Chauvin's actions justified and reasonable, defense expert testifies

Chao Xiong, Paul Walsh and Rochelle Olson, Star Tribune
·7 min read

A longtime police instructor testified Tuesday that former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was justified in kneeling on George Floyd for more than nine minutes because he resisted arrest and struggled with officers.

Barry Brodd, a use-of-force expert hired by Chauvin's defense, told the court that placing a suspect stomach-down on the ground is a "control technique" and not use-of-force because it does not cause pain. He called the position "prone control" while prosecutors have repeatedly called it "prone restraint."

"I felt that Derek Chauvin was justified and acting with objective reasonableness following Minneapolis Police Department policy and current standards of law enforcement in his interactions with Mr. Floyd," Brodd said.

Brodd was among five witnesses who testified Tuesday, the first day Chauvin's defense began calling witnesses in the trial now entering its sixth week.

Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Brodd buttressed several defense strategies by testifying that officers must take the totality of the circumstances into consideration when using force, that a crowd of bystanders posed a potential threat to officers, and that compliant suspects can suddenly become noncompliant and dangerous.

"I can't imagine how many times I've been exposed to personally or seen other officers dealing with a traffic stop or jaywalking or some minor offense and they end up in a fight for their life because of the conduct of the individual," said Brodd, who served 22 years with the Santa Rosa Police Department before retiring in 2004.

However, during cross-examination from prosecutor Steve Schleicher, Brodd made statements that could be favorable to the state. Brodd testified that a suspect's large stature or drug use were not automatic grounds to use force, that several bystanders did not appear threatening, and that Chauvin verbally acknowledged Floyd when he complained of experiencing pain in his neck and stomach.

Schleicher attempted to cast doubt on Brodd's assessment of Floyd's conduct.

"Based on your view of the defendant kneeling on Mr. Floyd …the defendant did not alter the level of force that he was using on Mr. Floyd, did he?" Schleicher asked.

"No," Brodd responded.

"Even though Mr. Floyd had become as you put, at this point, compliant, fair?" Schleicher asked.

"More compliant, yes," Brodd said.

"Well, what part of this is not compliant?" Schleicher asked.

"…A compliant person would have both their hands in the small of their back and just be resting comfortably, vs. like he's still moving around," Brodd said.

"Did you say resting comfortably?" Schleicher asked.

"Or laying comfortably," Brodd answered.

"Resting comfortably on the pavement?" Schleicher asked.

"Yes."

"At this point in time when he's attempting to breathe by shoving his shoulder into the pavement?" the prosecutor asked.

"I was describing what the signs of a perfectly compliant person would be," Brodd said.

Brodd is the defense's key use-of-force witness aimed at countering the testimony of several prosecution witnesses, including Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, who previously testified that Chauvin used excessive force and an unsanctioned maneuver when he knelt on Floyd's neck last May 25.

Under direct questioning from Chauvin's attorney, Eric Nelson, Brodd relayed a hypothetical domestic violence incident he has taught students where an individual is Tased, falls to ground and strikes his head. The incident isn't deadly force; it's an accidental death, Brodd testified.

Brodd told the court that Floyd's death was not the result of deadly force.

"Police officers don't have to fight fair," he said, adding that officers can escalate their use-of-force up a level from the force they're facing.

Nelson has argued that Floyd likely died of a drug overdose and pre-existing health issues, including heart disease. The county medical examiner ruled Floyd's cause of death "cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression." The medical examiner listed hardening and thickening of the artery walls, heart disease and drug use as "other significant conditions." Fentanyl and methamphetamine were found in Floyd's system.

Brodd said it's important "to put yourself in the officer's shoes. It's easy to sit in an office and judge an officer's conduct."

Brodd testified that police used force in getting Floyd into the back of a squad and then in positioning him on the street after he fell out the other side of the vehicle. But, he added, once Floyd was on the ground, the "prone control" position was not a use of force.

"It's a control technique," Brodd said. "It doesn't hurt."

Former officers J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane first encountered Floyd and tried to get him in their squad. Chauvin arrived to assist.

Kueng knelt on Floyd's buttocks and thigh area while Lane knelt and held onto his legs. Former officer Tou Thao kept a crowd of angry bystanders at bay. Kueng, Lane and Thao are scheduled to be tried Aug. 23 with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter.

All four defendants, who were fired, are out on bond.

Other factors supported Chauvin keeping Floyd on the pavement, Brodd said.

"In this situation there were space limitations, Mr. Floyd was butted up against patrol car, there was traffic still driving down the street, there were crowd issues that took the attention of the officers and Mr. Floyd was still somewhat resisting, so I think those were all valid reasons to keep him in the prone," he said.

During cross examination, Schleicher walked Brodd through several video clips taken from police bodycam footage and cellphone video recorded by bystander Darnella Frazier. He also showed a still image of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd's neck.

Brodd repeatedly disputed Schleicher's definition of "on top" when the prosecutor asked him multiple times if Chauvin was "on top" of Floyd. Brodd said "on top" meant laying his full body atop of Floyd, but eventually conceded the point.

Brodd testified that Chauvin kept himself in the same general position as Floyd "is becoming more compliant." He also described one of Floyd's arms as "resting comfortably" on the pavement. The state has noted that Floyd used his arms, a hand and a shoulder to ease his breathing under the weight of the officers.

Schleicher reacted to Brodd's characterization of Floyd's arm and asked, "Struggling to breathe is being noncompliant?" No, Brodd said.

Under redirect from Nelson, Brodd said the clips Schleicher played showed "highlights" and not the full sequence of events.

"He's a very strong individual," Brodd said of Floyd, noting how three officers struggled to get him in the squad's back seat.

Earlier in the day, Shawanda Hill testified that she ran into Floyd, her ex-boyfriend, inside Cup Foods last May. He appeared "happy, normal, talking, alert," she said.

But when they went to his vehicle so he could drive her home, he fell asleep, she said, adding that he was tired because he had been working.

Hill testified that she awakened Floyd to warn him that a Minneapolis officer was at his window with a gun drawn. Lane and Kueng were investigating the use of a fake $20 bill to buy cigarettes.

" 'Baby, that's the police. Roll down the window,' " Hill said she told Floyd. " … The man had a gun at the window. [Floyd] instantly grabbed the wheel, and he said, 'Please, please don't shoot me.' "

Nelson has tried to show that Floyd's behavior before and during his encounter with police was affected by drugs, which put the officers on alert.

Hill said she saw nothing to indicate Floyd was having health problems such as shortness of breath or chest pains.

Minneapolis Park Police officer Peter Chang also testified, telling the court he arrived at the scene to watch over Floyd's car and two passengers. He said bystanders were "loud" and "very aggressive" toward the other officers.

Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank tried to quash the notion of a dangerous crowd.

"They never radioed for help, did they?" Frank asked of the other officers' reaction to the crowd.

"No," Chang said.

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