The police officer who knelt on George Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes before his death has appeared in person in court for the first time since the May 25 killing, and was heckled as he was escorted to a corrections department SUV afterwards.
Derek Chauvin, 44, has been charged with murder and is currently being held in custody, while three other officers are free on bail.
On Friday he was present in court for the first time, having previously appeared via videolink.
Wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, face mask and handcuffs, he was led away by correction officers after the three hour hearing, as protesters near the court shouted abuse at him.
During the hearing, the judge presiding over the case on Friday dismissed the local prosecutor from the murder trial, accusing him and his team of ‘sloppy’ work.
Mike Freeman, Hennepin County attorney, was removed from the case along with the three other members of his team.
Derek Chauvin, who knelt on George Floyd’s neck, was seen for the first time on Friday
Chauvin, 44, had not been seen in public since the May 25 killing of George Floyd
The 46-year-old security guard, was born in Texas but moved to Minneapolis for a fresh start
Judge Peter Cahill said that Freeman acted in error by sending his staff to speak to the medical examiners following George Floyd’s May 25 death, without having any independent witnesses to their discussion.
‘It was sloppy not to have someone present,’ said Cahill.
‘Those four attorneys are off the case. They are now witnesses.’
The medical examiner’s verdict is expected to play a key, and highly controversial, role in the trial.
Four police officers are charged over George Floyd’s death, pictured with lawyers in court
Protesters lay on the ground for 8 minutes 46 seconds – the time Chauvin’s knee was on Floyd
Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died while being arrested for using a counterfeit $20 bill.
Chauvin, who is white, knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes, causing Floyd to pass out, while three other officers were also involved in the arrest.
Chauvin, 44, has been charged with first degree murder, and is the only one of the four still being held in custody.
Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao have all been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter, and are free on bail.
George Floyd, 46, died on May 25
The Hennepin County medical examiner’s office said Floyd experienced cardiopulmonary arrest while being restrained by the officer.
Their autopsy said Floyd had ‘other significant conditions’ including coronary artery disease and hypertensive heart disease, plus ‘fentanyl intoxication; [and] recent methamphetamine use.’
An independent autopsy conducted by Dr Allecia Wilson and Dr Michael Baden, commissioned by the family, said he died as a direct result of the way he was arrested.
They found that sustained pressure impeded blood flow to the brain, and Chauvin’s weight on Floyd’s back impeded his ability to breathe.
Demonstrators in Minneapolis have long called for Freeman to be removed, arguing that he was slow to react to Floyd’s death, and has not pursued the case with sufficient vigor and transparency.
Friday’s hearing was the first time that all four officers were present in court.
Judge Peter Cahill held Friday’s hearing to discuss issues including changing trial venue
Thomas Lane, front, and J. Keung, behind him, pictured leaving court on Friday, are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter, and are free on bail
On Friday the session was held to discuss various issues in the case, including whether the trial should be moved out of the county, whether the defendants should be tried in one trial or separately, and how jurors will be selected, among other issues.
Judge Cahill has not yet ruled on those motions – his decision to remove Freeman being the sole outcome of the hearing.
Prosecutors say witnesses and Floyd´s family members would likely be traumatized by multiple trials, and it would be more efficient and in the interest of justice to hold one proceeding.
But defense attorneys are pushing for separate trials, saying they are likely to offer ‘antagonistic’ defenses, and evidence against one officer could negatively impact another’s right to a fair trial.
Attempts at finger-pointing are already prevalent throughout court filings in the case.
Attorneys for Lane and Kueng have argued that their clients were rookies, who were following Chauvin’s lead.
Thao’s attorney, Bob Paule, has said that his client’s role was ‘absolutely distinct’ from the others, because he was on crowd control and was securing the scene – while the other three restrained Floyd.
Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, also wrote that his client’s case is different.
Nelson said prosecutors must prove Chauvin intended to assault Floyd, but they must also show that the other officers knew of Chauvin’s intent before it happened.
As a result, he said, Chauvin will have to defend himself differently.
‘The other defendants are clearly saying that, if a crime was committed, they neither knew about it nor assisted in it,’ Nelson wrote. ‘They blame Chauvin.’
But Chauvin also points fingers at the others.
Protesters had gathered outside the Family Justice Center in Minneapolis on Friday
Nelson wrote that Lane and Kueng – the officers who responded to a forgery call – initiated contact with Floyd before Chauvin and Thao arrived, and that Chauvin believes Floyd was overdosing on fentanyl.
Nelson wrote that while Lane and Kueng called for a paramedic and believed Floyd was ‘on something,’ they didn’t elevate the call to one of more urgency or give medical assistance.
‘Instead, they struggled to subdue Mr. Floyd and force him into their squad car, likely exacerbating his condition considerably,’ Nelson wrote, adding that Chauvin could reasonably argue that their inaction led to Floyd’s death.
‘If EMS had arrived just three minutes sooner, Mr. Floyd may have survived. If Kueng and Lane had chosen to de-escalate instead of struggle, Mr. Floyd may have survived. If Kueng and Lane had recognized the apparent signs of an opioid overdose and rendered aid, such as administering naloxone, Mr. Floyd may have survived,’ Nelson wrote.
Attorneys for all four men have also asked that the trial be moved from Minneapolis, saying that pretrial publicity has made it impossible for them to receive a fair trial.
Bob Paule, Thao’s attorney, said in a court filing that the state has tainted the jury pool by calling Floyd’s death a ‘murder.’
Paule also cites protests that caused millions of dollars of damage in Minneapolis, saying an impartial jury can´t be found in Hennepin County because jurors would ‘shoulder the weight of their decision creating further rioting and destruction.
Cahill said it was premature to decide whether to move the trial. He said he wanted to send a questionnaire to potential jurors to see how they had been affected by media coverage, and whether a fair jury could be selected in Hennepin County.
Cahill said he was leaning toward having an anonymous jury, citing potential security threats. The judge said a trial would likely last six weeks, including two weeks for jury selection.
Outside the courthouse, protesters staged a symbolic ‘die-in’, lying on the ground, for eight minutes 46 seconds – the time Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck.
After the hearing, attorneys representing Floyd’s family held a press conference.
Ben Crump, a prominent civil rights lawyer, criticized the defense attorneys’ suggestions that Floyd had died of an overdose.
Ben Crump, representing Floyd’s family, has criticized suggestions Floyd died of an overdose
‘The only overdoes was an overdose of police force,’ he said.
‘The world saw what happened.
‘Who are you going to believe? Your eyes, or these killer cops?’