- 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)
Florida Appeals Court Grants Officers Involved in Shootings Privacy Protections Under Marsy’s Law
- A Florida appeals court sided with a local police union Tuesday, ruling that a state constitutional amendment known as Marsy’s Law can shield the identities of officers who shoot suspects if the officers are threatened during those incidents — an argument often made in police shootings.
- Marsy’s Law grants privacy protections to victims of crimes, and a trial court previously sided with the city of Tallahassee and media, saying it could not interpret the law “to shield police officers from public scrutiny of their official actions.”
- Lawyers representing the media called the new ruling a “setback for police accountability.”
- The appeals court, however, argued that privacy protections would not stop an internal affairs investigation, grand jury proceedings, or stop a state attorney from later deciding that an officer was not a victim in a specific case.
Case That Lead To Appeals Court Ruling
Florida’s 1st District Court of Appeals unanimously decided Tuesday that municipalities cannot make the names of officers who shoot citizens public if the officers themselves were crime victims.
According to Axios, that is almost always the argued case in police shootings.
The ruling stems from a case involving two Tallahassee officers who fatally shot a suspect in separate incidents. Florida’s Police Benevolent Association, the police union representing the two officers, argued in a lawsuit that the city shouldn’t release any information that would personally identify them as the shooters.
They cited Florida’s 2018 constitution amendment, called Marsy’s Law, which grants privacy rights to crime victims. They argued that the amendment applied to these officers because they were allegedly threatened in these use-of-force incidents.
The city and news media, however, argued that the documents identifying the two officers were public records under the Florida constitution. They also argued that officers acting in their official capacities cannot be victims.
The trial court had sided with the city and media, saying that the court “cannot interpret Marsy’s Law to shield police officers from public scrutiny of their official actions.”
It also added that the language of the law was not intended to apply to officers acting in their official capacity.
The police union appealed that ruling and the three-judge panel of the appeals court unanimously sided with the officers, saying that Marsay’s Law does not exclude “law enforcement officers … from the protections granted crime victims.”
Because of this, the judges said an officer who is a victim has the right to keep confidential, “information or records that could be used to locate or harass the victim or the victim’s family, or which could disclose confidential or privileged information of the victim.”
What Does This Mean for Police Accountability?
The judges said that keeping an officer’s identity private wouldn’t stop an internal affairs investigation or a grand jury proceeding. It also wouldn’t stop a state attorney from later deciding the officer was not a victim and bringing charges.
Still, a lawyer representing media organization issued a statement criticizing the ruling.
“Today’s decision was an unfortunate setback for police accountability. We respectfully disagree with the court’s reasoning and are considering our options,” Tampa lawyer Mark Caramanica said in a prepared statement.
See what others are saying: (News4) (Tampa Bay Times) (RawStory)
Minneapolis Police Chief Testifies Against Derek Chauvin
- In a highly unusual move, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo on Monday testified against former officer Derek Chauvin, who faces murder and manslaughter charges in the death of George Floyd.
- In his testimony, Chief Arradondo said that Chauvin violated a number of departmental policies when he kneeled on Floyd’s neck, including rules on reasonable force, neck restraints, non-violent de-escalation, and rendering aid.
- Arradondo is now the highest-ranking public safety official to testify in the trial. It is rare for a police chief to take the witness stand against a fellow officer.
- Experts said his testimony underscores the difficulty Chauvin’s defense will have in persuading the jury he did his job before, during, and after he kneeled on Floyd’s neck.
Chief Arradondo Testimony
The second week of the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, the former officer who kneeled on George Floyd’s neck, began Monday with a rare testimony from Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo.
It is unusual for a police chief to take the witness stand against a fellow officer and even more unusual for one to offer such sharp rebukes of a former employee.
In his testimony, Arradondo said Chauvin violated several departmental policies when he kneeled on Floyd’s neck.
The most important part of the testimony came from Arradondo’s remarks on defensive tactics and reasonable force. When shown a picture of Chauvin using the neck restrain on Floyd and asked by prosecutors if that was part of the department’s training, the chief said it was not.
“A conscious neck restraint by policy mentions light to moderate pressure,” he said. “When I look [at the picture], when I look at the facial expression of Mr. Floyd, that does not appear in any way, shape, or form that that is light to moderate pressure.”
