This is a reply to The Bradenton Times December 17 opinion piece titled “Rethinking George Floyd and Derek Chauvin.” The author, Mitch Maley, calls the recently released "The Fall of Minneapolis” “groundbreaking,” obligating him to report that Derek Chauvin’s unanimous conviction on all counts by an all white jury was a miscarriage of justice. Having watched the live streamed trial in real time and hearing the entirety of the evidence (much more than just the bystander video), knowing the rules of discovery, the harsh consequences for withholding evidence, that the 3 other officers involved were all convicted of aiding and abetting murder, and that Chauvin’s appeals have been rejected, I was suspicious of the movie and disappointed that Mr. Maley seems to have swallowed the promotional hype hook line and sinker, with little or no fact checking.
Having watched the movie last week, I did my own fact checking into some of the many misleading claims, including: 1 - the alleged withholding of body cam video; 2 - the claim that Chauvin followed approved training methods; 3 - That the Medical Examiner, Prosecuting attorneys, State Attorney General, and the FBI conspired to change or modify the autopsy report’s conclusion.
To me, the movie felt like 142 minutes of Tucker Carlson on Fox News. In fact, on October 20, 2023, Carlson featured the movie on his X (Twitter) platform. After previewing parts of the movie, Carlson stated that Floyd was not murdered by Chauvin. A few days later Newsweek fact checked Carlson and the parts of the movie Carlson cited as proof.
That Fox News feel was evident in other ways, like the repeated out-of-context news clips of Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden praising peaceful protesters while unrelated scenes of building fires and looting played out in the background. After Floyd’s death the time that Chauvin appeared to be kneeling on Floyd’s neck varied as different videos taken at different angles and with different start times became public. The movie argues these discrepancies are evidence that the facts were being intentionally changed. Good Grief. It wasn’t until the prosecution’s opening statement that 9min 29sec was presented. That duration was not disputed.
Pills containing fentanyl were found in both Floyd’s SUV and the squad car. The movie makes the leap to claim the presence of these pills means the amount of drugs in Floyd’s system is much higher than what shows in his bloodstream 12 hours after death. Maley agrees this is “quite possible.” Seriously? How does a dead body leak drugs?
And while the movie clicks off, one at a time, Floyd’s long record of mostly non-violent and drug related offenses (The movie could have been called George Floyd Deserved to Die), Floyd was not on trial, Chauvin was. The movie never mentions that Chauvin was the subject of at least 22 complaints or internal investigations of excessive force. Interviews show not only that Chauvin used excessive force in the past, but that he had used startlingly similar techniques.
The movie shows video of Floyd inside the store and his erratic behavior outside the store.The movie shows the body cam footage of Floyd resisting and complaining he can’t breathe as he was first ordered and then physically pulled out of the car. But the trial included these same scenes from the same multiple sources - including body cam footage from officers Lane, Kueng, and Thao. (Chauvin’s bodycam came off during the arrest) At trial, there were videos showing every moment starting from Floyd entering the store until he was placed in the ambulance. Discovery rules require that these same sources of evidence, in their entirety, are made available to the defense.
So how can it be that this movie claims to have new, unreleased video? Mr. Maley factually reports the movie “features extensive body cam footage previously withheld.” One might ask why a new trial has not been requested based on such “groundbreaking” new evidence. Wouldn’t an experienced journalist do rigorous fact checking before claiming that prosecutors, which include Neal Katyal, a former U.S. acting solicitor general who has argued dozens of cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, violated the law and risked their career by withholding exculpatory evidence?
Thankfully, other journalists have fact checked these claims. On November 21, 2023, The Poynter Institute’s Politifact reported: “We rate the claim false,” pointing out that the “withheld” body camera footage has been publicly available since August 2020, two months after George Floyd’s death, and that the footage was shown to the jury during Chauvin’s trial.
The movie also makes the false claim that Chauvin’s actions were an approved Minneapolis PD technique called MRT (Maximum Restraint Technique). A training manual is opened to the MRT page showing a policeman kneeling on a person’s back, similar to Chauvin’s position on Floyd. Again, Maley reports as fact, without checking, that “He (Floyd) was detained via an approved technique that was taught by the department.”
