The Bible says the following:
Wounds from a friend can be trusted,
but an enemy multiplies kisses. (Proverbs 27:6)
I need to warn the reader that I am about to give a grievous wound to the entire country with these words. I am sorry about that. All I say in my defense is that I am your friend. If like me, you don’t want what you see in the streets of America, if you say:
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:24)
Then, I am your friend.
But what I am about to say will hurt. And it will wound us all. I am sorry about that, but I want to be a friend. Please trust me enough to read what I have and see the evidence for yourself.
Before I continue, let me first say that it is absolutely clear George Floyd was a good man, and we have suffered a great loss. George Floyd did not deserve to die. You may eventually read about his “previous run-ins with the law” as the trial comes closer. But so what. Seriously. So what. Previous run-ins with the law do not mean that someone deserves to die.
We have lost something dear and great, and it happened in front of us all. None of this is good. None of this is right.
Here is the part that will hurt: Based on my review of the video evidence (all unedited video that I could find), based on my review of the complaint for third degree murder and manslaughter, and based on my review of the information available about the medical situation the officers believed was plaguing George Floyd, it is clear that Derek Chauvin, the officer who had his knee on George Floyd’s neck will be declared innocent of Third Degree Murder and Manslaughter.
As strange as this may seem, this is most likely the right outcome. George Floyd was a good man. But so was Officer Derek Chauvin. George Floyd did not deserve to die. But Derek Chauvin may have been trying to save his life.
The Legal Innocence of Derek Chauvin
Though we do not have the full report of the Medical Examiner, the one detail relating to Derek Chauvin that have from the Medical Examiner in the complaint is as follows:
The autopsy revealed no physical findings that support a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation.
This means George Floyd did not die of strangulation – meaning his airways were cut off – or traumatic asphyxia – meaning his blood-flow was cut off.
Since it looks like Derek Chauvin only was touching George Floyd at the neck with his knee, the only evidence we have right now about Derek Chauvin’s actions as they relate to George Floyd is that Derek Chauvin’s knee did not kill George Floyd.
Obviously, this requires some more explanation.
The Cause of George Floyd’s Death
According to this preliminary statement of the Medical Examiner, George Floyd died because of a combination of factors. It says:
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.
As for the underlying health conditions, they were hypertension and coronary heart disease. We saw the restraint by police, which was done by three officers. Finally, the phrase “potential intoxicants in his system” simply means “drugs.”
Now, we must break that down. It would be unfair to dismiss things at this simple point. It is quite possible that the drugs alone did not kill him, as the drugs were already in his system when the police approached. However, what is very important is that before George Floyd was ever restrained in the horrible video we watched, the police were calling an ambulance. You can see that in the words of the officer with the Body-Worn Camera just after George Floyd was escorted without incident across the street. The ambulance was called before George Floyd was restrained by the police car.
It is obvious that the preexisting conditions did not kill George Floyd, as they were present for a long time. Millions of Americans suffer from coronary artery disease and hypertensive heart disease.
And though it initially appears the that police restraint killed him, the only information that we have from the Medical Examiner at this time is that the knee on George Floyd’s neck did NOT kill George Floyd. Therefore, the cause of death for George Floyd seems to be drugs in his system, plus his preexisting conditions, plus the police restraint.
It is possible that the drugs and the restraint without the preexisting conditions mean he still would have been alive. It is possible that the drugs plus the preexisting conditions alone (without restraint) may have left him alive. It is likely that the preexisting conditions and the police restraint alone would not have killed him. But what might have been, we do not know.
All we know is that we have the tragedy of a man dying in front of our eyes. But unlike an ordinary crime where the perpetrator is brought to justice as an appropriate retributive punishment, in this case, based on what we already know, there was neither a murder nor a manslaughter of George Floyd by Derek Chauvin.
The Valid Questions About the Police Restraint
Regardless, citizens have extremely valid questions about what they observed. Let’s address them.
