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The Blue Wall Did Not Hold At Derek Chauvin's Trial


We're going to begin this hour with the trial of Derek Chauvin, the officer charged with murder in the death of George Floyd, and an important moment that could have ramifications far beyond the trial. The Minneapolis police chief, Medaria Arradondo, took the stand against one of his own, testifying that by kneeling on George Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes, Chauvin was out of line with the department's training and ethics.


MEDARIA ARRADONDO: Once Mr. Floyd had stopped resisting, and certainly once he was in distress and trying to verbalize that, that should have stopped.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In defiance of an unwritten code of silence, fellow officers and a former supervisor also condemned Chauvin's actions.

Paul Butler is a Georgetown law professor and an expert on race and criminal justice, and he joins me now from Miami Beach. Welcome to the program.

PAUL BUTLER: It's great to be here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What was your reaction to watching Chauvin's fellow officers testify against him?

BUTLER: I think the prosecution is being strategic here. They're trying to enroll those jurors who might be worried that voting to convict Floyd means that they don't support the police. So the chief's testimony, along with all of the other officers, sends the message that the police aren't on trial. This is about Derek Chauvin.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Can you amplify that a little bit more? - because there has been a sort of feeling watching this procession of law enforcement that the code of silence that has always been there, the so-called blue wall, has broken in some way. Do you see it that way or not?

BUTLER: I think it's too soon to tell. This case is different from most other cases in which officers have been charged with homicide. In those other cases, it's almost always been because they shot somebody. And that's a split-second decision. And so I think both jurors and fellow police officers are sympathetic to the tough decision that an officer had to make in the heat of the moment.

In this case, what the prosecution has emphasized is that former officer Chauvin had at least nine minutes and 29 seconds to decide. And he didn't adapt once officers had Mr. Floyd in handcuffs, facedown on the ground. And that's what the prosecution says violated Chauvin's training, police regulations and the criminal law. And the police officers who've testified so far agree.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How damning do you think this testimony's been?

BUTLER: You know, the prosecution has had a couple of very good weeks. But in a sense, that's the way it should be because we haven't heard from the other side. We don't know what the defense will present. I do think that the jury will be impressed by hearing from all of these extremely competent witnesses. Remember; police officers are professional witnesses, so they know how to do things like look at the jury and explain things in a commonsense way. And there were almost too many police officers. The judge worried that the testimony was getting cumulative. But I think that it will be very effective for the jury.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: As we know, you know, Derek Chauvin is on trial, but because of what happened after the death of George Floyd, so is policing in this country in general. And the resonance of seeing a police chief testifying against one of their own officers - I mean, do you think it's going to resonate?

BUTLER: We know that U.S. police officers kill about 1,000 people every year. The vast majority of those killings are ruled justified. In the rare cases in which officers are charged with murder, they usually walk. They're found not guilty by a jury, or a judge dismisses the charges. And so this is one case in which one police officer is being charged with murder. And it's just too soon to tell whether this will set a precedent for other prosecutions.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What are you expecting to see in the coming week?

BUTLER: The defense has two theories - first, that the force that the officer used was appropriate based on the situation. And the second is, literally, that Derek Chauvin did not kill Mr. Floyd, that Mr. Floyd died of a combination of a drug overdose and his pre-existing medical conditions. And so the defense witnesses will support both of those points. It's kind of a bluffing game when both sides announce how many witnesses they'll have at the beginning of the trial. But each side announced literally hundreds of witnesses. The prosecution is about to close its case, and it didn't call nearly that number. The prosecution does not have to prove that what Derek Chauvin did was the only reason that Mr. Floyd died. It just has to be a substantial factor. And I think that's going to be difficult for the defense to rebut.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Paul Butler, a Georgetown law professor and also a legal analyst for MSNBC. Thank you very much.

BUTLER: Always a pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.