It was a video seen around the world — a white Minneapolis police officer digging his knee into a handcuffed, prone Black man’s neck for nearly nine minutes.
The man, George Floyd, later died, sparking global protests and a reckoning on racial injustice and police brutality. The officer, Derek Chauvin, who was later fired, now faces trial nearly a year after the death.
Despite what was seen on that viral video, the case against Chauvin will turn on the question of whether his actions caused Floyd’s death May 25, 2020, after police responded to a report of a fake $20 bill.
Chauvin faces second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter charges in Floyd’s death.
Here’s what the prosecution and the defense are expected to argue when opening statements in the high-profile trial begin Monday.
The prosecution will argue Chauvin’s restraint of Floyd for nearly nine minutes was a “substantial” cause of his loss of consciousness and, ultimately, death in police custody.
In an amended complaint, prosecutors with the office of Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison state that the medical examiner listed Floyd’s cause of death as cardiopulmonary arrest “complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint and neck compression” and that the manner of death was ruled a homicide.
The complaint adds the autopsy stated Floyd had heart disease and the presence of fentanyl in his system, and that the medical examiner opined the effect of the defendant’s restraining of Floyd, plus his underlying conditions and the presence of drugs, contributed to his death.
The complaint says while Floyd was restrained for nearly nine minutes, he “repeatedly stated he could not breathe and his physical condition continued to deteriorate such that force was no longer necessary to control him.”
“The defendant had his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in total. Two minutes and 53 seconds of this was after Mr. Floyd was nonresponsive,” the complaint adds. “Police are trained that this type of restraint with a subject in a prone position is inherently dangerous.”
The complaint said Chauvin’s restraint of Floyd for such a prolonged period was a “substantial causal factor in Mr. Floyd losing consciousness, constituting substantial bodily harm, and Mr. Floyd’s death as well.”
In another brief, the prosecution said Chauvin continued to kneel on Floyd’s neck for about four minutes after another officer at the scene said Floyd was “passing out” and for two and a half minutes after another responding officer said Floyd no longer had a pulse.
“He told them nearly ten times that he was dying. And then he fell silent. He stopped moving. He stopped breathing,” the state wrote.
The state will also offer evidence, through testimonials and photo and video evidence, it claims shows a previous incident in which Chauvin put his knee on a woman’s neck “while she laid in prone position on the ground” and continued to do so “beyond the point when such force was needed under the circumstances.”
Prosecutors plan to pair that incident with another to demonstrate that Chauvin knew how to use reasonable force to restrain a person. In that case, Chauvin watched as other officers placed a man in a side-recovery position consistent with their training after he had an altercation with police. Medical professionals told the officers that the man could have died had they prolonged his detention or failed to transport him to the hospital in a timely manner, prosecutors said in court filings.
Dozens of witnesses are expected to testify. Among the prospective witnesses the state intends to call, Darnella Frazier, the teenager who recorded the bystander video of Floyd’s death, as well as Hennepin County Medical Examiner Dr. Andrew Baker, Floyd’s brother Philonise Floyd and Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo.
The defense will try to sow doubt in the prosecution’s claims by offering up evidence that suggests Floyd could have died from his health maladies and use of drugs.
In a motion to dismiss the charges, the defense argued Chauvin did not assault Floyd and did not have intent to harm him.
The defense states the medical examiner found “no bruising of Mr. Floyd’s neck or on any neck muscles or any injury to neck structures.”
“If Mr. Chauvin had intended to inflict harm to Mr. Floyd’s back and neck with his knee, surely there would be evidence of bruising,” the defense wrote in the motion. “But clearly, Mr. Chauvin was cautious about the amount of pressure he used to restrain Mr. Floyd — cautious enough to prevent bruising.”
The defense also argues the state has not offered evidence showing “objective gross negligence” from Chauvin.
“At the time of the Cup Foods incident, Mr. Chauvin was acting within his duties to execute a legitimate legal process — assisting other officers with effecting their arrest of George Floyd,” the defense wrote. They argue the use of force in the incident was justified under Minnesota law and Minneapolis police policy.
“Officers’ attempts to use verbalization, joint manipulation and escort holds on Mr. Floyd had all failed. Mr. Floyd’s active resistance required an escalation of force,” they wrote.
They go on to argue police department training materials show that officers are trained to place a knee on a person’s neck and shoulders when executing certain restraint techniques.
“Mr. Chauvin acted according to MPD policy, his training, and within his duties as a licensed peace officer of the State of Minnesota,” they wrote.
The defense is also expected to claim drug use, as well as health issues, could have caused Floyd’s death, arguing his body contained a “lethal dose of fentanyl,” as well as methamphetamine at the time of his arrest.
“It is clear from the evidence that Mr. Floyd was under the influence of narcotics when he encountered the officers and that he most likely died from an opioid overdose,” they wrote.
“Combined with sickle cell trait, his pre-existing heart conditions, Mr. Floyd’s use of fentanyl and methamphetamine most likely killed him,” they wrote. “Adding fentanyl and methamphetamine to Mr. Floyd’s existing health issues was tantamount to lighting a fuse on a bomb.”
The defense is also expected to introduce evidence of a prior arrest of Floyd in May 2019. Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill ruled last week a portion of a video taken by an officer’s body camera during the May 2019 arrest can be admitted as evidence, saying that it was “an example of Mr. Floyd’s bodily reaction” when confronted with circumstances similar to those of May 25, 2020, the day he died.
In a witness list, the defense states it may call on a series of witnesses including other Minneapolis police officers or employees of the department, medical personnel, emergency dispatch, experts and civilian and scene witnesses.