Video report by ITV News US Correspondent Emma Murphy
Derek Chauvin was justified in pinning George Floyd to the ground because of his frantic resistance, a use-of-force expert testified for the defence on Tuesday.
The claim, made by former California police officer Barry Brodd, contradicted a parade of authorities from both inside and outside the Minneapolis Police Department. Taking the stand at Chauvin’s murder trial, Mr Brodd said officers don’t have to wait for something bad to happen - they need only to have a reasonable fear that there’s a threat and then adjust their actions accordingly. “It’s easy to sit and judge... an officer’s conduct," he said.
"It’s more of a challenge to, again, put yourself in the officer’s shoes to try to make an evaluation through what they’re feeling, what they’re sensing, the fear they have, and then make a determination.”
Several top Minneapolis police officials - including the police chief - have testified that Chauvin used excessive force and violated his training.
And medical experts called by prosecutors have testified that Floyd died from a lack of oxygen because of the way he was restrained.
But Mr Brodd said he didn’t believe Chauvin and the other officers used deadly force when they pinned Floyd on his stomach, with his hands cuffed behind his back and Chauvin’s knee on his neck for what prosecutors say was nine and a half minutes. Mr Brodd likened it to a situation in which officers used a Taser on someone fighting with officers, and the suspect fell, hit his head and died: “That isn’t an incident of deadly force. That’s an incident of an accidental death.”
Watch ITV News US Correspondent Emma Murphy's video report from earlier on Tuesday as the defence opened its case
Under cross-examination by prosecutor Steve Schleicher, Mr Brodd agreed that the use of force must always be reasonable and that officers must stop or lessen that force until it becomes reasonable.
“Because that’s really the standard... reasonability, right?” Mr Schleicher asked.
“Yes,” Mr Brodd replied.
The witness said it appeared to him that Floyd was still struggling while he was on the ground.
The matter of what is reasonable is important - police officers are allowed certain latitude to use deadly force when someone puts the officer or other people in danger.
Legal experts say a key question for the jury will be whether Chauvin’s actions were reasonable in those specific circumstances.
After Mr Brodd initially said Chauvin’s knee was on Mr Floyd’s neck area, top of the spine or upper back, Mr Schleicher showed Mr Brodd a still image from a body camera and got him to concede that Chauvin’s left knee was on Mr Floyd’s neck.
He spoke on the day the defence began its case, seizing on a 2019 confrontation between police and Mr Floyd.
In that incident, almost exactly a year before his death, Mr Floyd suffered dangerously high blood pressure and confessed to heavy use of opioid painkillers.
Chauvin’s lawyer Eric Nelson has argued that Mr Floyd died last May because of his illegal drug use and underlying health problems, not because Chauvin pinned him to the pavement with his knee.
Moments after the prosecution concluded its 11-day case on Tuesday, the defence put on its first witness, a retired Minneapolis police officer who testified about a May 6, 2019, incident in which Mr Floyd was arrested.
Scott Creighton said he drew his gun when Mr Floyd, a passenger in a car, did not comply with orders to show his hands.
Mr Nelson played body-camera video that showed Mr Creighton approaching on the passenger side, drawing his gun and pulling Mr Floyd out.
Chauvin’s lawyer twice asked questions aimed at getting the jury thinking about Mr Floyd swallowing drugs, but Mr Creighton said he did not see Mr Floyd take anything.
Another witness who responded to that call, now-retired paramedic Michelle Moseng, testified that Mr Floyd told her he had been taking multiple opioids about every 20 minutes.
“I asked him why and he said it was because he was addicted,” said Ms Moseng, who described Mr Floyd’s behaviour as “elevated and agitated” before the judge struck that remark from the record.
Ms Moseng also said she recommended taking Mr Floyd to the hospital based on his high blood pressure, which she measured at 216 over 160.
On cross-examination, prosecutor Erin Eldridge got Ms Moseng to testify that Mr Floyd’s respiratory output, pulse, heart rate, and heart rhythms were normal. Ms Eldridge said Mr Floyd was taken to the hospital and released two hours later.
Ms Eldridge also made a point of noting that officers gave Mr Floyd contradictory commands, with Mr Creighton telling him to put his hands on the dashboard and another officer telling him to put his hands on his head.
She noted that another officer threatened to use a stun gun on him, while Mr Floyd asked not to be shot or beaten up.
Judge Peter Cahill cautioned jurors that the evidence from the earlier stop was only for the limited purpose of showing the effects that opioids might have had on Mr Floyd - and that they were not to use it to judge Mr Floyd’s character.
Medical experts for the prosecution testified previously that Mr Floyd died of lack of oxygen because his breathing was constricted as police held him down on his stomach, his hands cuffed behind his back, with Chauvin’s knee on or close to his neck for as much as nine and a half minutes.
The prosecution experts rejected the notion that his drug use, high blood pressure or heart disease caused Mr Floyd’s death.
In fact, on Monday, Dr Jonathan Rich, a cardiology expert from Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, testified: “Every indicator is that Mr. Floyd had actually an exceptionally strong heart.”
Chauvin, a 45-year-old white man, is on trial on charges of murder and manslaughter in Mr Floyd’s death last May after his arrest on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 note at a shop.
The trial continues.