The Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, on trial for the death of George Floyd "betrayed" his badge and used "excessive and unreasonable" force, a prosecutor said in the opening remarks.

A demonstrator holds a sign during a news conference outside the Hennepin County Government Center, on March 29, 2021.
A demonstrator holds a sign during a news conference outside the Hennepin County Government Center, on March 29, 2021. (Jim Mone / AP)

The trial of a former Minneapolis police officer charged in George Floyd's death is underway.

The judge briefed the jurors on their duties ahead of opening statements on Monday in the case that sparked waves of outrage across the US and beyond after bystander video showed Derek Chauvin press his knee to Floyd's neck for about nine minutes.

Legal experts said they expect prosecutors to play the video to the jury early on to remind jurors of what is at the heart of their case.

READ MORE: Police ignored George Floyd's warning he was dying and couldn't breathe

'Excessive and unreasonable' force

Chauvin "betrayed" his badge and used "excessive and unreasonable" force, a prosecutor Jerry Blackwell said in his opening statement.

"You will learn that on May 25 of 2020 Mr Derek Chauvin betrayed his badge when he used excessive and unreasonable force upon the body of Mr George Floyd," he said.

"That he put his knees upon his neck and his back, grinding and crushing him, until the very breath, no ladies and gentlemen, until the very life was squeezed out of him," Blackwell said.

'I can't breathe'

Prosecutors have played the video early on in the trial, in the prosecution's opening statement, as they seek to remind jurors of what is at the heart of their case.

“If you’re a prosecutor you want to start off strong. You want to frame the argument –– and nothing frames the argument in this case as much as that video,” said Jeffrey Cramer, a former federal prosecutor and managing director of Berkeley Research Group in Chicago.

READ MORE: Two jurors dismissed from George Floyd's death trial after $27M settlement

Floyd, 46, was declared dead after Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for about nine minutes. He held his position even as Floyd's “I can't breathe” cries faded and he went limp as he was handcuffed and lying on his stomach.

Chauvin, 45, is charged with unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter.

Almost all of the jurors selected during more than two weeks of questioning said they had seen at least parts of the video, and several acknowledged it gave them at least a somewhat negative view of Chauvin. But they said they could set that aside.

READ MORE: US police officer charged in George Floyd's death released on bail

Outside the courthouse on Monday ahead of opening statements Floyd family attorney Ben Crump said that the trial would be a test of “whether America is going to live up to the Declaration of Independence." He blasted the idea that it would be a tough test for jurors.

“For all those people that continue to say that this is such a difficult trial, that this is a hard trial, we refute that," he said. "We know that if George Floyd was a white American citizen, and he suffered this painful, torturous death with a police officer’s knee on his neck, nobody, nobody, would be saying this is a hard case.”

The trial is expected to last about four weeks at the courthouse in downtown Minneapolis, which has been fortified with concrete barriers, fencing, and barbed and razor wire.
City and state leaders are determined to prevent a repeat of damaging riots that followed Floyd’s death, and National Guard troops have already been mobilized.

The key questions at trial will be whether Chauvin caused Floyd’s death and whether his actions were reasonable.

For the unintentional second-degree murder charge, prosecutors have to prove Chauvin’s conduct was a “substantial causal factor” in Floyd’s death, and that Chauvin was committing felony assault at the time. For third-degree murder, they must prove that Chauvin’s actions caused Floyd’s death, and were reckless and without regard for human life.

The manslaughter charge requires proof that Chauvin caused Floyd’s death through negligence that created an unreasonable risk.

Unintentional second-degree murder is punishable by up to 40 years in prison in Minnesota, with up to 25 years for third-degree murder, but sentencing guidelines suggest that Chauvin would face 12 1/2 years in prison if convicted on either charge. Manslaughter has a maximum 10-year sentence.

After jury instructions, prosecutors will begin with their opening statement, providing a road map of their case and telling jurors what they can expect to see at trial, said Mike Brandt, a local defence attorney who is watching the case closely.
'Modern-day lynching'
Chauvin’s defence attorney, Eric Nelson, will likely use his opening statement to push back on what prosecutors say, and tell jurors that medical testimony and use of force experts will show a different view. Nelson has made clear that the defence will make an issue of Floyd swallowing drugs before his arrest, seeking to convince the jury that he was at least partially responsible for his death.

The county medical examiner's autopsy noted fentanyl and methamphetamine in Floyd's system, but listed his cause of death as “cardiopulmonary arrest, complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression.”

READ MORE: Britain's Banksy depicts US flag on fire in Floyd tribute

The panel of 15 jurors includes nine people who are white and six who are Black or multiracial, according to the court. Jury selection took more than two weeks, as jurors were questioned individually about their views on police, racial justice issues and pretrial publicity in the case.

On Sunday night, national civil rights leaders appeared at a prayer service alongside several of Floyd’s family members. Several dozen attendees congregated in the benches at Greater Friendship Missionary Church. The speakers called for justice in Floyd’s death, mirroring the words spoken by leaders during a protest earlier Sunday in downtown Minneapolis.

“This case to us is a slam dunk, because we know the video is the proof, it's all you need,” Floyd's brother Philonise said Monday on NBC's “Today” show. “The guy was kneeling on my brother’s neck ... a guy who was sworn in to protect. He killed my brother in broad daylight. That was a modern-day lynching.”

Source: AP