In his filing, Nelson asked a Hennepin County District Court judge to immediately dismiss the charges against his client, a motion that is likely to be denied.
Chauvin, who had 19 years’ service with the Minneapolis police, has been charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s killing, which was filmed by bystanders and sparked worldwide protests over racism and police brutality.
Three other officers at the scene — J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas K. Lane and Tou Thao — have been charged with aiding and abetting.
All four were fired by the Minneapolis Police Department and are to be back in court Sept. 11, with Chauvin expected to appear in person for the first time.
Though Minneapolis police officials have repeatedly said Chauvin was using a restraint technique in violation of department rules, the filing cites training materials to justify the former officer’s conduct, including what his defense said was a 2018 photo from a department training manual showing a demonstration of a knee-on-neck hold similar to the one Chauvin used on Floyd during the Memorial Day encounter.
“Mr. Chauvin did exactly as he was trained to do,” Nelson wrote in the filing. “Any risk created by Mr. Chauvin’s conduct lies largely with those who train MPD officers and those who approve such training.”
Chauvin’s attorney also pushed back on claims from two officers at the scene who said they tried to intervene as Chauvin pressed a knee into Floyd’s neck but were rebuffed.
Chauvin’s attorney presented a different picture, describing his client as arriving at a chaotic scene where he saw Kueng and Lane struggling to get Floyd into a squad car and ran to assist. The motion suggests that the struggle led Chauvin to later discount Floyd’s claims that he couldn’t breathe.
“What Mr. Chauvin saw was a strong man struggling mightily with police officers, which seemed contradictory to Mr. Floyd’s claims about not being able to breathe,” the filing stated.
As the three officers placed Floyd on the ground, police body camera video shows Chauvin suggested putting a leg restraint — or a hobble — on Floyd, which would have allowed the officers to take their weight off his body.
But Chauvin’s attorney points out that Lane and Kueng opted not to because an ambulance was en route. The filing implies that Chauvin thought Lane and Kueng, the first officers to respond to a 911 call about a counterfeit $20 bill, were in charge of the scene and that he was there to assist.
That is the opposite of what Lane and Kueng have argued through their attorneys, who have said their clients, rookie officers who had been on the force for less than a week, were deferring to Chauvin, who had been Kueng’s field training officer.
In his motion to dismiss charges, Chauvin’s attorney repeatedly argued that there is no evidence that his client intended to harm Floyd.
He also pointed to newly disclosed notes of a June meeting between prosecutors and Andrew Baker, the Hennepin County medical examiner.
In June, Baker formally declared Floyd’s death a homicide, listing “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression” as the cause of death. The report listed heart disease, fentanyl intoxication, recent methamphetamine use and Floyd’s bout with covid-19 as other “significant conditions.”
But in the notes of the meeting between Baker and prosecutors that were filed as evidence in the case this week, the doctor offered additional information about his findings. Baker told prosecutors he found “no bruising” on Floyd’s neck or damage to muscles or the structure around the neck — a detail seized upon by Chauvin’s attorney to argue that it was proof that his client had not intended to “inflict harm” on Floyd.
“Mr. Chauvin was cautious about the amount of pressure he used to restrain Mr. Floyd — cautious enough to prevent bruising,” Nelson wrote in his motion to dismiss the charges.
Chauvin’s filing does not address police body camera video that showed that he did not lift his knee off Floyd’s neck even as Kueng told him the man no longer had a pulse.
Chauvin’s attorney also pointed to Baker’s statement to prosecutors about the high level of fentanyl in Floyd’s system. According to notes taken by prosecutors, Baker told the group that if Floyd had been “found dead at home alone and no other apparent causes,” it would have been “acceptable” to call his death an overdose.
But Chauvin’s filing omits that Baker told prosecutors something additional about the drugs in Floyd’s system: “I am not saying this killed him.”
Still, Nelson argued Friday that the fentanyl in Floyd’s system “was tantamount to lighting a fuse on a bomb” and that his client did not know of Floyd’s “underlying health issues” as he restrained him with his knee on the street. “Mr. Floyd could not breathe because he had ingested a lethal dose of fentanyl,” Nelson wrote.
Ben Crump, the lawyer representing the Floyd family, did not respond to a request for comment. But the Floyd family has disputed the findings of the county medical examiner, issuing their own findings by an independent examiner that declared Floyd’s death a homicide “caused by asphyxia due to neck and back compression that led to a lack of blood flow to the brain.”
Prosecutors in the case recently disclosed a third autopsy — this one requested by the Department of Justice, which is conducting its own investigation into Floyd’s death. In a memo filed into evidence this week, the Office of the Armed Services Medical Examiner described Floyd’s death as a homicide “caused by the police subdual and restraint in the setting of severe hypertensive atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, and methamphetamine and fentanyl intoxication.”
In a litany of exhibits filed Friday in support of his motion to dismiss charges, Chauvin’s attorney disclosed an interview between Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo and state and federal investigators in which Arradondo refused to say Chauvin’s name and spoke of the lack of “humanity” he saw from the “officer with the knee on his neck, with his hands in his pocket” as Floyd cried out for help.
“He was expecting us to help him. He was calling out for us,” Arradondo told investigators.