Minneapolis police officers will not get a fair trial without the presence of TV cameras in the courtroom, which will give the public details that will be seen by jurors.
I’ve surprised myself by writing the opening sentence since I’ve generally been opposed to the presence of cameras in court due to grandstanding and theatrics that can take place. But thus far, leaders in Minneapolis have done nothing to exhibit a sense of transparency.
As everyone knows, we are living in a moment of time when everything has changed. The four former Minneapolis police officers have already been convicted in the court of public opinion; not just by radicals, but the general public and many law enforcement leaders as well.
Very few people had the courage to say, “Hold on a second, let’s wait for the investigation to unfold.” No, public perception was quickly formed by an incomplete 8 minute, 46 second viral video. People couldn’t get in line fast enough; not just to condemn four Minneapolis police officers, but the entire institution of law enforcement. Now, just a few months later, irreversible changes have been made as exonerating evidence continues to become public, while violent radicals seek to destroy a nation.
So how can four cops get a fair trial with overwhelming condemnation of their actions? Once the evidence is presented, will jurors have the courage to vote “not-guilty” if that is their belief?
During the O.J. Simpson trial of the century in 1995, cameras were present in the courtroom, and the public got a firsthand chance to see a homicide trial involving a major celebrity unfold on live TV.
Heading into the trial, most citizens without knowledge of the case believed Simpson was innocent of murdering his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson as well as Ron Goldman. After all, Simpson was a likable public figure, and people couldn’t believe he’d be capable of such a heinous crime.
However, by the end of the trial, despite Johnny Cochran’s courtroom theatrics as well as the ultimate jury verdict of not-guilty, the public had a very different perception. Based upon evidence displayed on live TV, most of America believed Simpson was guilty; something later proven by a preponderance of evidence during civil proceedings.
The public perception case against the four former Minneapolis officers is the Simpson case in reverse; almost everyone in the country believes they are guilty. However, closely guarded exonerating evidence is beginning to come to light. Consequently, proof beyond a reasonable doubt is looking more dubious all the time. Is it a standard that will be achieved? Based upon my history as an investigator, I’d say it’s troublesome. Nevertheless, there are still a lot of details that I don’t know, so we need to wait and find out.
Yet this is my concern. Without cameras bringing it live to the American public, a not-guilty verdict will be far more burdensome for jurors if they believe the country remains convinced of the officers’ guilt.
Law Officer covered some key facts that will be difficult to overcome by a prosecutor who needs to to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd:
- The body camera footage, that the State tried to hide from public view shows that Floyd repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe well before he was ever restrained on the ground by law enforcement. Medical experts will likely testify this was the result of narcotics in his system.
- Floyd’s autopsy and toxicology reports documented that his breathing difficulty was not by a knee on his neck or pressure on his back, but by the fact that he had a lethal dose of Fentanyl in his bloodstream. In fact, the Fentanyl that he had ingested was nearly four times the lethal limit.
- Floyd’s blood draw at the hospital established the presence of “Fentanyl 11 ng/mL” (nanograms per mL), among other drugs.
- The toxicology reports says, “Signs associated with fentanyl toxicity include severe respiratory depression, seizures,hypotension, coma and death. In fatalities from fentanyl, blood concentrations are variable and have been reported as low as 3 ng/mL.”
- Similarly, the toxicology report also disclosed the presence of methamphetamine, which states, “capable of causing hallucinations, aggressive behavior and irrational reactions” as well as “restlessness, confusion, hallucinations, circulatory collapse and convulsions.”
- The autopsy disclosed no physical injuries that could account for Floyd’s death.
- The leaked bodycam footage corroborated signs/symptoms consistent with excited delirium. Will additional bodycam footage reveal more of the same?
- While we don’t yet have all of the body camera footage, the transcript of video footage details a play by play of events that the prosecution will try to avoid because it exonerates the officers, including several statements that he couldn’t breathe, way before they placed him on the ground.
- Officer Lane got into the ambulance and assisted with CPR on the way to the hospital.
