Laura Collins and Ariel Zilber, Daily Mail, March 16, 2021
The judge in the murder trial of former Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin has reserved judgement on a defense bid to have details of a ‘remarkably similar’ prior arrest of George Floyd entered into evidence, as jury selection continues.
In May 2019, Floyd allegedly put drugs in his mouth to avoid getting caught by cops during a traffic stop, and almost had a stroke.
Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill rejected the attempt to have the May 2019 arrest included in proceedings last fall.
But the judge will now reconsider that decision after new evidence suggests Floyd may have attempted to ingest tablets before his arrest in May 2020, where he later died.
Cahill has also agreed to allow the defense’s request to re-interview seven of the jurors already selected to discover whether they are aware of a $27million wrongful death settlement made on Friday by the city of Minneapolis to Floyd’s family.
The judge is due to make a decision on whether to move the trial to another city after the settlement was made in the middle of juror selection.
On Wednesday, the pretrial hearing heard that a January 2021 search of the squad car into which officers tried to wrestle Floyd in May 2020 found a chewed up ‘near-complete tablet’ bearing Floyd’s DNA.
Chauvin’s defense attorney, Eric Nelson, said that the January search was carried out after the defense reviewed photographs taken of the squad car after Floyd’s death last May.
Judge Cahill said it was ‘mind-boggling’ that an extensive search of the squad car was not done until eight months after Floyd’s death.
Nelson, argued that the discovery of the controlled substance shows the two arrests were ‘remarkably similar’ in key aspects except for one main difference.
During the 2019 incident, Floyd never claimed that he was claustrophobic and eventually got into the police squad car – unlike what took place a year later.
On both May 6, 2019 and May 25, 2020 officers approached Floyd, 46, in a car and witnessed ‘furtive behavior’ as he refused to show his hands. According to Nelson, body cam footage of the 2019 arrest shows Floyd ‘saying some of the exact same things that he says in this case.’
In both instances officers drew their weapons and Floyd behaved erratically and tearfully.
He called for his mother and said that he had been shot before.
And in both instances officers observed white foam or residue around Floyd’s mouth.
In 2019 officers say they witnessed Floyd consume seven or eight pills – controlled substances that he knowingly ingested – as they approached.
Floyd was hospitalized following his consumption of opioids in May 2019 when paramedics found that his blood pressure was so high they said he was at risk of stroke or cardiac arrest.
‘What caused Mr. Floyd’s death is a principal issue,’ Nelson said.
‘Couple that with a specific statement from a paramedic telling him … “You’re about to die from a heart attack or a stroke,” and then ultimate hospitalization of Mr. Floyd.’
Cahill told Nelson that the paramedic’s statement from 2019 could be introduced as evidence since it speaks to ‘What is Mr. Floyd’s medical or bodily response to a large amount of drugs being ingested shortly before?’
Matthew Frank, the assistant district attorney, argued that the defense wants to introduce the 2019 arrest in order to sully Floyd’s character.
‘The issues in this case are the objective reasonableness of the officers’ conduct in the way they treated Mr. Floyd,’ Frank said.
‘Their duties as police officers, their conduct, can’t take into account what happened in May of 2019.’
But the judge appeared inclined to agree with defense attorneys that the 2019 incident could speak to cause of death that occurred a year later.
‘He ingested drugs on May 6, 2019, which led almost immediately to a hypertensive emergency,’ Cahill said.
‘So now on May 25, 2020, if he ingests drugs with that hypertension condition, could that have caused the death?’
Pills recovered from the car in 2019 were found to be methamphetamine and fentanyl.
In 2020, Nelson pointed out, both J Alexander Kueng and Thomas Kiernan Lane registered Floyd’s erratic behavior and immediately asked, ‘What have you taken? What are you on?’
In May 2020, Minneapolis Medical Examiner’s autopsy found that cardio-pulminary arrest was a primary cause of death and 11mg of fentanyl – a potentially lethal amount – was found in Floyd’s bloodstream.
Nelson argued that the previous arrest and paramedics’ warning suggested this was a propensity in both health and behavior that may have caused Floyd’s death.
Nelson also argued it served as a counter to prosecutors’ assertion that Floyd’s erratic behavior was due to panic attacks or PTSD.
The judge also agreed with Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank’s assertion that if this were simply an ‘attempt to smear’ Floyd it would not be admissible.
He said, ‘You don’t just dirty up someone who has died in these circumstances.’
But he remained unconvinced that that was indeed the sole purpose of the defense move taking the view that it was, instead, more concerned with finding an alternate cause of death.
‘I don’t understand how those two things are similar,’ Frank said of the two arrests.
‘If the fact that they’re offering it to prove is that he ingested a controlled substance,’ Frank said, ‘fine.’
But he then argued that there was no need to admit the previous arrest as evidence since there is already proof that Floyd possessed drugs.
Frank said that introducing the 2019 arrest as evidence would be ‘prejudicial.’
Cahill has reserved judgment on the matter until Wednesday.
Before pretrial motions on Tuesday, Cahill had been expected to weigh in on whether to delay the trial after a $27 million settlement in a civil case was awarded to the Floyd family on Friday.
The judge on Monday agreed with Nelson, Chauvin’s lawyer, that the timing of the payout was a complicating factor.
Nelson on Monday also raised the possibility of renewing his previously unsuccessful motion to move Derek Chauvin’s trial to another city. He asked the judge to consider sequestering the jury so as to shield them from media coverage of the trial.
‘I am gravely concerned with the news that broke on Friday,’ Nelson said, adding that the announcement ‘has incredible potential to taint the jury pool.’
Nelson said he was concerned his client would not be able to get a fair trial due to ‘all the high-ranking state officials that made comments at the onset of this entire situation.’
‘It’s amazing to me, they had a press conference on Friday, where the mayor of Minneapolis is on stage with City Council, and they’re using very, what I would say, very well-designed terminology,’ Nelson said.
The attorney also said that Friday’s announced settlement was ‘very suspicious timing to say the least, and has an incredible propensity to taint a jury pool.’
‘It is profoundly disturbing to the defense, because the goal of this system is to provide a fair trial and this is not fair,’ Nelson said in court on Monday.
Cahill turned down Nelson’s request to be given more ‘strikes’ – the ability to rule out potential jurors – but he did say he was considering a delay. He was also considering Nelson’s request to switch locations.