“I absolutely agree that violates our policy,” he added.
Arradondo also noted that in order for use of force to be considered reasonable, it has to be applied throughout the entire encounter and a number of factors need to be taken into account, including the threat to the officer and others.
“There’s an initial reasonableness in trying to just get him under control in the first few seconds,” he said. “But once there was no longer any resistance, and clearly when Mr. Floyd was no longer responsive and even motionless, to continue to apply that level of force to a person proned out, handcuffed behind their back, that in no way, shape, or form is anything that is by policy, it is not part of our training, and it is certainly not part of our ethics or our values.”
Chief Arradondo is now the highest-ranking public safety officer to testify against Chauvin.
His testimony emphasizes the attempts of law enforcement officials to distance themselves from the former officer’s actions. As The New York Times wrote, the chief’s testimony “underscored the difficulty that Mr. Chauvin and his lawyers will have in persuading the jury that the officer was just doing his job when he pinned Mr. Floyd to the ground with his knee for more than nine minutes last May.”
That point is especially notable because in his questioning of Arradondo, Chauvin’s defense attorney, Eric Nelson, focused on the claim that the police department’s policies gave officers some room to determine the reasonableness of the use of force on a case-by-case basis, which the chief agreed with.
Still, in addition to holding firm that Chauvin did not use reasonable force in this case, Arradondo also emphasized that Chauvin violated department procedures on a number of policies. . For example, he noted that the former officer went against policies for non-violent de-escalation and rendering first aid, which the officers involved failed to give after detecting that Floyd did not have a pulse.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NBC News) (The Minneapolis Star Tribune)
Students Watched Footage of George Floyd’s Death for Assignment on Derek Chauvin’s Trial
- As part of a class assignment, freshman students at a Texas high school were required to act as jurors in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is currently facing murder charges over his role in the death of George Floyd.
- Parents complained about the assignment, which involved their children watching graphic footage of Floyd’s encounter with police, watching 45 minutes of Chauvin’s trial each day, and not being allowed to discuss the case with anyone for at least six weeks.
- In a letter to the school, parents said, “This murder seen by millions around the globe was triggering and traumatizing for adults. Yet, you left students to handle their own emotions and mental health as they left your class, without proper and professional support.”
- The school’s principal agreed that the assignment was not age-appropriate, and the district said the unapproved lesson has been removed.
Class Assignment Sparks Outrage
A Texas high school is facing criticism from parents over a class assignment regarding the May 25, 2020 death of George Floyd— a death that sparked worldwide protests and discussion about racism and police brutality.
A teacher at Cedar High School in Dallas reportedly assigned their freshman students to watch the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is facing second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter charges after kneeling on Floyd’s neck for several minutes as Floyd said he couldn’t breathe.
Watching that trial meant the children also had to see graphic images and footage of the incident.
According to parents, the teacher never asked for their consent to carry out such an assignment. Parents, however, eventually learned about what was going on and wrote to the school, arguing that the trial could impact the mental health of their 14 and 15-year-old children.
“It is unfathomable to me that you felt it appropriate to force my child to watch George Floyd’s murder on television in your classroom and then move on with his day as if nothing had happened,” the letter to the school read, according to a local ABC station.
“This murder seen by millions around the globe was triggering and traumatizing for adults. Yet, you left students to handle their own emotions and mental health as they left your class, without proper and professional support.”
The teacher, who has not been named, responded to the parental complaints with an outline of the project. That breakdown laid out plans for students to watch the trial for about 45 minutes each day because they would be “acting as actual jurors in the trial.”
“Therefore, every day, your child will be attentive to the actual trial, listening and paying attention to the evidence of both sides, defense and prosecution, during the trial,” the teacher explained.
The teacher’s memo even said the students were not allowed to speak with anyone about the case for at least six weeks, adding, “They may not text discuss what they hear with friends, siblings, or relatives – not even the family dog.”
In response to the growing outrage, Cedar Hill Independent School District officials issued a statement saying they were aware of the assignment.
“The assignment was not approved by campus or district administrators,” the school district told ABC News. “The matter has been addressed with the teacher, and the assignment was removed.”
In a separate response to parents, Cedar High School Principal Jason Miller wrote, “I don’t feel that viewing and discussing this case in school is age-appropriate for scholars.”