Instant Decision Defense May Not Work For Minneapolis Officer

Convicting a police officer for killing someone is notoriously difficult, in part because jurors are hesitant to question the defendant when the officer claims to have made a split-second decision in a life-and-death situation. But that’s probably not an argument Derek Chauvin can make.

Minneapolis Police Officer Fired Going to Trial Monday was captured on video pinning George Floyd to the pavement, his knee on the black man’s neck, for about nine minutes last May. Bystanders repeatedly yelled at Chauvin to get off, asked him to check his pulse, and warned him that Floyd no longer seemed to be breathing.

“If I am a prosecutor, I keep my timer for 8 minutes and 47 seconds and show the jury how long is that, “said Geoffrey Alpert, a professor of criminology at the University of South Carolina, who co-wrote” Evaluating Police Uses of Force. “

Still, Alpert and other experts said that despite the force of the video that sparked a wave of fury across the country over Floyd’s death, prosecutors could have a difficult time convicting Chauvin of murder because of both the facts of the case. as well as attitudes towards the police.

Chauvin’s attorney is He was expected to argue that Floyd’s drug ingestion during his arrest, along with the 46-year-old’s underlying health conditions, including high blood pressure and heart disease, caused or at least contributed to his death. Prosecutors argue that it was Chauvin’s knee in Floyd’s neck that killed him.

As for Chauvin, “the jury will have to overcome the suggestion that he was just trying to do his job well,” said former federal prosecutor Taryn Merkl, senior counsel for the Justice Program at New York University’s Brennan Center. “Most of the jurors don’t want to believe that officers go to work and think ‘Today I’m going to kill someone.’

Phil Stinson, a Bowling Green State University criminologist who tracks cases against police, said that of thousands of deadly police shootings in the United States since 2005, fewer than 140 officers have been charged with murder or manslaughter. Only seven were convicted of murder.

Historically, juries have been more willing to give officers the benefit of the doubt that they acted reasonably during violent or fatal encounters. Stinson said jurors also appear to opt for lesser charges or acquit officers who have lost their jobs, apparently wondering whether officers have already been “sufficiently punished.”

“The criminal actions of officers are not recognized as such by juries sometimes because everyone recognizes that the police in this country are often violent,” he said.

In many cases, defense attorneys for police officers describe in great detail the chaos of the moment, the darkness of the street, the sound of what they thought was a gun, a speeding car, circumstances that could have left the an agent with little time to do it. Think about how to react.

Reviewing his investigation this week, Stinson found at least 25 officers who were charged with injuries or deaths suffered during strangulations or restraints since 2005, and very rarely with murder or manslaughter. But many more officers were not charged.

The agents involved in the death of Eric Garner, who died in 2014 and uttered the same phrase Floyd did – “I can’t breathe” – were not charged in New York City despite excruciating video of Garner’s final moments on a sidewalk. Because grand jury proceedings are largely secret, it is not known why the officers were not prosecuted.

But the tide may be turning against officers accusing officers of using choke and knee restraints, increasingly prohibited by police departments.

In 2020, six officers were indicted in such cases, including at least four after national outrage over Floyd’s death. Most of those cases have yet to be resolved.

Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, has argued in court documents that Floyd likely died from the fentanyl he used, or a combination of fentanyl, methamphetamine and underlying health conditions, not as a result of Chauvin’s knee in his neck.

Nelson will be able to present some evidence. from a 2019 arrest in which Floyd, as he did in 2020, swallowed pills when confronted by officers.

Some police officers have been found guilty in cases where prosecutors were able to show that a reasonable person would not have reacted in the same way. In Texas, Officer Roy Oliver was convicted of killing 15-year-old Jordan Edwards. opening fire on a car full of teenagers as they were leaving a house party. Oliver’s partner testified that he had not perceived a threat.

Prosecutors in the Chauvin case hope that the pleas from viewers to verify Floyd serve the same purpose.

In the citizen’s video, bystanders can be heard yelling at Chauvin and other officers at the scene for several minutes: “Are you breathing now?” Check her pulse. Check her pulse. Check his pulse, brother. “” Brother, he hasn’t moved, not once! “” He’s dying! “And” Get off his neck! Get off his neck! “

Alpert, the criminology professor, said that beyond the initial moments of the confrontation between Chauvin and Floyd, there was little chaos that could affect sensible decision-making.

“There may have been a split-second decision on what to do when Mr. Floyd wouldn’t get in the car and how to drive it,” he said. “But every second after that, there was no need for a split second decision.”


Find full AP coverage of George Floyd’s death at:


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