April 17, 2021

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Derek Chauvin used force against suspects before George Floyd. The jury won’t hear about 6 of those incidents.

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Seventeen complaints filed with Minneapolis police about Derek Chauvin. Six times in which prosecutors say Chauvin used force against arrestees. George Floyd’s arrest for aggravated robbery in 2007.

The jury considering murder and manslaughter charges against Chauvin won’t hear about any of those incidents. Their verdict may be influenced as much by what they don’t know as what they do.

Chauvin, a white former Minneapolis police officer, is accused of killing Floyd, 46, a Black man, by pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck as he lay handcuffed on the ground. 

In the run-up to the trial, both sides sought to introduce evidence about Chauvin and Floyd’s past actions. Prosecutors wanted to introduce eight incidents involving Chauvin. Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill allowed two of them.

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Chauvin trial live updates:Body camera video shows Chauvin’s reaction to George Floyd encounter

In this image from video, defense attorney Eric Nelson, left, and former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, right, listen as Assistant Minnesota Attorney General Matthew Frank, questions witness Donald Williams, as Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill presides Tuesday, March 30, 2021 at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minn. Chauvin is charged in the May 25, 2020 death of George Floyd.

The defense wanted to bring up two arrests of Floyd, including one in Harris County, Texas, in 2007 that resulted in a conviction for aggravated robbery. Cahill allowed only a portion of Floyd’s drug-related arrest in 2019 in Minneapolis.

It’s common for judges to make such rulings on what evidence can be introduced in a trial. The court wants to ensure the jury doesn’t punish a defendant for prior “bad acts,” as they’re called. Jurors must evaluate whether Chauvin is guilty of what he is charged with: third- and second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. 

In criminal prosecutions, wrongful acts generally aren’t admissible unless prosecutors can demonstrate that they implicate the defendant, the incidents are important to the case and they won’t unfairly prejudice the jury against the defendant.

Though police department records show 18 complaints filed against Chauvin over the course of his 19-year career with Minneapolis police, just one will be introduced at trial.

Cahill’s rulings “make sense overall,” said Ted Sampsell-Jones, a professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in neighboring St. Paul.

The judge is “letting in the most similar incidents for both sides, but overall, he’s limiting the inquiry – trying to keep the parties and the jury focused on the charged incident,” Sampsell-Jones said.

“This isn’t supposed to devolve into a free-ranging inquisition of Floyd’s past, or Chauvin’s,” he said.

Analysis:Lawyers in Derek Chauvin’s murder trial focus on training, drug use and viral video

Jury won’t hear about six incidents in which Chauvin restrained arrestees

Prosecutors wanted to introduce eight incidents in which Chauvin used force while on duty or was involved in an incident in which another officer did.

Six were deemed inadmissible by Cahill, who wrote in a court filing that the incidents weren’t similar enough to the Floyd incident. The judge concluded that prosecutors were improperly trying to show Chauvin’s propensity to resort to unreasonable force.

Cahill based his decisions on what the jury would learn from the evidence and a review of the prosecution and defense’s filings.

Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin pins George Floyd to the ground on May 25. Floyd later died. Chauvin was fired the next day.

Those six incidents spanned six years. In 2014, Chauvin placed his body weight on the upper body and head of a man to handcuff him, according to prosecutors.

In February 2015, Chauvin tried to restrain a man by putting pressure on his lingual artery, which is below the chin bone, prosecutors wrote. Chauvin pushed the man against a wall and applied a neck restraint. Once the man was face-down on the ground, Chauvin handcuffed him and kept him there until backup arrived.

In April 2016, Chauvin restrained a man who would not follow instructions, placing his hands around the man’s neck and applying pressure to both sides, according to prosecutors. 

The officer forced the man backward onto the sidewalk, handcuffed him and walked him to a squad car. A small crowd of “concerned citizens” gathered to watch, prosecutors wrote. The man complained of asthma, and paramedics were called.

Eric Nelson, Chauvin’s attorney, objected to allowing these acts, saying they weren’t similar to what happened with Floyd, and they “were noncriminal incidents of Mr. Chauvin acting in his duties as a Minneapolis Police officer.”

All the incidents involved “resistance from or a struggle with a suspect; some involved Mr. Chauvin using his body weight to control an arrestee; some involved a neck restraint,” Nelson argued. “This is simply insufficient to show a marked similarity between the proffered incidents and the charged offenses.”

Judge said prosecutors were trying to paint Chauvin as a ‘thumper’

In September 2017, Chauvin responded to a domestic assault call with another officer and tried to arrest a 14-year-old boy. When the boy resisted, Chauvin applied a neck restraint and rolled him onto his stomach.

