Monday’s George Floyd trial proceedings saw a significant battle over two evidence issues and multiple witnesses. Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo testified for the prosecution against his former officer, Derek Chauvin. Arradondo was joined by the ER doctor who treated Mr. Floyd and the officer in charge of police training for the city. Chauvin’s training and evidence surrounding it made for consequential rulings in the case from Judge Peter Cahill, generally benefitting the defense.
Self Serving Hearsay
The first business of the day was a contest over video and audio admissibility from Chauvin’s body-worn camera and microphone. The defense wants the entirety of the footage from Chauvin’s encounter with Mr. Floyd introduced. On the other hand, prosecutors seek to restrict it because they can’t challenge Mr. Chauvin about statements he made unless he testifies, which he almost certainly will not do. The prosecution argued admitting the videos amounted to an opportunity for Chauvin to testify without having to take the stand, effectively making his recorded statements hearsay. Benefits to the defense of Chauvin avoiding the stand would include not having to make statements under oath and not facing cross-examination.
Judge Cahill split the baby, allowing some of the footage while denying another section. For the admissible video, the judge overruled prosecutors’ hearsay objections. He said that since the video was being introduced simply to show Mr. Chauvin’s behavior, and not to present any statement of Chauvin’s captured on the microphone as true, it could be used. Cahill ruled the footage “is relevant, because it shows Mr. Chauvin’s demeanor and his actions immediately following Mr. Floyd being removed to the hospital, and I think that is relevant for the jury to see …”
Video from Chauvin’s camera captured after that segment was ruled inadmissible. This footage shows several officers talking to one another about the incident after Mr. Floyd was transported away. The officers’ conversation after the struggle is irrelevant for the jury, per Cahill.
When the jurors came in for the day, instead of turning to the trial’s regular business, the judge performed a special hearing on juror misconduct. He held the proceedings on the record but ordered the video and audio turned off. Before they were, we could hear the judge swearing in the jurors, with the standard witness oath, “I need everybody to raise your right hand. Do you swear or” before the cut to silence. Why was Judge Cahill questioning jurors under oath? Just shy of five minutes later, the judge announced he found no juror misconduct, and no action will be taken. We will likely have to wait until after the trial to find out what this was about when jurors might be free to speak about it.
Captain, My Captain…
Chief Arradondo is an ambitious police officer who rarely stayed in a single position on the force for more than a couple of years before advancing upward. The police chief is a political appointee who works for Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey. The day after Mr. Floyd’s death, Mayor Frey stated at a news conference, “Being Black in America should not be a death sentence.” His chief did very well. Mr. Arradondo is practically a professional witness at this point in his career and a good one at that.
While it seemed clear to this observer Arradondo was crafting his answers to support the prosecution rather than the defense, he didn’t cross the line into outright advocacy, as some witnesses have done. Minneapolis Star-Tribune print journalist Rochelle Olson, who is one of the rare reporters in the courtroom, said, “Arradondo placed his police hat prominently in front of him on the stand so the gold badge was visible to the jury throughout his testimony.”
Arradondo’s testimony can be summed up thusly – the prosecution elicited all sorts of information about the Minneapolis Police Department’s official policies regarding force. Meanwhile, the defense spent its time forcing the chief to agree that every single rule, policy, best practice, etc., exists with an (often unwritten) asterisk that reads “Unless the situation dictates otherwise.” This is most likely leading up to arguments from the prosecution that Chauvin went against his training, while the defense will argue his actions were perfectly consistent with that training.
It’s been a long week
At one point, defense attorney Eric Nelson responded to a misstatement by saying, “It’s been a long week.” It was unclear to this observer if that was an attempt at irony or a genuine mistake about the day of the week. Either way, the expression is likely particularly true for Nelson, the sole courtroom lawyer for his client Derek Chauvin, while the government has many lawyers handling the prosecution. The attorneys will meet first thing Tuesday for another evidentiary hearing, followed by more witness testimony.
Read more from Scott D. Cosenza.