As multiple police experts testify that Derek Chauvin violated Minneapolis Police Department policy in kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, the former officer’s defense team has continued to focus on the bystanders who witnessed Floyd’s arrest, seeking to persuade jurors that the distraction and potential threat of the crowd impacted Chauvin’s decision making.
The second week of the trial has so far been dominated by testimony from police witnesses called on by the prosecution, including three members of the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) and a use-of-force expert, who all testified that Chauvin violated policy when he knelt on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes.
During cross-examination of these witnesses, Chauvin’s defense attorney Eric Nelson repeatedly brought up how bystanders can impact the behavior of police, earning a concession from Officer Nicole Mackenzie, the medical support coordinator for the MPD, who agreed with Nelson that the “distraction” of a crowd can make it difficult to provide medical treatment to a suspect when needed.
This line of questioning continued on Wednesday morning as Nelson pressed Sgt. Jody Stiger, a use-of-force expert from the Los Angeles Police Department, on how officers should respond to an aggressive crowd, asking, to an affirmative response, whether officers can view threats from bystanders as a “potential deadly assault that’s about to happen.”
However, it will likely be an uphill battle for the defense as the jury has already heard from many of the roughly dozen bystanders—including three teenagers, a 9-year-old girl, an off-duty firefighter and a 61-year-old man—that appeared to be watching the arrest in photos shown by the prosecution.
The witnesses pressed on this subject described themselves as concerned more than aggressive, with Donald Williams, an MMA fighter who happened upon the scene, rejecting the suggestion: “No, you can’t paint me out as angry.”
“As the crowd grew in size, seemingly so too did their anger,” Nelson said in his opening statement last Monday. “And remember, there’s more to the scene than just what the officers see in front of them. There are people behind them, there are people across the street, there are cars stopping, people yelling. There is a growing crowd and what officers perceive to be a threat.”
Sgt. Stiger, an LAPD officer, testified that while crowds can be distracting, Chauvin had sufficient training to be prepared for that. “They were merely filming, and most of their concern was for Mr. Floyd,” Stiger said.
Policy body camera footage and bystander video shows a crowd growing increasingly concerned as the restraint of Floyd continued. Some members of the crowd are heard yelling at the officers to check Floyd’s pulse and calling their actions “bogus.” “You f-cking bum,” says one bystander, continuing: “He’s not even resisting arrest right now.”
What To Watch For
The trial is expected to continue through most of April. Chauvin, a 19-year veteran of the force, faces charges of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The other three officers at the scene—Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng—will stand trial separately later this year on charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.