The trial determining Chauvin’s fate involved 45 witnesses who gave their testimony over 14 days. During that time, the prosecution built a solid case featuring medical and excessive force experts, police officials, first responders, and onlookers who witnessed and in several cases recorded the moments before Floyd died. “This wasn’t policing. This was murder,” prosecutor Steve Schleicher said during his closing statement on Monday. He and fellow prosecutor Jerry Blackwell argued that Chauvin used excessive force when he and other officers piled on top of Floyd despite repeated complaints that he couldn’t breathe and had a weakening pulse. They said no number of alternate theories or claims that Floyd resisted arrest should override jurors applying their common sense to the evidence presented in the case.
Jena Scurry, a 911 dispatcher who watched early police interactions with Floyd via a remote feed, testified on the first day of witness testimony on March 29 that Chauvin had Floyd pinned so long she thought the “screens had frozen.” On the ninth day of the trial, Martin Tobin, a Chicago pulmonologist and critical care physician, and Bill Smock, an emergency medical physician, both testified that Floyd died from a lack of oxygen. Although he floated several ridiculous notions of what caused Floyd’s death, even an expert witness called by the defense agreed with the prosecution that officers’ combined weight on a person’s abdomen or torso could cause compressional or positional asphyxia, a lack of oxygen flow to the brain if the weight on the person exceeds 225 pounds.
Forensic pathologist David Fowler also testified in court that he believed Floyd underwent a cardiac arrhythmia and that his history of drug use, heart disease, and carbon monoxide exposure from the squad car during his detainment contributed to the arrhythmia. “All of those combined to cause Mr. Floyd’s death,” Fowler said. It was a central argument of defense attorney Eric Nelson’s case along with his claim that an unruly crowd of onlookers distracted his client and contributed to officers’ need to control the scene.
Nelson attempted to discredit testimony during the trial that the position Chauvin held Floyd in contributed to his death. “People sleep in the prone position. People suntan in the prone position. People get massages in the prone position,” he said during more than two hours of closing arguments. “The prone position in and of itself is not an inherently dangerous act.”
Chauvin’s interpretation of the position, however, is not a part of the Minneapolis Police Department’s standards, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo testified. “There’s an initial reasonableness in trying to just get him under control in the first few seconds,” Arradondo said, “but once there was no longer any resistance and clearly when Mr. Floyd was no longer responsive, and even motionless, to continue to apply that level of force to a person prone out, handcuffed behind their back, that, that in no way, shape, or form is anything that is by policy.
“It is not part of our training, and it is certainly not part of our ethics or our values.”
Viral witness video of Floyd’s death sent shockwaves through the country and reignited a protest movement aimed at police reform and justice. President Joe Biden called Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, on Monday to let him know the president is praying for him as the country awaited a verdict in Chauvin’s case, according to NBC’s Today show. “He was just calling,” Philonise Floyd told NBC. “He knows how it is to lose a family member, and he knows the process of what we’re going through. So he was just letting us know that he was praying for us, hoping that everything will come out to be Okay.”
Check back later for reactions to the trial verdict.