George Floyd killing: Judge pans 'delirium' defense at ex-cops' state trial

A judge sits behind a microphone with a face mask on.
Judge Peter Cahill listens to statements in June 2021 during the sentencing hearing of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. On Thursday at a pre-trial hearing for two other officers charged with aiding Chauvin in George Floyd's killing, Cahill dismissed the idea of "excited delirium" as justifying the force officers used to subdue Floyd.
MPR News via Court TV

Updated 12:12 p.m.

The judge overseeing the trial of two former Minneapolis police officers charged in George Floyd’s death expressed skepticism Thursday about the concept of “excited delirium” at a hearing Thursday.

It’s a controversial concept that is widely taught to first responders, including police officers. They’re instructed that people suffering from excited delirium are incoherent, strong and sweat profusely.

It came up repeatedly in the previous state and federal trials of the ex-Minneapolis cops who were on the scene that day in May 2020 when Floyd died while in police custody. Defense attorneys had argued Floyd’s “excited delirium” justified the force officers used to subdue Floyd.

On Thursday, however, during the pre-trial hearing for officers Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng, Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill told attorneys that he believes the concept of excited delirium has been “debunked” and that it’s not a “medical term.”

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He said he will allow defense expert witnesses to talk about the general law enforcement standing of what excited delirium is, but that they can’t testify about how it applies to Floyd.

“We’ve got to get away from this excited delirium evidence,” Cahill said, urging the parties to focus on Floyd’s actual causes of death.

Thao and Kueng are set to face state charges that they aided and abetted Floyd’s killing at the hands of then-officer Derek Chauvin, who was convicted last year of murder and manslaughter in Floyd's death.

Neither Thao nor Kueng were in court or remotely attending Thursday’s hearing. They're both in federal prison in other states serving federal sentences tied to Floyd’s death. The two men declined to accept plea deals on the state charges.

Thomas Lane, the third officer facing state aiding abetting charges, previously pleaded guilty.

Beyond dismissing excited delirium as a defense, Cahill on Thursday tentatively granted a prosecution motion to prevent defense attorneys from introducing evidence on what happened during the civil unrest after Floyd's murder, saying it's not relevant to the aiding and abetting case.

He also banned the prosecution from purposely inciting emotional responses in witnesses.

Defense expert witness Shawn Pruchnicki will be allowed to testify about "duty to intervene" and the effectiveness of the training Thao and Kueng received from the Minneapolis Police Department, the judge ruled.

Prosecutors argued Pruchnicki, whose research focuses largely on airline safety and pilot decision-making, wasn't qualified to talk about law enforcement issues.

Cahill said no electronics will be allowed in the courtroom but that journalists covering the trial in the overflow room will be allowed to use them to take notes and post to social media.

Pre-trial motions are expected to continue Thursday and Friday as prosecutors and the defense slog through some 120 motions. Jury selection is expected to begin Oct. 24 with opening statements likely in early November.