Santa Barbara County officials respond to the death of George Floyd
The trial of Derek Chauvin, the officer whose knees pressed into George Floyd’s neck and back in a viral video last May, began Monday morning.
Prosecuters are charging the former police officer with second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
The alleged murder occured in Minneapolis, though the ramifications were felt internationally. Protests made headlines, even locally, and the Santa Barbara Police Department banned the use of the carotid restraint (where an officer wraps an arm around the subject’s head but does put the subject in a choke hold).
The restraint employed by Mr. Chauvin is not a carotid restraint, and the trial’s opening statements circled whether the method was excessive.
“Officers take an oath when they become police officers,” Prosecuting Attorney Jerry Blackwell said.
“They take an oath that I will enforce the law courteously and appropriately and as you will learn, as it applies to this case, never employing unnecessary force or violence. … On May 25, 2020, Mr. Derek Chauvin betrayed his badge when he used excessive and unreasonable force upon the body of George Floyd when he put his knees on 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.”
Mr. Blackwell, who is assisting prosecution pro bono, opened with a statement condemning Mr. Chauvin’s actions as improper policing. He noted that bystanders were so appalled at the use of force that they called the police on the police.
Defense Attorney Eric Nelson implied that Mr. Chauvin’s response was reasonable, focusing on Mr. Floyd’s large stature and drug use. His statement accused Mr. Floyd more than it defended Mr. Chauvin.
“What you will learn is that when an officer responds to what is sometimes a routine and minimal event, it often evolves into a greater and more serious event. … You will learn that Derek Chauvin did exactly what he had been trained to do over the course of his 19-year career,” he said. “The use of force is not attractive, but it is a necessary component of policing.”
Days after Mr. Floyd’s death, then Police Chief Lori Luhnow released a statement that remains on the Santa Barbara Police Department homepage today. She said the death was “preventable and should not have happened.”
Interim Police Chief Bernard Melekian told the News-Press the death of Mr. Floyd was “a tragedy,” also acknowledging racial inequities.
“It was a tragedy for Mr. Floyd and his family; it was a tragedy for the African-American community who were reminded in the most brutal of terms of the historical inequities related to that community’s relationship with the police, and it was a tragedy for American law enforcement officers where the many who are committed to the principles of democratic policing were condemned for the actions of a few,” he said Monday in a statement.
“Mr. Floyd’s death forces us to acknowledge that four decades of hard work will not erase four centuries of history.”
Joyce Dudley, the Santa Barbara County district attorney, talked to the News-Press Monday about her reaction to the use of force she saw in a viral video of Mr. Floyd’s death.
“Rarely do you have a video from the time that an alleged crime occurred to the time the crime ended. And everybody has seen it,” she said. “I’ve never seen a murder recorded before, so this is really unprecedented.”
National broadcasts include sobering clips from the video, the side of Mr. Floyd’s face pressed into the pavement as onlookers yelled, “Get off” and “He’s not responsive.”
“The same 8.5 minutes that everyone else saw, it looks like excessive force to me, and it looks like murder to me,” District Attorney Dudley said. “But I’m not a juror, and I don’t know all of the evidence.”
She noted that an autopsy is pivotal to the result of trial.
In his opening statement, Prosecuting Attorney Blackwell said the autopsy found “all telltale signs of struggling from not receiving oxygen.” He acknowledged Mr. Floyd’s struggle with opioids, but said it was not the cause of death.
But Defense Attorney Nelson questioned the validity of the autopsy. He frequently addressed the presence of drugs.
Technical glitches ended the broadcast of the trial at around 2:30 p.m. Monday, so the trial adjourned in correlation with the ability to stream.
“I’m always happy to see trials being broadcast. The more our community sees the criminal justice system, the more knowledgeable and safer we will be,” Ms. Dudley said. “Everything that happens in this trial is worth meaningful conversation locally.”