Before we get to these questions, I must remind the reader that what is not visible on the most wide-spread video is that two other officers were assisting in the restraint of George Floyd on the ground. One other officer was tasked with keeping the bystanders away. One officer was near his feet and one was at his torso. Derek Chauvin was at George Floyd’s head. Unlike the single photo that is used in many news articles, it is clear from the video that Derek Chauvin’s attention is almost constantly directed at George Floyd’s face.
It is also clear from the complaint that the officers believed that George Floyd was experiencing an episode of something called Excited Delirium (EXD). As the complaint says:
Officer Lane said, “I am worried about excited delirium or whatever.” The defendant said, “that’s why we have him on his stomach.” None of the three officers moved from their positions.
In my non-medical expertise, I do not yet have the evidence to prove that George Floyd was experiencing EXD. But from my review, it at least looks like many factors align with that possibility, including George Floyd’s verbalized pain over his whole body, his request for water, his visible agitation as soon as he is handcuffed, and his struggles with the police.
But what we do know is that the officers believed he was experiencing EXD, and that is extremely relevant and important.
As is clear from the complaint, the other officers were checking George Floyd’s pulse and discussing with Derek Chauvin how to position him. Because of the belief that he was suffering from EXD, the decision was made to keep George Floyd still where he already was, rather than move him.
The Details of Excited Delirium
According to a medical article published by the NCBI organization in 2011, the syndrome of EXD is described as follows:
Excited (or agitated) delirium is characterized by agitation, aggression, acute distress and sudden death, often in the pre-hospital care setting. It is typically associated with the use of drugs that alter dopamine processing, hyperthermia, and, most notably, sometimes with death of the affected person in the custody of law enforcement. Subjects typically die from cardiopulmonary arrest, although the cause is debated. Unfortunately an adequate treatment plan has yet to be established, in part due to the fact that most patients die before hospital arrival.
Because the officers believed that Derek Chauvin was experiencing EXD, this means they believed that he was in grave danger. This is why the ambulance was called before he was ever restrained.
However, very relevant information on why the officers may have wanted to restrain George Floyd can be understood through the following two citations within that medical article:
- “For instance, one important study found that only 18 of 214 individuals identified as having EXD died while being restrained or taken into custody.” (Factors associated with sudden death of individuals requiring restraint for excited delirium. Stratton SJ, Rogers C, Brickett K, Gruzinski G, Am J Emerg Med. 2001 May; 19(3):187-91.)
- “Approximately two thirds of EXD victims die at the scene or during transport by paramedics or police.” (Sudden death in individuals in hobble restraints during paramedic transport. Stratton SJ, Rogers C, Green K, Ann Emerg Med. 1995 May; 25(5):710-2.)
For the record, a “hobble restraint” is when the individuals hands and feet are linked together to prevent aggressive movement in arrestees.
We do not know what exactly the officers were thinking or what their training directed them to do. However, what the medical article states in a very simplified manner is that while two thirds of EXD victims die before reaching a hospital, only one in ten die while being restrained or taken into custody.
This is a potential explanation of why the officers decided to forcefully restrain George Floyd: to save his life.
This belief and the actions of the officers are further explained by the cause of death in many EXD victims, as described in the article:
While our understanding of EXD is expanding, the disorder still presents significant challenges to emergency first responders and physicians. Recent research has demonstrated unique cellular and neurochemical alterations in EXD victims, leading to dopamine excess and autonomic hyperactivity. EXD victims display extreme agitation, aggression, unexpected physical strength and florid psychosis. Emergency physicians must recognize the danger posed by these patients and should act in an expeditious and aggressive manner to avoid medical complications including metabolic acidosis, rhabdomyolysis, hyperthermia, multisystem failure and/or death.
In other words, the victim can die of the death of muscle cells (“rhabdomyolysis”) severe overheating (“hyperthermia”), and organ failure (“multisystem failure”).
EXD is an extremely dangerous situation. It is most often the result of a drug overdose, and a drug over-represented in those cases is cocaine. In this case, it is notable that bystanders note that George Floyd’s nose is bleeding, though there is neither video evidence or an allegation in the complaint that there was trauma to George Floyd’s nose. Additionally, with EXD, the victims often become physically violent before the rapid onset of death.
