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Former officer testifies Derek Chauvin was 'justified' in pinning down George Floyd

Veteran Minneapolis police officers, including Chief Medaria Arradondo, have testified that Derek Chauvin used excessive force and violated department policies.
Image: Chauvin trial
Demonstrators hold signs honoring George Floyd during a protest outside the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis on March 28.Kerem Yucel / AFP - Getty Images file

A use-of-force expert testified Tuesday that former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin was justified when he knelt on George Floyd's neck as he tried to arrest him in May, contradicting testimony from other use-of-force experts and the police chief.

The defense witness, Barry Brodd, a former Santa Rosa, California, police officer, also said that he did not believe that the responding officers' actions — pinning Floyd to the pavement while he was handcuffed facedown with Chauvin's knee on his neck for what prosecutors have said was 9 minutes, 29 seconds — qualified as a use of force. He said that he believed it was a "control hold" and that he did not think Chauvin was inflicting any pain on Floyd.

"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 said.

Chauvin is on trial charged with second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the death of Floyd, 46.

Brodd testified that the prone position in which Floyd was kept was safe and that it was an accepted way to control someone during an arrest.

Veteran officers from inside and outside the Minneapolis Police Department, including Chief Medaria Arradondo, have said Chauvin used excessive force and violated a number of department policies he had been trained in.

Under cross-examination by prosecutor Steve Schleicher, Brodd backpedaled on a number of statements he made when he was questioned by the defense. Schleicher showed Brodd a photo of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd's neck. Floyd appeared to be in pain in the photo. Brodd conceded that restraining a person in such a way could inflict pain.

Schleicher also played body camera video that recorded Floyd saying "I can't breathe" and "Everything hurts" and telling the officers that he was in pain. Schleicher asked Brodd whether he had counted how many times Floyd said he could not breathe. Brodd said he had not. Brodd also testified that he had heard Floyd say those things during his review of the videos but that he did not "note it."

Brodd, a longtime police instructor who is now a private consultant, testified in the trial of Jason Van Dyke, a white Chicago police officer who shot and killed Laquan McDonald, a Black 17-year-old, in 2014. Van Dyke shot Laquan, who was walking down the street away from police while holding a knife, 16 times. Brodd testified that the shooting was justified. Van Dyke was convicted of murder in 2018.

"It's easy to sit and judge in an office on an officer's conduct," Brodd told Chauvin's attorney, Eric Nelson. "It's more of a challenge to, again, put yourself in the officer's shoes to try to make an evaluation through what they're feeling, what they're sensing, the fear they have, and then make a determination."

Brodd was one of six witnesses the defense called Tuesday as it began presenting its case.

Prosecutors rested their case Tuesday morning. They sought to prove to the jury that Floyd died from asphyxia, or insufficient oxygen, from Chauvin's kneeling on his neck.

The defense has argued that Chauvin, a 19-year Minneapolis police veteran, acted according to his training and that Floyd's use of illegal drugs and his underlying health conditions caused his death.

Dr. Andrew Baker, the Hennepin County medical examiner who performed an autopsy on Floyd and declared his death a homicide, testified last week that fentanyl and heart disease were contributing factors but that the police officers' actions were the main cause.

The teenager who recorded the widely seen bystander video of Chauvin, who is white, kneeling on Floyd, who was Black, was among nearly 40 witnesses called to the stand by the prosecution. Prosecutors also called two "spark of life" witnesses to humanize Floyd — his girlfriend, Courteney Ross, and his brother Philonise Floyd.

The testimony of other medical experts, including a world-renowned pulmonologist, bolstered prosecution claims that Floyd died from being held down by Chauvin.

"A healthy person subjected to what Mr. Floyd was subjected to would have died," Dr. Martin J. Tobin, a pulmonologist and critical care physician, testified Thursday.

Chauvin and three other officers involved in Floyd's arrest — J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao — were fired the day after Floyd died. Kueng, Lane and Thao are scheduled to stand trial in August on charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter. Floyd's death sparked international protests against racism and police brutality.

Police had been called to Cup Foods, a convenience store, on May 25 after a cashier suspected that Floyd had used a fake $20 bill to buy cigarettes.

The defense started laying out its case Tuesday with testimony from two people who were involved in a traffic stop in which Floyd was arrested May 2019.

Before the testimony of Scott Creighton, a retired Minneapolis police officer, and Michelle Moseng, the paramedic who treated Floyd after his arrest, Judge Peter Cahill told the jurors that they would hear evidence of an occurrence for the "limited purpose of showing the effects the ingestion of opioids may or may not have had" on Floyd's physical well-being and that it was not evidence about his character.

Prosecutors had tried to exclude video and testimony about the arrest. Cahill limited what could be introduced.

Parts of body camera video from the encounter showed Creighton approaching Floyd with his gun drawn. At one point, Floyd, who was in the passenger seat, said, "Don't shoot me, man!" before he was pulled from the car and handcuffed.

Creighton testified that Floyd was "noncompliant" to his commands to show his hands.

Under cross-examination by prosecutor Erin Eldridge, Creighton admitted that he had cursed at Floyd and had given him conflicting commands about where to place his hands. He testified that "it escalated real quick." Eldridge also pointed out that Floyd did not go to the ground — as he did during his arrest in May.

Creighton agreed.

"Mr. Floyd didn't drop dead while you were interacting with him, correct?" Eldridge asked.

"No," Creighton responded.

Moseng, the paramedic who treated Floyd and has since retired, testified that Floyd told her that he had been taking Percocet, an opioid, every 20 minutes that day and was addicted to them. She did not testify that he had swallowed them as the police approached, as the defense has claimed he did in May outside Cup Foods.

Moseng acknowledged that Floyd was alert and able to walk, that he obeyed commands and that she had written in her report on his health that his respiration and pulse rates were normal. Moseng testified that Floyd's blood pressure was high and that she recommended taking him to the hospital. She said that he was initially resistant to go but that she eventually took him. Asked whether she could recall whether he was monitored for two hours and released, as records indicate, Moseng said she did not know.

Minneapolis Park Police Officer Peter Chang and Shawanda Hill, who was in an SUV with Floyd before his encounter with Chauvin, also testified Tuesday.

Hill said that Floyd was "happy, normal, talking, alert" when they crossed paths at Cup Foods and that he offered to give her a ride home. When they went to his SUV, she said, "he fell asleep."

Hill said that when Cup Foods employees approached Floyd in the SUV about the $20 bill, Floyd was already sleeping. She said she and the employees tried "to wake him up ... over and over."

"He woke up, he'll say something, made a little gesture and nodded back off," she said, adding that he was tired because he had been working.

She said he seemed startled when he realized police had arrived.

When he saw an officer at the window with his gun drawn, Floyd "instantly grabbed the wheel and he was like: 'Please, please, don't kill me. Please, please, don't shoot me. Don't shoot me. What did I do? Just tell me what I did. Please, don't kill. Please, don't shoot me,'" Hill testified.

For the first time, the jury saw video from Chang's body-worn camera. Chang said he was stationed at a nearby park when he responded outside Cup Foods to assist. When he arrived, Floyd was handcuffed and seated on the sidewalk, telling an officer his name and his birthdate. Chang was asked to look up Floyd's information. He said he then returned to the squad car where Lane and Kueng were struggling with Floyd and that they told him to watch Floyd's SUV.

Chang testified that the bystanders were "very aggressive toward the officers" and that he was concerned for their safety, but under cross-examination he said that the officers did not radio for help, so he assumed they were OK. He said his focus was on Hill and Morries Hall, who was also with Floyd in the SUV that day.

Nelson has not said whether Chauvin will take the stand.