By Shaila Dewan
Derek Chauvin’s defense hinges on an argument that George Floyd’s drug use, not Mr. Chauvin’s knee, caused his death. To that end, the defense asked permission to present an arrest of Mr. Floyd in May 2019 — exposing jurors to Mr. Floyd’s history of interactions with law enforcement.
Judge Peter Cahill, who has maintained that Mr. Floyd’s past actions are largely irrelevant to the case, initially said no.
But a second search of Squad 320, the patrol car that George Floyd was briefly put into on the evening he died, prompted the judge to change his mind.
The 2019 arrest began with a traffic stop. While in custody, Mr. Floyd told officers that he had swallowed several tablets of Percocet, a strong narcotic. He was taken to the hospital.
The defense argued that the arrest was remarkably similar to the episode that led to his death a year later.
In January, Mr. Chauvin’s lawyers requested to inspect Squad 320, and the group spotted what turned out to be fragments of pills containing methamphetamine and Mr. Floyd’s DNA.
The evidence supported the defense contention that in both arrests, Mr. Floyd ingested drugs when the police approached.
On that basis, Judge Cahill agreed to allow the defense to present a portion of the police body camera video from 2019 and testimony from the paramedic who treated Mr. Floyd. But he said the defense could not argue that Mr. Floyd had a pattern of swallowing pills in order to be taken to the hospital instead of jail.
So far, no explanation has been given as to why the drugs were not found the first time. The judge called the oversight “mind-boggling.”
The second search of the car was addressed briefly in the questioning of Agent James Ryerson of the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which conducted the investigation of Mr. Floyd’s death, and will doubtless come up again with McKenzie Anderson, who was in charge of the vehicle searches, on the stand.
In court on Wednesday, Eric Nelson, the defense lawyer, repeatedly played video of Mr. Floyd crying out, asking witnesses if Mr. Floyd was saying, “I ate too many drugs.” One witness, Sgt. Jody Stiger of the Los Angeles Police Department, a use-of-force expert, said Mr. Floyd’s words were unintelligible.
When questioned by Mr. Nelson, Agent Reyerson first agreed that he had heard those words, but when asked again by prosecutors, he said he thought Mr. Floyd might be shouting, “I ain’t do no drugs.”
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