The trial of a former Minneapolis police officer charged in George Floyd’s May 25, 2020, death is entering its second week. The first week of emotional testimony came from eyewitnesses—and the disturbing video of Floyd’s arrest from police body cameras. Experts expect this week to focus on police training and help answer the question of whether officers were following proper procedure.
Derek Chauvin, 45, is charged with murder and manslaughter. (See “George Floyd Protests.”) Chauvin, who is white, is accused of pinning his knee on the 46-year-old black man’s neck for over nine minutes as Floyd lay face-down in handcuffs outside a corner market.
Prosecutors say Chauvin’s knee killed Floyd. The defense argues that Chauvin did what he was trained to do and that Floyd’s use of drugs and underlying health conditions caused his death.
Multiple bystanders captured Floyd’s treatment by police on video. The scenes sparked protests that rocked Minneapolis and spread to other U.S. cities and beyond. Those videos, plus officers’ body-camera video and previously unseen eyewitness footage, came together to form a big part of the first week of trial.
Police Chief Medaria Arradondo will likely testify this week. Arradondo, the city’s first black chief, fired Chauvin and three other officers the day after Floyd’s death. In June, he called the incident “murder.”
“Mr. George Floyd’s tragic death was not due to a lack of training,” Arradondo said at the time. “Chauvin knew what he was doing.”
Soon after Floyd’s death, Minneapolis moved to ban police chokeholds and neck restraints. Arradondo and Mayor Jacob Frey have also made several policy changes, including expanding rules for reporting use-of-force incidents and documenting attempts to de-escalate situations.
Prosecutors intend to build the case that Chauvin improperly restrained Floyd. A duty sergeant and a lieutenant who leads the homicide division both questioned Chauvin’s actions.
“Totally unnecessary,” Lt. Richard Zimmerman, the longest-tenured officer on the force, testified Friday. He said once Floyd was handcuffed, he saw “no reason for why the officers felt they were in danger, if that’s what they felt.” He went on, “And that’s what they would have to feel to be able to use that kind of force.”
Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson peppered Zimmerman with questions about the threat a handcuffed suspect might still pose. Nelson has also suggested that bystanders shouting at police might have distracted them from Floyd and made them feel threatened.
Jurors heard several days of testimony from bystanders. Some choked up as they recalled feeling powerless to help Floyd. Some also expressed feeling guilt over his death.
The trial has been a horrifying reminder of human fallenness. Many people are following the proceedings closely. Some worry the outcome will not fit the crime. For others, the trial has been too much to bear. Eyewitness Kyra Walker says she had to tune out and shut down Twitter one day. “I had a moment where I just felt broken,” she says. “I realized I just didn’t have it in me to watch all this.”
(Steven Thompson poses for a picture next to a poster of George Floyd in Los Angeles Friday, April 2, 2021. Thompson is choosing not to watch the televised trial because of an underlying dread of how the trial will play out. AP/Damian Dovarganes)