Prosecutors said during opening statements in former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin’s criminal trial on Monday that Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s head and neck for 4 minutes and 45 seconds as Floyd cried out for help, stayed on his neck for 53 seconds as Floyd flailed and had seizures, and then remained on a non-responsive Floyd for another 3 minutes and 51 seconds.
“Mr. Derek Chauvin betrayed this badge when he used excessive and unreasonable force upon the body of Mr. George Floyd,” prosecuting attorney Jerry Blackwell said. “That he put his knees upon his neck and his back, grinding and crushing him until the very breath — no, ladies and gentlemen — until the very life was squeezed out of him.”
The first day of Chauvin’s long-awaited criminal trial was marked by Blackwell’s opening remarks, as well as a rebuttal from Chauvin’s defense team. The legal wrangling comes 10 months after Floyd’s death sparked a summer of protest, unrest, and a societal reckoning with America’s anti-Black racism and aggressive policing in the past and present.
Chauvin, 45, has entered a not guilty plea to charges of accidental second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter.
On Monday, three witnesses, including a 911 dispatcher and two bystanders, testified for the prosecution to lay the groundwork for Floyd’s final moments.The trial’s witness testimony process is expected to last about a month.
The entire bystander video of Floyd’s last moments, which stunned the country last year, was also shown to jurors. Chauvin was on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds, according to Blackwell, an improvement from the previously recorded 8 minutes and 46 seconds.
“This case is not about split-second decision-making,” Blackwell said.
Floyd’s use of fentanyl and methamphetamine, as well as his resistance to the arresting officers, were the subject of defense attorney Eric Nelson’s opening statement.
Nelson also tried to cast doubt on Floyd’s death, arguing that it wasn’t Chauvin’s knee that killed him, but rather a combination of substance use and pre-existing health issues. He also defended Chauvin’s conduct, claiming that they were in line with his training.
“Over the course of his 19-year career, you will discover that Derek Chauvin did just what he had been taught to do,” Nelson said. “The use of force is unappealing, but it is an unavoidable part of policing.”
The trial will be televised live in its entirety for the first time in Minnesota, giving the public a rare insight into the most critical case of the Black Lives Matter era.
Floyd’s family members and other lawyers knelt outside the courthouse on Monday morning for 8 minutes and 46 seconds to commemorate the time Chauvin was said to have stayed on Floyd’s head and neck.
“Today starts a landmark trial that will be a referendum on how far America has come in its quest for equality and justice for all,” said Floyd civil attorney Benjamin Crump.
The trial is taking place in a highly guarded Hennepin County courthouse in downtown Minneapolis, which is surrounded by fences and police. Inside the courtroom, plexiglass walls have been built as part of the Covid-19 safeguards, and witnesses and lawyers are expected to wear masks while not speaking.
Three experts for the prosecution testified to Floyd’s detention after the opening statements. Jena Scurry, a Minneapolis 911 dispatcher who led police to the Cup Foods store where Floyd died, was the first witness in the case.
Scurry showed the jury footage taken from a police camera across the street from Cup Foods that had never been publicly released. On the day of Floyd’s death, she was able to see live video from that feed and called a police sergeant to express her concerns about the arrest.
“You can call me a snitch if you want to,” she said in the recorded call. “I don’t know if they had to use force or not. They got something out of the back of the squad and all of them sat on this man, so I don’t know if they needed to or not.”
She confirmed Monday that she called because she was disturbed by what she saw during Floyd’s arrest.
“My instincts were telling me that something’s wrong. Something was not right. I don’t know what, but something wasn’t right,” Scurry said she thought as she watched the video. “It was an extended period of time.”
Scurry noticed during cross-examination that at one point, either Chauvin or former officer Tou Thau from Squad 330 demanded a faster ambulance response. She also admitted that the video showed the squad car swaying back and forth during the arrest as officers and Floyd struggled.
Alisha Mariee Oyler, an employee at the Speedway gas station across the street from where Floyd died, was the second prosecution witness. She found officers “messing with somebody” and took seven cell phone videos of Floyd’s arrest from a distance, which were played in court.