A witness for the defense in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin testified Tuesday that he did not consider Chauvin’s actions to have amounted to a deadly use of force against George Floyd, but he later walked back some of his testimony upon cross-examination.
Chauvin is facing three homicide-related charges in Floyd’s death that could land him behind bars for up to 15 years. Floyd, a Black man, was killed after being restrained with a knee to his neck for more than nine minutes last May by Chauvin, a white officer.
Defense attorney Eric Nelson called to the stand Barry Brodd ― a former police officer who works as a consultant on the use of force ― to counter statements given last week by law enforcement officers who were critical of Chauvin’s actions.
Brodd stated plainly during questioning by the defense that he did not think Chauvin used deadly force against Floyd, which occurred after a convenience store clerk reported that he suspected Floyd had paid for cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. He acknowledged instead that sometimes law enforcement actions can inadvertently lead to death, such as a situation in which an officer shocks a suspect who then falls and hits his head.
Brodd then testified that he did not consider Chauvin’s method of restraint, which he termed “prone control,” to be a use of force at all. (“Prone” is the law enforcement term used to describe a suspect who is forced onto their stomach.)
“It’s easy to sit and judge in an office on an officer’s conduct,” Brodd said Tuesday.
Video widely viewed around the world showed Chauvin pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck and upper back for several minutes after Floyd stopped resisting and appeared to lose consciousness.
At another point in his testimony, Brodd would not say if it looked like Floyd became unconsciousness in the video, saying, “I can’t tell.”
In his cross-examination, prosecutor Steve Schleicher punched several holes in Brodd’s assessment of the arrest ― including his denial that Chauvin’s knee was ever on Floyd’s neck.
Schleicher began by asking about Brodd’s definition of use of force. Brodd said that he would consider an action to be a use of force if it caused Floyd pain, and he acknowledged that Chauvin’s position on top of Floyd “could” have been painful.
“And if it could produce pain, then ― again just looking at your premise ― if it could produce pain, then it would be a use of force, wouldn’t it?” Schleicher asked.
“If the officers’ intent was to inflict pain ...” Brodd began.
“Not the officers’ intent, sir,” the prosecutor cut in. “What you said was it was unlikely to produce pain, and that’s why it wasn’t a use of force. You now just said that it could produce pain. So, regardless of the officers’ intent, if this act that we’re looking at here ... could produce pain, would you agree that what we’re seeing here is a use of force?”
“Shown in this picture, that could be a use of force,” Brodd responded.
Later, Schleicher challenged Brodd’s assertion that Chauvin’s knee was consistently positioned on Floyd’s upper back by displaying a still image from body camera footage. He circled Floyd’s upper back and asked Brodd to confirm that the knee was above it.
Throughout his testimony, Brodd said he believed Chauvin was using an appropriate level of restraint given Floyd’s initial resistance to getting into the police car. He suggested that the fact Floyd could vocalize the phrase “I can’t breathe” was evidence he could, in fact, breathe ― a sharp deviation from the several medical experts who testified last week that Floyd died of a lack of oxygen.
Brodd shifted his stance slightly after viewing a clip of Floyd struggling against the officers, saying that a reasonable officer “could” take what Floyd was saying seriously given the circumstances.
After playing a video clip that showed Floyd mostly immobile against the weight of Chauvin and two other officers above, Schleicher asked Brodd how Floyd was not complying.
“I see his arm position in the picture posted, and a compliant person would have their hands in the small of their back and just be resting comfortably, versus he’s still moving around,” Brodd said.
Schleicher pointed out that Floyd was on hard pavement. He responded: “So attempting to breathe while restrained is being slightly noncompliant?”
“No,” Brodd said.
“No,” Schleicher echoed.
Upon reexamination by the defense, Nelson used Brodd to argue that showing brief clips of the encounter between Floyd and the Minneapolis officers could obscure all of the factors the officers had to take into account as they worked. Nelson has consistently painted the small crowd of bystanders that gathered to protest the officers’ treatment of Floyd as a potential threat.
The trial is set to resume Wednesday with more witnesses called by the defense.