- The first version of the autopsy report didn’t mention “law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression,” and the criminal complaint filed by prosecutors stated that the autopsy “revealed no physical findings that support a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation.” Why was the county report later changed?
- Prior to issuing the autopsy report, the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s preliminarily details found that the “autopsy revealed no physical findings that support a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation. Mr. Floyd had underlying health conditions including coronary artery disease and hypertensive heart disease. The combined effects of Mr. Floyd being restrained by the police, his underlying health conditions and any potential intoxicants in his system likely contributed to his death.” (Intoxicants later proved to be a lethal dose.)
- The preliminary HCME findings were included in the arrest warrant for Chauvin, dated May 29. The toxicology report was dated May 31. How could a prosecutor who is seeking truth file charges prior to completion of the toxicology report when there was reason to believe the cause of death would be revealed in the findings?
- Michael Baden never performed an actual (second) autopsy. Therefore, his opinions are greatly influenced by his payday. Moreover, he did not have access to toxicology results, tissue samples, or some organs.
- After Baden’s announcement that the case was “a homicide due to the way he was being subdued,” the Hennepin County Medical Examiner amended his report to include the reference to “complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression.” How and why did this occur?
- Regardless of the viral video showing Chauvin kneeling on Floyd for 8 minutes, 46 seconds, the autopsy report said there was no “conjunctival petechiae” which is a sign of possible mechanical compression of the neck and jugular veins (e.g. choking, strangulation).
- The autopsy report said there was: “No injuries of anterior muscles of neck or laryngeal structures” … “No scalp soft tissue, skull or brain injuries” … “No chest wall soft tissue injuries, rib fractures (other than a single rib fracture from CPR), vertebral column in juries, or visceral injuries.”
- It is true that the technique used by officers was an approved use of force measure in department policy and it was true that accompanying training discussed. What is also true is the 2018 training on excited delirium given to officers that told them the protocol if they encountered someone exhibiting behavior like Floyd’s. Other experts will disagree with their protocol, but it’s apparently what they had.
- So the entire case appears to rest on the perception of Chauvin’s “inhumanity” with his knee positioned on Floyd’s head/neck while Floyd was actually in the process of an overdose death.
- The answer to these questions in court will likely seal Chauvin’s fate: Was he (Chauvin) actually complying with department policy? Did the department teach/advocate the procedures being used? Was Floyd’s death the result of an overdose of Fentanyl or some manner of positional asphyxia brought on by excited delirium?
Without getting into the apparent biases represented by Attorney General Keith Ellison, who insisted on taking the prosecutorial lead, will the officers get a fair trial in the absence of TV cameras in court?
They should, but let’s face it, judges and juries are human. Thus far, there was an extreme rush to judgment (by almost everyone in the country). As a result, groupthink that has already occurred seems to insist that officers be condemned to the gallows.
How archaic have we become in such a short amount of time? No one liked what we saw in the viral video clip, but there’s a lot more to the story that has gone relatively unreported and undisclosed by the city. The practice of due process is being tested as never before!
The City of Minneapolis and the State of Minnesota seem to have a vested interest in ensuring the officers are found guilty. Therefore, let the cameras role, because if they are found not guilty, the entire country needs to know why!
Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill rejected requests from defense attorneys and media organizations to allow cameras in court during the pretrial hearings. Interestingly enough, prosecutors also objected to the presence of cameras. However, a ruling has not been made whether cameras will be allowed during trial.
Jim McNeff is the managing editor of Law Officer and founder of Badge 145, a ministry geared toward helping police officers and their families.
Jim worked in military and civilian law enforcement for thirty-one years. While in the USAF he flew as a crewmember aboard the National Emergency Airborne Command Post—a presidential support detail. Following his military service, he served for twenty-eight years with the Fountain Valley Police Department in Orange County, California where he retired as a lieutenant. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in criminal justice from Southwest University and graduated from the prestigious Sherman Block Supervisory Leadership Institute as well as the IACP course, Leadership in Police Organizations.