Chauvin stayed in the same position, his body pinning the boy to the floor, “beyond the point when such force was needed under the circumstances,” prosecutors wrote.

In March 2019, Chauvin told a man to move away from a person reporting a stolen vehicle to him and another officer. When the man refused, Chauvin walked over and grabbed him. The man pulled away, “flailing his arms and struggling with the other officer,” prosecutors wrote. Chauvin sprayed Mace at the man’s face.

The other officer told the man to lie on the ground, but he kneeled instead. Chauvin applied a neck restraint, forced him to the ground and sat on the man’s back, pinning him so he could be handcuffed.

“Chauvin restrained the male in this position beyond the point when such force was needed or reasonable under the circumstances,” the prosecution argued.

The defense said Minneapolis Police Department supervisors “found Mr. Chauvin’s application of force to be in conformity with his MPD training, authorized by law and MPD policy, and reasonable.”

High school English teacher Kaia Hirt, 48, locked herself to a security fence surrounding the courthouse where a jury is hearing the case against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is accused of killing George Floyd in 2020. Hirt says she is trying to get attention for the need to change policing and address structural racism.

In July 2019, Chauvin and another officer responded to a domestic assault. When the male suspect dropped his arms to his side, Chauvin grew concerned about his access to knives, prosecutors wrote. Chauvin grabbed one of the man’s arms and kicked his lower midsection to back the man away.

Because Chauvin thought the man had tensed up, prosecutors wrote, he applied a neck restraint. The man made a brief snoring noise that indicated he had gone unconscious, and Chauvin handcuffed him.

A supervisor responded to the scene and deemed Chauvin’s force “reasonable, authorized, and appropriate under the circumstances,” the defense wrote.

Prosecutors argued these incidents showed Chauvin regularly resorted to force, even when it wasn’t necessary.

“In the State’s view,” they wrote, “Chauvin operates in disregard for the particular circumstances of a given situation in determining appropriate reasonable force and simply fully restrains the suspect with no regard for their well-being until he can turn them over to someone else.”

Cahill disagreed.

“The real purpose for which the State seeks to introduce evidence of eight prior incidents … is simply to depict Chauvin to the jury as a ‘thumper,’ an officer who knowingly and willingly relishes ‘mixing it up’ with suspects and routinely escalates situations and engages in the use of unreasonable force,” the judge wrote.

Cahill ruled that any value of introducing those six incidents to prove Chauvin’s guilt in Floyd’s death would be outweighed by the potential to unfairly prejudice the jury.

Jurors will hear about two incidents with Chauvin

The two incidents Cahill did allow to be introduced at trial involve one in August 2015 in which Chauvin moved an arrestee to a “recovery” position and one in June 2017 in which Chauvin used excessive force in arresting a woman at her home, according to Cahill’s summaries of the incidents.

In 2015, Chauvin joined other officers helping a “suicidal, intoxicated and mentally disturbed” man, prosecutors wrote. The officers struggled with him and used a stun gun.

The officers got handcuffs on the man and put him in the side-recovery position, according to their training. They called an ambulance, and Chauvin rode with the man to the hospital.

The officers were told by medical professionals that if they had waited any longer to get him help, the man could have died. The officers involved, including Chauvin, were recommended for an award.

Minneapolis firefighter Genevieve Hansen testifies March 30 about witnessing the death of George Floyd and being prevented by police from helping him.

In 2017, Chauvin went to arrest a woman at her home for allegedly trying to strangle her mother with an extension cord, prosecutors wrote. As she walked by, Chauvin grabbed one of her arms and told her she was under arrest.

She tried to pull away and Chauvin put a cuff on one wrist. As she tried to twist away, he pulled her face-down to the floor, kneeled on her body to pin her and finished handcuffing her.

When she refused to stand up, Chauvin and another officer dragged her outside, with her feet on the ground. The officers put her face-down on the sidewalk.

Guilt. Regret. Helplessness:Watching George Floyd die had a ‘profound’ impact on witnesses

Though the woman wasn’t resisting, prosecutors wrote, Chauvin kneeled on her, pinning her down while another officer moved a squad car closer. Chauvin told the other officer to apply a hobble restraint, which links someone’s wrists and ankles.

“Chauvin’s conduct in kneeling on the woman during this entire time was more force than was reasonably necessary under the circumstances,” the state argued.

Chauvin’s attorney, Nelson, argued in court filings that this use of force was “cleared” by the police department.

