The Slatest

Chauvin Defense Argues George Floyd Swallowed Drugs When Police Approached

A courtroom sketch shows an image of George Floyd’s arrest playing on a screen during the trial.
An image of George Floyd’s arrest plays on a screen on the eighth day of the Dereck Chauvin trial. REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg

Derek Chauvin’s defense team spent much of trial day eight on George Floyd’s drug use, which they argue was the true cause of his death. The Chauvin defense contends that Floyd overdosed after hurriedly ingesting the pills he had on him when he was approached by Chauvin and other officers on May 25th because he had a history of doing just that. The defense is simultaneously trying to sow doubt about different technical aspects of the arrest that resulted in Chauvin kneeling on Floyd for more than nine minutes. The defense asserts: Chauvin was, in fact, following police procedure during the arrest and that his use of force was appropriate because it was prolonged by a hostile crowd surrounding the scene; that Chauvin could have reasonably believed Floyd was not in respiratory distress because he was able to speak; and that it’s not totally clear Chauvin actually did apply pressure to Floyd’s neck for the full nine-and-a-half minutes, rather that a closer reading of the footage indicates neck constriction was sporadic during the arrest.

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Floyd’s drug use, and thus the potential to argue that he overdosed, was at the heart of the testimony of McKenzie Anderson, a forensic scientist who processed the squad car that Floyd was briefly held in the night he died. A second search of the vehicle, requested by Chauvin’s defense lawyers in January, eight months after Floyd’s death, turned up fragments of pills that Anderson had not found in the initial search the night of Floyd’s death. The pills had DNA on them that matched Floyd’s. A toxicology report done after Floyd’s death found there was methamphetamine and fentanyl in his system, both of which tests showed were in the recovered pills.

The discovery of the pill fragments heightened the importance of a garbled audio clip of Floyd taken during the arrest by a police body-worn camera. The two sides offered opposing interpretations of the audio. The prosecution said Floyd said “I ain’t do no drugs,” in the clip. The defense claims that Floyd actually said, “I ate too many drugs.” One witness for the prosecution, James Reyerson, the agent in charge of an investigation into George Floyd’s arrest, said he heard both versions after hearing two different renditions. When presented with a longer version of the audio, that included police conversation about drugs, Reyerson ultimately said he believed Floyd to be stating he hadn’t used drugs.

The judge in the case has largely refused the admission of evidence on Floyd’s past as irrelevant to the current case. Based on the January discovery of pill fragments, however, an oversight he described as “mind-boggling,” he allowed the defense to present evidence about a similar traffic stop of Floyd in 2019 where Floyd swallowed several pain killers at the time of arrest. The line of evidence is part of the defense’s assertion that Floyd had a history of ingesting drugs when approached by police, which ultimately could have resulted in his death.

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