This is a misleading half truth because while certain neck restraints were included in the training manual, their use was only allowed if a person was actively resisting or “exhibiting active aggression.” and must end when the aggression ends. If you watch the movie closely, you can see the words “positional asphyxia” under the opened MRT page of the training manual. Those words appear because when using MRT, Minneapolis PD training specifically emphasizes “turning handcuffed individuals on their sides at the earliest opportunity to prevent positional asphyxia, which can lead to breathing difficulties and death.”
The movie does not include that on his own body cam, Officer Lane can be heard suggesting to Chauvin after Floyd lost consciousness that he be turned on his side. Chauvin responded: “Stay … put where you got him.” Does anyone believe it is accepted training to kneel on the neck of a handcuffed, face down, unconscious person?
And if fact, the Minneapolis PD was forced to emphasize positional asphyxia training as part of a 2010 $3 million settlement after David Smith died of Positional Asphyxia from being handcuffed face down with a knee on his back. Preventing positional asphyxia has been included in police journals even before Floyd’s death.
Even though the actual training manual was entered as evidence in the trial, the movie argues the judge was biased to deny an (unknown source) picture/video alleged to show the MRT procedure from being entered as evidence. Obviously, a judge is required to provide legal justification for denying either side’s request to admit evidence. The movie does not provide the judge’s legal justification because that would cancel their mudslinging accusations of bias and unfair treatment. And of course, Chauvin could appeal such a major misapplication of the law - if true. Chauvin did appeal on other grounds - and was rejected.
The movie and Maley claim there was injustice in the autopsy’s report, but the facts in the autopsy report were not disputed, only the conclusion. The movie suggests the FBI, the Medical Examiner, State prosecutors, and State Attorney General Keith Ellison conspired to influence the autopsy’s findings so that it “fit the public narrative” that Floyd died of asphyxiation. The movie points to the ME’s rough draft noting drugs in Floyd’s system and no physical damage to indicate Floyd suffocated - insinuating the autopsy final report might have been changed to leave these important facts out.
But the autopsy report was never changed - the cause of death was never listed as asphyxiation. The autopsy report said the cause of death was “cardiopulmonary arrest from law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression.” The level and type of drugs in Floyd’s system was listed on page 2 of the autopsy report, as was the statement “no life-threatening injuries identified.”
To the claims that Floyd’s health problems and the amount of drugs in his system caused his death, An Associated Press fact check states “independent experts have previously told the AP that underlying medical problems and drug use revealed in the autopsy report don’t change the conclusion that Floyd’s death was a homicide, explaining that these conditions simply made it more likely that he would not fare well under stress.”
Dr. Baker, the ME, testified at trial that Floyd’s health and use of Fentanyl “played a role in the death but were not direct causes ... .Mr. Floyd’s use of fentanyl did not cause the subdual or neck restraint.”
I still remember being blown away by the testimony of Pulmonology expert Dr. Martin Tobin. Jurors also gave him their full attention. The NY Times wrote “jurors appeared to be riveted by Dr. Tobin’s ability to break down complex physiological concepts, at times scribbling notes in unison.” Tobin used the video evidence to show in detail how Chauvin’s actions and Floyd’s body position affected his breathing passageway. We could see the life leaving Floyd step by step, minute by minute, complete with medical explanation.
At the trial, both sides presented experts on the cause of death. A jury determines facts based on the evidence presented. The jury convicted Chauvin of murder.
More claims of autopsy corruption are based on the deposition of former Hennepin County assistant prosecutor Amy Sweasy, who filed the original murder charges against Chauvin. The movie fails to disclose Sweasy’s deposition was not taken in a case related to Floyd’s murder. She was deposed in a 2023 sex discrimination lawsuit filed against the Hennepin County Prosecutor. The movie selectively uses the deposition to make it appear there was internal disagreement on whether to charge Chauvin. But, according to FactCheck.org, “all the deposition shows is that there was internal strife within the prosecutor’s office and disagreement about which charges to level against Chauvin, not whether he should be charged.”
The Fall of Minneapolis presents only one side’s misleading version of the event. It should not have to be said that our system of justice requires both sides to be heard. Our justice system includes a discovery process in which both sides have full access to all evidence that will be presented in court. In our system, the judge determines the law, juries determine the facts.
While Mr. Maley felt an obligation to report Derek Chauvin was wrongly convicted, we certainly have no obligation to agree with him.
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