MINNEAPOLIS — The trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer facing charges in the May 2020 death of George Floyd, began Monday morning with prosecutors showing jurors a graphic video of the 46-year-old’s death.
Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell said Chauvin “betrayed this badge” on May 25, 2020, when he restrained Floyd with his knee on the Houston native’s neck for more than nine minutes. Floyd had been detained as part of an investigation into a counterfeit $20 bill that was used at a convenience store.
“They could have written him a ticket,” Blackwell said. “Even if he did it on purpose it’s a minor offense, a misdemeanor.”
Prosecutors showed a video taken by bystanders which showed Chauvin holding his knee to Floyd’s neck for minutes as passersby pleaded with him to get up. Floyd could be heard calling for his mother and telling police that he couldn’t breathe dozens of times. A few minutes into the clip, the 46-year-old stops struggling. Chauvin’s knee remains on his neck as bystanders demand police check his pulse. Later, when medics arrive to check Floyd’s vital signs, Chauvin finally moves his knee off Floyd’s neck.
In all, Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds, Blackwell said.
Prosecutors noted that the incident was so disturbing to witnesses that even a 911 operator who saw the situation unfolding on a nearby surveillance camera “called the police on the police.”
In his opening statement, Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, told jurors that Chauvin “did exactly what he had been trained to do over the course of his 19-year career.”
“The use of force is not attractive, but it is a necessary component of policing,” he said.
He told the court that the evidence showed that Floyd died “of a cardiac arrhythmia … as a result of hypertension, coronary disease, the ingestion of methamphetamine and fentanyl and … adrenaline.”
“This case is clearly more than about 9 minutes and 29 seconds,” Nelson said, noting that investigators have gathered tens of thousands of pieces of evidence. “The evidence has been collected broadly and expansively.”
Authorities arrested Chauvin in May 2020 after video surfaced on social media showing him pressing his knee to Floyd’s neck. The Hennepin County medical examiner ruled the death a homicide, determining that Floyd’s heart stopped as he was being restrained. A separate autopsy commissioned for Floyd’s family also called his death a homicide but concluded that he died of asphyxiation due to neck and back compression.
The trial is expected to last about four weeks at the courthouse in downtown Minneapolis, which has been fortified with concrete barriers, fencing, and barbed and razor wire. City and state leaders are determined to prevent a repeat of damaging riots that followed Floyd’s death, and National Guard troops have already been mobilized.
Floyd’s death prompted global outrage and sparked a national reckoning over racism and police brutality.
Three other officers also face charges in Floyd’s death. Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. They are expected to face juries in August.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.