MINNEAPOLIS — An attorney for one of four former Minneapolis officers charged in George Floyd’s death is highlighting Floyd’s past crimes and history of drug use, calling him an ex-con and “evident danger to the community.” Another is seizing on Floyd’s medical issues and addiction, saying he likely died from fentanyl, not a knee on his neck.
Some court filings by defense attorneys in recent months are taking a blame-the-victim approach. It’s a common defense strategy that legal experts say will be used to show officers acted reasonably, and to counter widely seen bystander video showing a white police officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes.
Experts say the strategy may resonate with a potential jury pool, even if much of what is said now never comes up at a trial set for next spring.
Don Lewis, a prominent Twin Cities attorney who is not connected to this case, said it’s not unusual for defense attorneys to “feed the stereotype of the dangers of a Black man” to a jury to show that any use of force by law enforcement is justified. He said only one or two jurors need to have doubts.
Floyd, a Black man who was in handcuffs, died May 25 after Derek Chauvin pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck as Floyd said he couldn’t breathe and became motionless. Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter. Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao are charged with aiding and abetting both second-degree murder and manslaughter.
Bystander video of Floyd’s arrest circulated around the world, sparking protests and leading to increased support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Mike Brandt, a defense attorney not connected to the case, said countering that video with Floyd’s past is good strategy.
“You are trying to push the pendulum back … from those damning videos of Chauvin with his knee on Floyd’s neck,” he said.
The former officers are in court Friday for a hearing on several issues, including a prosecution request to try the men together and defense requests to move the trial away from Minneapolis. Defense requests to dismiss charges are not expected to be argued on Friday, according to an agenda for the hearing.
In documents requesting dismissal, Lane’s attorney, Earl Gray, wrote about Floyd’s prior charges of armed robbery and drug possession in Texas. He called Floyd an ex-con, a violent defendant, a liar, an addict, a drug distributor, and a danger. “Mr. Floyd was, as the Officers had suspected, an addict,” Gray wrote. “He was worse than that.”