EXPLAINER: Judge lets jury decide Floyd’s remark about drugs

National

In this image from video, defense attorney Eric Nelson, left, with defendant former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin, prepares to question a witness as Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill presides, Wednesday, April 7, 2021, in the trial of Chauvin at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minn. Chauvin is charged in the May 25, 2020 death of George Floyd. (Court TV via AP, Pool)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The judge overseeing the trial of a former Minneapolis police officer in the death of George Floyd said Monday that he’ll leave it up to the jury to sort out whether Floyd yelled “I ate too many drugs” or “I ain’t do no drugs” as three officers pinned him to the ground.

Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill made the ruling as attorneys argued over whether to allow the testimony of a use-of-force expert for the prosecution, Seth Stoughton, a professor at the University of South Carolina Law School. Prosecutors wanted him to testify from an academic perspective on whether Chauvin used reasonable force and about national policing standards.

Prosecutor Steve Schleicher also asked Cahill to allow Stoughton to tell the jury about his separate analysis of what Floyd said in theaudio clip that was played for the jury last Wednesday. He said Stoughton would testify that he couldn’t tell what Floyd said, despite listening several times. The prosecutor also wanted to play the jury a slowed-down, subtitled version of the clip to back up the professor’s testimony.

Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson objected to allowing that testimony or the slowed-down clip. He argued prosecutors dropped that plan on the defense just last Friday and that he hadn’t been given enough time to prepare a response.

Part of Nelson’s strategy for defending Chauvin against murder and manslaughter charges has been to sow reasonable doubt and deflect responsibility for Floyd’s death last May 25 away from Chauvin — a white officer who prosecutors say knelt on the Black man’s neck for 9 1/2 minutes — and onto Floyd himself for using illegal drugs. An autopsy found fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system, though prosecution experts testified last week and again Monday that the drugs didn’t kill Floyd.

Nelson first played the short clip with the disputed quote, which came from another officer’s body camera video, during the testimony of Jody Stiger, a Los Angeles Police Department sergeant who served as a prosecution use-of-force expert. The video shows a chaotic and noisy scene as Floyd, handcuffed and laying on his stomach, yelled and moaned in distress.

“Does it sound like he says, ‘I ate too many drugs?’” Nelson asked.

“I can’t make that out,” Stiger replied. Nelson let the subject drop with Stiger, but replayed the clip and posed the question again for the lead investigator from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Senior Special Agent James Reyerson.

The agent agreed with Nelson that that’s what Floyd appeared to say.

But prosecutor Matthew Frank wasn’t going to let that stand. He got Reyerson to say he had not closely listened to that passage before. After a break to regroup, Frank then replayed a longer clip from the same body cam video,

“Having heard it in context, you’re able to tell what Mr. Floyd is saying there?” Frank asked.

“I believe Mr. Floyd was saying, ‘I ain’t do no drugs,’” Reyerson replied.

Cahill said Monday that he would allow limited testimony from Stoughton on his view that Chauvin’s use of force violated national standards. But he agreed with Nelson that it should be up jurors to decide what Floyd actually said, if they think it’s important. He also said he was surprised that prosecutors didn’t object when Nelson brought up the clip last week.

“The video is what it is. The jury can listen to it. They can make up their own mind,” Cahill said.

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