“There was nothing unreasonable or unauthorized about Mr. Chauvin’s actions during this incident – nor is it at all similar to the George Floyd incident,” Nelson wrote.

The prosecution has said it has body-worn video of the incident and believes it shows behavior similar to Chauvin’s handling of Floyd.

Police were called after George Floyd, right, was accused of trying to pass counterfeit money inside the Cup Foods store May 25, 2020, in Minneapolis.

Defense argues 2019 arrest of Floyd is similar

Jurors will learn about an incident in May 2019, captured on a body-worn camera, in which Floyd allegedly swallowed a pill when officers approached him.

Police responded to information about illegal narcotics activity. An officer pulled a gun on Floyd, gesturing for him to put his hands on a car dashboard.

Floyd begged the officers not to shoot him, then cried as he was handcuffed and patted down. Officers found oxycodone pills on him and in the car. Floyd was admitted to a hospital for accidental drug ingestion.

The defense argued Floyd’s behavior is part of a pattern.

“When approached by police, he (Floyd) placed drugs in his mouth in an attempt to avoid arrest, and swallowed them,” Nelson wrote. “When interacting with police he engaged in diversionary behavior such as crying and acted irrationally.”

Judge: ‘This is medical evidence’

The defense argued Floyd’s physical condition during that incident may support its contention that Floyd died not from Chauvin’s knee on his neck but a combination of the struggle, medical problems and drugs.

Cahill agreed to allow some evidence from the arrest in 2019 because there are similarities to the incident that ended with Floyd’s death.

“There is a modus operandi to conceal drugs in part by ingesting them,” Cahill said in a court hearing, “but also doing so in a very stressful circumstance that is being pulled out of a car at gunpoint in handcuffs.”

Only a portion of video of the 2019 incident will be shown to the jury, starting with officers approaching Floyd in the car and ending when he is handcuffed. A photograph of pills found in the crack of the car’s seat is also admissible, Cahill ruled.

The jury will not hear a recording of a paramedic’s conversation with Floyd or his emotional behavior, including him calling out for his mother.

The paramedic told Floyd he had to go to a hospital because of his high blood pressure or he could suffer a heart attack or stroke. 

Police body camera shows bystanders watching Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin subdue George Floyd in Minneapolis, including Alyssa Funari, left, filming; Charles McMillian, center left in light colored shorts; Christopher Martin, center in gray; Donald Williams, center in black; Genevieve Hansen, fourth from right, filming; and Darnella Frazier, third from right, filming.

Cahill will allow the paramedic to testify about the amount and kind of drugs Floyd took and why the paramedic recommended Floyd go to the hospital.

“The whole point here is we have medical evidence on what happens when Mr. Floyd is faced with virtually the same situation: confrontation by police at gunpoint, followed by a rapid ingestion of some drugs,” Cahill said.

“We don’t have the benefits, obviously, of medical vital signs of May 25,” Cahill said. “The May 6, 2019, case is relevant only to that extent.”

The defense argued that Floyd took drugs before he was restrained by Chauvin. Floyd had fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system when he died, according to a toxicology report.

A conviction in Texas

Cahill did not grant the defense’s attempt to present evidence of an arrest in August 2007 in Harris County, Texas. According to the defense’s description of the incident, Floyd dressed up as a water department employee and “forcibly entered a home to steal drugs and money.”

During the robbery, Floyd put a gun on a woman’s abdomen, “allowed her to be pistol-whipped by an accomplice and demanded drugs and money,” the defense wrote

Floyd was convicted of aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon, the defense wrote.

How will the jury interpret prior incidents?

Mary Moriarty, a former Hennepin County chief public defender, said she believes Chauvin’s prior incidents are more damaging to the defense than Floyd’s arrest is to the prosecution.

Moriarty said she is concerned the jury could misuse the 2019 incident, concluding there is a pattern to Floyd’s behavior when dealing with police. Whether Chauvin is guilty of murder is not tied to Floyd’s “propensity to be ingesting drugs or to be arrested by police,” she said.

Joe Friedberg, a longtime Minnesota criminal defense attorney, said he believes Floyd’s behavior during the 2019 arrest will influence the jury “because he is acting exactly the same way.”

Moriarty said Cahill will give jurors instructions explaining the limits of the evidence.

As for Chauvin’s prior acts, Moriarty said, “You’re not allowed to use that kind of evidence (to say), ‘Chauvin always does this. He’s a bad guy. This is how he interacts.'”

Follow USA TODAY National Correspondent Tami Abdollah, who is covering the Derek Chauvin trial, at @latams

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