- 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)
Inmates Sue Jail for Giving Them Ivermectin to Treat COVID-19 Without Consent
Four detainees who filed the suit allege that the jail’s doctor gave them “incredibly high doses” of the anti-parasite in a “cocktail of drugs” that he said were “‘vitamins’, ‘antibiotics,’ and/or ‘steroids.’”
Washington County Detention Center Lawsuit
Four inmates at an Arkansas jail have filed a federal lawsuit claiming that they were unknowingly given the anti-parasite drug ivermectin without their consent by the detention center’s doctor after contracting COVID-19.
The Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and countless other medical experts have said that ivermectin — commonly used for livestock — can be dangerous and should not be used to treat the coronavirus.
According to the lawsuit, after testing positive for COVID in August, the four men at the Washington County Detention Center (WCDC) were given a “cocktail of drugs” twice a day by the facility’s doctor, Robert Karas.
The inmates claim that Dr. Karas did not tell them that he was giving them ivermectin, but instead said the drugs consisted of “‘vitamins’, ‘antibiotics,’ and/or ‘steroids.’”
The complaint also alleges that the detainees were given “incredibly high doses” of the drug, causing some to experience “vision issues, diarrhea, bloody stools, and/or stomach cramps.”
Use on Other Inmates
The four plaintiffs were far from the only people to whom Karas gave ivermectin.
According to the lawsuit, the doctor began using the drug to treat COVID starting in November of 2020. In August, the Washington County sheriff confirmed at a local finance and budget committee meeting that the doctor had been prescribing the drug to inmates, prompting the Arkansas Medical Board to launch an investigation.
In response, Karas informed a Medical Board investigator in a letter from his attorney that 254 inmates at the facility had been treated with ivermectin.
In the letter, he confirmed that whether or not detainees were given information about ivermectin was dependent on who administered it, but paramedics were not required to discuss the drug with them.
He also admitted that after the practice got media coverage, he “adopted a more robust informed consent form to assuage any concern that any detainees were being misled or coerced into taking the medications, even though they weren’t.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, which filed the suit on behalf of the inmates, also claimed in a statement that after questions were raised about the practice, the jail attempted to make detainees sign forms saying that they retroactively agreed to the treatments.
The WCDC has not issued a public response to the lawsuits, but Dr. Karas appeared to address the situation in a Facebook post where he defended his actions.
“Guess we made the news again this week; still with best record in the world at the jail with the same protocols,” he wrote. “Inmates aren’t dumb and I suspect in the future other inmates around the country will be suiing their facilities requesting same treatment we’re using at WCDC-including the Ivermectin.”
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CBS News) (NBC News)
Medical Workers Sign Letter Urging Spotify to Combat Misinformation, Citing Joe Rogan
The letter accused Spotify of “enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research.”
Doctors and Medical Professionals Sign Letter to Spotify
A group of 270 doctors, scientists, and other medical workers signed an open letter to Spotify this week urging the audio platform to implement a misinformation policy, specifically citing false claims made on the “Joe Rogan Experience” podcast.
Rogan has faced no shortage of backlash over the last year for promoting vaccine misinformation on his show, which airs exclusively on Spotify. Most recently, he invited Dr. Robert Malone on a Dec. 31 episode that has since been widely criticized by health experts.
Dr. Malone was banned from Twitter for promoting COVID-19 misinformation. According to the medical experts who signed the letter, he “used the JRE platform to further promote numerous baseless claims, including several falsehoods about COVID-19 vaccines and an unfounded theory that societal leaders have ‘hypnotized’ the public.”
“Notably, Dr. Malone is one of two recent JRE guests who has compared pandemic policies to the Holocaust,” the letter continued. “These actions are not only objectionable and offensive, but also medically and culturally dangerous.”
Joe Rogan’s History of COVID-19 Misinformation
Rogan sparked swift criticism himself in the spring of 2021 when he discouraged young people from taking the COVID-19 vaccine. He also falsely equated mRNA vaccines to “gene therapy” and incorrectly stated that vaccines cause super mutations of the virus. He took ivermectin after testing positive for the virus in September, despite the fact that the drug is not approved as a treatment for COVID.
“By allowing the propagation of false and societally harmful assertions, Spotify is enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research and sow doubt in the credibility of data-driven guidance offered by medical professionals,” the doctors and medical workers wrote.
“We are calling on Spotify to take action against the mass-misinformation events which continue to occur on its platform,” they continued. “With an estimated 11 million listeners per episode, JRE is the world’s largest podcast and has tremendous influence. Though Spotify has a responsibility to mitigate the spread of misinformation on its platform, the company presently has no misinformation policy.”
Rolling Stone was the first outlet to report on the letter from the medical professionals. Dr. Katrine Wallace, an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois Chicago, was among the signees. She told the magazine that Rogan is “a menace to public health.”
“These are fringe ideas not backed in science, and having it on a huge platform makes it seem there are two sides to this issue,” she said. “And there are really not.”
Spotify had not responded to the letter as of Thursday.
See what others are saying: (Rolling Stone) (Deadline) (Insider)
Data Shows Omicron May be Peaking in the U.S.
In some cities that were first hit by the surge, new cases are starting to flatten and decline.
New Cases Flattening
After weeks of recording-breaking cases driven by the highly infectious omicron variant, public health officials say that new COVID infections seem to be slowing in the parts of the country that were hit the hardest earlier on.
Following a more than twentyfold rise in December, cases in New York City have flattened out in recent days.
New infections have even begun to fall slightly in some states, like Maryland and New Jersey. In Boston, the levels of COVID in wastewater — which has been a top indicator of case trends in the past — have dropped by nearly 40% since the first of the year.
Overall, federal data has shown a steep decline in COVID-related emergency room visits in the Northeast, and the rest of the country appears to be following a similar track.
Data from other countries signals the potential for a steep decline in cases following the swift and unprecedented surge.
According to figures from South Africa, where the variant was first detected, cases rose at an incredibly shocking rate for about a month but peaked quickly in mid-December. Since then, new infections have plummeted by around 70%.
In the U.K., which has typically been a map for how U.S. cases will trend, infections are also beginning to fall after peaking around New Year’s and then flattening for about a week.
Despite these recent trends, experts say it is still too early to say if cases in the U.S. will decline as rapidly as they did in South Africa and the parts of the U.K. that were first hit.
While new infections may seem to be peaking in the cities that saw the first surges, caseloads continue to climb in most parts of the country.
Meanwhile, hospitals are overwhelmed and health resources are still strained because of the high volume of cases hitting all at once.