In one final push to prove his innocence, Derek Chauvin’s defense team argued that the ex-Minneapolis cop acted as he was trained to do in a stressful situation when he arrested George Floyd, and that the Black man’s death could have been the result of several different contributing factors.
“All evidence showed that Mr. Chauvin thought he was following his training…he was trained this way,” defense attorney Eric Nelson said on Monday, referring to how Chauvin kneeled on Floyd while he was face down in the street. “It all demonstrates a lack of intent. There is absolutely no evidence that officer Chauvin intentionally, purposely applied unlawful force.
Citing the Minneapolis Police Department’s Defense and Control Response Training Guide, Nelson added Chauvin was within his right to use a variety of techniques to handle the situation, including neck restraints.
(Several other Minneapolis police officers have previously said that Chauvin’s actions were against training protocol.)
In closing arguments, Nelson focused on two different elements of Chauvin’s case, arguing that the ex-cop’s actions were an authorized use of force, and that Floyd’s cause of death could have been caused by circumstances outside of the officer’s control.
“He walks onto a scene, he sees active resistance occurring, potentially active aggression occurring,” Nelson said, describing the moment Chauvin arrived at Cup Foods, the South Minneapolis convenience store where Floyd allegedly used a counterfeit $20 bill last May. “What were his options available to him at that time?”
Throughout closing arguments, the defense argued that jurors had to consider what a “reasonable police officer” would do in the situation. Nelson added that the crowd of bystanders watching Floyd’s arrest had no understanding as to how an officer should proceed in a stressful situation, and that the angry crowd distracted Chauvin during a critical moment.
“The standard is not what should the officer have done in these circumstances,” Nelson said. “The standard is: What were the facts that were known to this officer at the precise moment that he used force, and considering all of the totality of circumstances known to the officer, what would a reasonable police officer have done?”
Hours into his closing argument, Nelson tried to sow doubt as to the reason Floyd died, bringing up that heart conditions, hypertension, and Floyd’s use of fentanyl could have played a role in his death.
“There was no evidence of life-threatening injury to the neck or spinal column of Mr. Floyd,” he added. “An intervention occurred, and there was an untoward outcome on the heels of that intervention.”
Nelson’s closing statements come less than a week after the defense called seven witnesses to testify to help build their case that Chauvin was not at fault when Floyd died in police custody. Though some of those individuals actually helped bolster the prosecution’s case, the defense did bring two major witnesses to back up their version of events. Barry Brodd, a use of force expert, testified that Chauvin’s actions were justified and that Floyd’s death was accidental. Dr. David Fowler, a forensic pathologist who is currently being sued over the death of a Black teenager in police custody in Maryland, testified that Floyd’s death had nothing to do with Chauvin’s neck restraint.
Chauvin faces second and third degree-murder charges, and second-degree manslaughter. If convicted, he faces up to 65 years in prison.