launch a booster campaign when billions of people around the world have not gotten their first dose yet. Earlier this month, the World Health Organization (WHO) extended its request that wealthy countries hold off on giving boosters until at least the end of the year.
Those arguments appeared to be bolstered when federal health regulators said earlier this month that they needed more time to review Moderna’s application for booster shots, forcing the Biden Administration to delay offering third shots to those who received that vaccine.
Now, Pfizer recipients will be the only people who may be eligible for boosters by the initial deadline, though that depends on a forthcoming decision from an FDA expert advisory committee that is set to vote Friday on whether or not to recommend approval.
Debate Continues in Crucial Week
More contradictory information has been coming out in the days leading up to the highly anticipated decision.
On Monday, an international group of 18 scientists, including some at the FDA and the WHO, published a review in The Lancet arguing that there is no credible data to show the vaccines’ ability to prevent severe disease declined substantially over time, so boosters are not yet needed for the general, non-immunocompromised public.
The experts claimed that any advantage boosters may provide does not outweigh the benefit of giving the extra doses to all those who are unvaccinated worldwide.
On the other side, a study released Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine found that people who received a third shot of Pfizer in Israel were much less likely to develop severe COVID than those who just had the first two jabs.
The same day, both Pfizer and Moderna published data backing that up as well. Pfizer released an analysis that said data on boosters and the Delta variant from both Israel and the U.S. suggested “that vaccine protection against COVID-19 infection wanes approximately 6 to 8 months following the second dose.”
Moderna also published data, that has not yet been peer-reviewed, which also found its jab provided less immunity and protection against severe disease as time went on.
Further complicating matters was the fact that the FDA additionally released its report on Pfizer’s analysis of the need for a booster shortly after Pfizer’s publication. Normally, those findings would shine a light on the agency’s stance on the issue, but the regulator did not take a clear stand.
“Some observational studies have suggested declining efficacy of [Pfizer] over time […] while others have not,” the agency wrote. “Overall, data indicate that currently US-licensed or authorized COVID-19 vaccines still afford protection against severe COVID-19 disease and death.”
It remains unclear what the FDA panel will determine when they meet Friday, or what a similar CDC expert panel that is expected to meet next week will decide regarding vaccination policies.
Notably, officials at the two agencies are not required to follow the recommendations of their expert panels, though they usually do.
Even if the FDA approves Pfizer’s application as it stands to give boosters to those 16 and older, people familiar with the matter said the CDC might recommend the third jabs only for people 65 and older or those who are especially at risk.
Regardless of what is decided, experts have said that it is absolutely essential for the agency to stand firm in its decision and clearly explain its reasoning to the public in order to combat further confusion and misinformation.
“F.D.A. does the best in situations when there are strongly held but conflicting views, when they’re forthcoming with the data and really explain decisions,” Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, a vice dean at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health told The New York Times. “It’s important for the F.D.A. not to say, ‘Here’s our decision, mic drop. It’s much better for them to say, ‘Here’s how we looked at the data, here are the conclusions we made from the data, and here’s why we’re making the conclusions.’”