Prosecutors in the case against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin want to present at trial a pattern of behavior that they say proves intent to harm George Floyd when he knelt on his neck for about nine minutes.
According to a court document filed this week by the office of the Minnesota Attorney General, Chauvin practiced the same level of force when he knelt on a teenage boy’s back for 17 minutes as he responded to a domestic assault call three years earlier.
Prosecutors say they’ve obtained body camera footage from that Sept. 4, 2017, incident in which Chauvin and another officer responded to the call where a mother alleged she was assaulted by her two children and asked officers to remove them from the home.
The court document describes footage in which Chauvin talked to the mother for about 36 minutes before he went to look for her son. He then found the 14-year-old son lying on the floor in his bedroom looking at his phone. Chauvin and another officer told him to stand up because he was under arrest. The boy refused and added that his mother was drunk and assaulted him.
The court filing says the child tried to talk with officers about his mother, but they yelled at him to stand up. The officers quickly grabbed him and Chauvin hit the child in the head with his flashlight.
Two seconds later, Chauvin grabbed the boy’s throat and struck him again in the head with the flashlight.
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“The child cried out that they were hurting him, and to stop, and called out ‘mom,’” according to the filing.
Chauvin applied a neck restraint, causing the child to temporarily pass out and fall to the ground. The officers placed him in the prone position and handcuffed him behind his back while his mother pleaded with the officers not to kill her son and told her son to stop resisting.
“About a minute after going to the ground, the child began repeatedly telling the officers that he could not breathe, and his mother told Chauvin to take his knee off her son,” prosecutors wrote. They added that the mother asked Chauvin to take his knee off her son four times because her son couldn’t breathe, but that Chauvin maintained his position and replied that her son, who Chauvin described as 6 feet, 2 inches tall and at least 240 pounds, was “a big guy.”
Prosecutors say the body camera footage showed Chauvin was kneeling on the 14-year-old boy’s back for a total of 17 minutes despite repeated requests by the teenager to turn him on his back because he couldn’t breathe.
Prosecutors argue that this incident from Chauvin’s past is relevant to his trial in the killing of Floyd because it shows intent to harm. Chauvin faces intentional second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the Memorial Day killing.
“Chauvin grabbed the child by the throat, forced him to the ground in the prone position, and placed his knee on the child’s neck with so much force that the child began to cry out in pain and tell Chauvin he could not breathe,” prosecutors wrote. “And just like with Floyd, Chauvin ignored those pleas and refused to provide medical assistance.”
Minnesota’s second-degree unintentional murder statute requires proof that a person caused the death of another “without intent to effect the death of any person, while intentionally inflicting or attempting to inflict bodily harm upon the victim.”
Prosecutors argue that the incident with the 14-year-old teen shows Chauvin has a pattern of using excessive force, immediately disregarding the circumstances and resorting to physical restraint when faced with someone who’s resisting arrest.
But in his response, Chauvin’s defense attorney Eric Nelson explained that Chauvin’s actions at the time of the 2017 incident were allowed under Minneapolis Police Department policy at the time because he was dealing with a person who’s actively resisting arrest.
“The state makes a point of noting that the suspect was rolled onto his stomach and cuffed while Mr. Chauvin used his knee and body weight to pin the suspect to the floor,” Nelson wrote. “As noted previously, this is how MPD officers are trained to handcuff individuals — particularly suspects who are resisting.”
Nelson also argues that using previous incidents to show intent is not appropriate in this case because intent to restrain Floyd is not disputed. It’s about whether Chauvin’s intent to use excessive force was authorized by law.
Chauvin’s trial is set to start in March in Minneapolis. Hennepin County District Judge Peter A. Cahill has ordered that it would be live streamed.