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Defense lawyer: Restraint didn’t kill Floyd, ill health and drug abuse did

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Defense lawyer: Restraint didn't kill Floyd, ill health and drug abuse did

The defense attorney for former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is arguing that George Floyd died from chronic health problems exacerbated by drug abuse, not because of the restraint the officer used on him.

Eric Nelson filed motions late Friday in Hennepin County District Court on behalf of Chauvin, one of four officers charged in the May 25 death of the 46-year-old Floyd. Nelson also is seeking to change the location of the trial.

Throughout his interaction with Floyd, “Chauvin exuded a calm and professional demeanor” as well as a concern for the potential risks of the restraint he used on him, Nelson wrote.

Chauvin, the officer seen kneeling on Floyd’s neck, faces one count each of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Three other former officers, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao, are charged with aiding and abetting manslaughter and murder.

In his 27-page motion, Nelson noted there was no bruising or tissue damage to Floyd’s neck or back. “Chauvin was clearly being cautious about the amount of pressure he used to restrain Mr. Floyd — cautious enough to prevent bruising,” Nelson wrote, adding that a bystander video showed Floyd raising his head several times while he was on the ground, something Nelson said he would not have been able to do if Chauvin had his neck fully pinned.

Images from the police training manual as well as the scene of Floyd’s death were included with the court filing. Motions to dismiss are standard practice in criminal cases, but this one also provides a detailed preview of arguments Nelson is likely to make at trial — if one is held.

Judge Peter Cahill will hear arguments on the motions Sept. 11.

The state also has filed several motions, including one signaling that it will seek an extended sentence for the officers if they are convicted at trial scheduled for March 2021.

Chauvin and his partner were the third and fourth officers on the scene. Kueng and Lane were the first to confront Floyd outside Cup Foods in south Minneapolis. The two responded to a 911 call from a store clerk alleging that Floyd had paid with a counterfeit $20 bill, a felony.

What Chauvin saw when he arrived on the scene with his partner Thao was a “strong man struggling mightily with police officers, which seemed contradictory to Mr. Floyd’s claims about not being able to breathe,” Nelson wrote, adding that Floyd was “handcuffed and acting erratically. Continued struggle posed a risk of injury to Mr. Floyd and, potentially, to officers.”

Nelson noted that the officers discussed but did not use a hobble restraint on Floyd because doing so would have made it harder to move him into the ambulance. “Chauvin demonstrated a concern for Mr. Floyd’s well-being — not an intent to inflict harm,” Nelson wrote.

Recordings from the body-worn cameras of Kueng and Lane as well as toxicology results from Floyd’s autopsy indicate he had ingested fentanyl just before his arrest — something that would have been problematic given his underlying health, Nelson wrote.

“He was a daily smoker of cigarettes. His heart was at the ‘upper limit of size’ due to untreated hypertension. Mr. Floyd suffered from arteriosclerotic and hypertensive heart disease,” Nelson wrote.

Floyd also told officers he had recently recovered from COVID-19 and was still positive for the virus at the time of his death, the memo said. Floyd also had been addicted to opiates for years and was under the influence of narcotics when he died.

Nelson wrote that he wasn’t attacking Floyd’s character by mentioning drug use but that “the most likely cause” of his death was “fentanyl or a combination of fentanyl and methamphetamine in concert with his underlying health conditions.”

When Hennepin County Medical Examiner Andrew Baker briefed prosecutors on the results of Floyd’s autopsy, he said, “If [Floyd] were found dead at home alone” with no evidence of other causes, it would have been “acceptable” to label his death a drug overdose.

Fentanyl overdoses have been certified at levels significantly lower than the amount Floyd had in his body, Nelson wrote.

Twitter: @rochelleolson

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