Defense attorney Eric Nelson presented jurors with body-camera video of a 2019 incident between Floyd and police. In that encounter, Floyd was pulled from a car by police at gunpoint. When Floyd began speaking incoherently, police called paramedics, who found that his blood pressure was elevated. At the police station, Floyd admitted to having taken pain pills and was taken to the hospital.
Floyd was not charged with any crime related to the stop, and the jury was not told many of the details of the incident because of limits on testimony ordered by the judge.
Nelson fought to include evidence of the May 6, 2019, arrest at Chauvin’s trial, describing it as “remarkably similar” to the encounter with his client. He has argued that Floyd died of a combination of drug intoxication and existing health problems, not from the pressure of Chauvin’s knee pressing into the Black man’s neck and back as he was held handcuffed and facedown on the street.
In a whirlwind of witnesses, many of whom spent less than 30 minutes on the stand, Nelson called the police officer who arrested Floyd in 2019; an emergency medical worker who treated him at the time; and two eyewitnesses from the scene where Floyd was killed, including one of the passengers in Floyd’s car and a Minneapolis Park Police officer who was standing across the street as Floyd died.
Nelson also recalled the Minneapolis police officer in charge of the department’s medical training and ended the day by calling a use-of-force expert who described Chauvin’s actions at the scene as “justified” and not “deadly force.”
“I felt that Officer Chauvin’s interactions with Mr. Floyd were following his training, following current practices and policing and were objectively reasonable,” said Barry Brodd, a former Santa Rosa, Calif., police officer.
Brodd, a Montana-based consultant who was paid $11,400 to be an expert witness for the defense, contradicted prosecution experts and the testimony of numerous Minneapolis police officers, including Chief Medaria Arradondo. Brodd repeatedly said he did not consider Floyd being placed in a prone position on the street, his arms handcuffed behind his back, with Chauvin and the other officers restraining him, to be a use of force.
“In this situation there were space limitations; Mr. Floyd was butted up against the tire of the patrol car,” Brodd testified. “There was traffic still driving down the street. There were crowd issues that took the attention of the officers. Mr. Floyd was still somewhat resisting. I think those were relatively valid reasons to keep him in the prone.”
Brodd argued that the prone position was not dangerous and unlikely to cause “pain” for restrained suspects, and in a nod to the defense theory of Floyd’s death, said the position could be viewed as “safer” for suspects potentially on drugs because it was a method of control should someone suddenly exhibit “erratic behavior going from compliant to noncompliant, not feeling any pain, potentially having superhuman strength.”
But some of the day’s testimony appeared to undermine the defense.
Defense witness Scott Creighton, a now-retired officer whose body-camera video of the 2019 incident was shown, told the jury that he drew his gun as he approached Floyd while Floyd was sitting in the passenger seat of a car during a traffic stop. “The passenger was unresponsive and noncompliant to my commands,” Creighton said, adding that Floyd seemed “very nervous, anxious.”
Nelson twice asked Creighton questions that seemed to allude to Floyd’s drug use, including whether he’d seen him swallow anything. But Creighton said no.
The jury was shown a roughly two-minute video clip showing Creighton and another officer cursing and shouting at Floyd as they order him to show officers his hands. “Don’t shoot me, man!” Floyd says to Creighton, who then pulls him from the car and handcuffs him without incident.
But under cross-examination, Creighton acknowledged that Floyd was given conflicting orders from the officers on where to place his hands, that Floyd was coherent and cooperative once he was out of the car, and that he was never placed on the ground, as he was during his fatal interaction with Chauvin and other Minneapolis officers.
“Mr. Floyd didn’t drop dead while you were interacting with him, correct?” prosecutor Erin Eldridge asked.
“No,” Creighton replied.
The second witness was Michelle Moseng, a retired Hennepin County Medical Center paramedic who treated Floyd after his 2019 arrest. She said that Floyd’s blood pressure was extremely high — 216 over 160 — and that she urged him to go to the hospital because she was worried he might have a stroke.
She said Floyd told her he had high blood pressure but had not been taking his medication. She also testified that Floyd told her he had swallowed about seven tablets of the drug Percocet, a highly addictive prescription narcotic, and had been regularly abusing pain pills.
“I asked him why,” Moseng testified. “He said it was because he was addicted.”
Nelson then turned to two eyewitnesses from the scene at East 38th Street and Chicago Avenue, the intersection where Floyd died, as he sought to raise questions about Floyd’s drug use before his encounter with Chauvin.
He called Floyd’s ex-girlfriend, Shawanda Renee Hill, who had run into Floyd at Cup Foods and later was a passenger in the car when police responded to a 911 call about a counterfeit $20 bill that had been passed inside the store.
Hill testified that Floyd had been “happy, normal, talking, alert” when she encountered him inside the store but that he had abruptly fallen asleep in the car. She said he nodded awake when he heard Thomas K. Lane, one of the first responding officers, knock on the window with a flashlight and was “startled” when he looked back to see Lane pointing a gun at him.
“He instantly grabbed the wheel, and he was like, “Please, please don’t kill me. Please, please don’t shoot me. Don’t shoot me. What did I do to somebody? Please, please don’t shoot me,’” Hill testified.
Hill was followed on the witness stand by Minneapolis Park Police officer Peter Chang, who responded to the scene and was asked to secure the car Floyd had been driving. Chang said he observed Floyd resist being placed inside a squad car and later observed a crowd “that was growing more loud and aggressive.” Nelson asked Chang whether this caused him to feel concerned. “Concern for the officers’ safety, yes,” Chang replied.
Nelson then played for the jury about 30 minutes of Chang’s body camera video from the scene — including footage of Floyd handcuffed and sitting on the ground, which, under cross-examination from the prosecution, he described as cooperative behavior.
Nelson also recalled Minneapolis police officer Nicole Mackenzie, who oversees the department’s medical support training and testified last week about Chauvin’s hours of emergency medical training, including in CPR. He asked Mackenzie about the department’s training on “excited delirium,” a controversial term used by some medical examiners to describe the sudden in-custody death of people who may be under the influence of drugs or in an agitated state.
But Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter A. Cahill prefaced Mackenzie’s testimony by telling the jury she was recalled to give explanatory testimony of the term because police body camera video had shown Lane mentioning it at the scene.
“This is not being offered as a state-of-mind or knowledge of the defendant, since we have no indication on the record that this defendant, Mr. Chauvin, took this training,” Cahill told the jury, a statement that Nelson did not contest.
Mackenzie explained that incoming Minneapolis police officers are trained to look for signs of excited delirium — including incoherent speech, excessive sweat or superhuman strength. She said officers are trained to call for emergency medical assistance in such cases because a person exhibiting excited delirium can rapidly go into cardiac arrest — a statement potentially damaging to Chauvin’s defense, even if he had no training in the subject.
Brodd spent roughly three hours on the stand testifying that in his opinion, Chauvin had not used excessive force against Floyd.
He repeatedly defended Chauvin against the avalanche of video evidence in the case, including numerous police body-camera and bystander videos, arguing that the footage does not fully capture what was going on at the scene or what the officers were feeling and thinking as they held Floyd on the pavement as he cried out for breath and ultimately stopped moving.
“It’s easy to sit and judge in an office on an officer’s conduct,” Brodd said. “It’s more of a challenge to 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.”