A short video clip taken by a Minneapolis police officer’s body camera last spring became a flashpoint in the trial against Derek Chauvin on Wednesday after a defense attorney and a witness suggested that the late George Floyd told cops that he “ate too many drugs” shortly before his death.
The same witness later amended his statement, saying that he believed Floyd had really said, “I ain’t do no drugs.”
Chauvin has been charged on three homicide-related counts for his chosen method of restraint against Floyd: pinning Floyd’s neck to the pavement with his knee.
The conflict emerged when an attorney for the defense, Eric Nelson, asked witness James Reyerson whether he had heard Floyd say “I ate too many drugs” in any of the body camera video he had reviewed.
Reyerson ― a senior special agent with the Minneapolis Bureau of Criminal Apprehension who was part of a team that investigated Chauvin’s use of force ― said no.
Nelson then played a snippet of footage for the courtroom showing Floyd lying on his stomach near a police vehicle, with officers above him. Floyd cries out in the footage, saying something that cannot be heard distinctly.
After watching, Reyerson agreed with Nelson that it sounded like Floyd had said he “ate” drugs.
It was not the first time Nelson had brought up the clip; he asked Los Angeles Police Department Sgt. Jody Stiger earlier in the day whether Stiger thought that is what Floyd said. Stiger said he could not make out Floyd’s words.
Prosecutor Matthew Frank addressed the clip after Reyerson agreed with the defense, playing a longer version which revealed that, before the Floyd’s unclear declaration, officers had been discussing among themselves the possibility that he had taken drugs.
“Having heard it in context, are you able to tell what Mr. Floyd is saying there?” Frank asked Reyerson.
“Yes, I believe Mr. Floyd was saying, ‘I ain’t do no drugs,’” Reyerson replied.
While an autopsy report stated that Floyd tested positive for fentanyl after his death, his cause of death is described as as “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law-enforcement subdual restraint, and neck compression.” The doctor who treated him at the hospital the night of May 25, 2020, testified earlier that he believed Floyd died of asphyxia, or depravation of oxygen.
Police did not arrive at the scene where Floyd eventually died to investigate his alleged drug use. Rather, they had been called after a convenience store clerk suspected him of using a counterfeit $20 bill.
Drugs, however, are key to the defense’s strategy in the trial that began last week with witness testimony: Nelson has attempted to establish that drug use could have caused Floyd to have breathing difficulty.
Chauvin pleaded not guilty to all three charges against him. If found guilty, he could face 11 to 15 years behind bars.