Unfortunately for the officers on the scene, based on what I have been able to find so far, there is no adequate treatment plan or established procedure for treating EXD, especially in the field. The proposed treatment plan by the linked article suggests the following:
rapid sedation, followed closely by external cooling, intravenous (IV) fluids, monitoring, and treatment of potential medical complications.
As George Floyd died within 20 minutes of being approached by the police, all of these options were unavailable. The only “treatment” that appears to have been attempted was some sort of attempt to restrain George Floyd to prevent his “extreme agitation, aggression, unexpected physical strength” (as the article describes). A reason the officers may not have responded to his complaints about breathing, stomach pain, and claustrophibia is the “florid psychosis” (essentially mental instability) that accompanies EXD. Additionally, it is important that the inability to breathe itself is a danger of EXD.
Also important evidence is that only words Derek Chauvin is heard saying to George Floyd in the wide-spread cell-phone video is “Relax!” Unfortunately, regardless of the intent, the effort did not end positively and George Floyd died.
The Reason for the Knee on the Neck
It is also quite appropriate to ask why an officer would put a knee on the neck of a handcuffed individual. For all Americans, this seems to contradict all that we know about justice and mercy.
One acknowledgement of ignorance that we must have is that the location of the knee is not the same thing as the pressure of the knee. According to the complaint, only one of Derek Chauvin’s knees was on his neck. The other was on the pavement. It is not at all clear whether or not Derek Chauvin ever placed his full weight on the neck of George Floyd.
Since the Medical Examiner’s autopsy revealed that no strangulation or traumatic asphyxia contributed to George Floyd’s death, it is quite unlikely that the full weight of Derek Chauvin was on George Floyd’s neck, especially for the full 8 minutes and 49 seconds. Indeed, in the horrible video that most Americans have seen in part, George Floyd is still able to move his head and neck even as he cries in pain. These are all relevant details, and we must be open to understanding things differently than they first appear.
What most individuals do not know is that contrary to what the Mayor believed and said the day after George Floyd’s death, the Minneapolis Use of Force Guidelines explicitly authorize this form of neck restraint. I have no knowledge of the reason this method of restraint is authorized. Perhaps it is to keep the officer’s hands free. (Note that at one point, the officer feels threatened enough by the bystanders to remove his gaze from George Floyd and pull out what appears to be mace before returning to his ordinary actions.)
Regardless of the reason or appropriateness of the policy, it reads as follows in the relevant part:
5-311 USE OF NECK RESTRAINTS AND CHOKE HOLDS (10/16/02) (08/17/07) (10/01/10) (04/16/12)
Choke Hold: Deadly force option. Defined as applying direct pressure on a person’s trachea or airway (front of the neck), blocking or obstructing the airway (04/16/12)
Neck Restraint: Non-deadly force option. Defined as compressing one or both sides of a person’s neck with an arm or leg, without applying direct pressure to the trachea or airway (front of the neck). Only sworn employees who have received training from the MPD Training Unit are authorized to use neck restraints. The MPD authorizes two types of neck restraints: Conscious Neck Restraint and Unconscious Neck Restraint. (04/16/12)
Conscious Neck Restraint: The subject is placed in a neck restraint with intent to control, and not to render the subject unconscious, by only applying light to moderate pressure. (04/16/12)
Unconscious Neck Restraint: The subject is placed in a neck restraint with the intention of rendering the person unconscious by applying adequate pressure. (04/16/12)
A. The Conscious Neck Restraint may be used against a subject who is actively resisting. (04/16/12)
B. The Unconscious Neck Restraint shall only be applied in the following circumstances: (04/16/12)
1. On a subject who is exhibiting active aggression, or;
2. For life saving purposes, or;
3. On a subject who is exhibiting active resistance in order to gain control of the subject; and if lesser attempts at control have been or would likely be ineffective.
C. Neck restraints shall not be used against subjects who are passively resisting as defined by policy. (04/16/12)
D. After Care Guidelines (04/16/12)
1. After a neck restraint or choke hold has been used on a subject, sworn MPD employees shall keep them under close observation until they are released to medical or other law enforcement personnel.
2. An officer who has used a neck restraint or choke hold shall inform individuals accepting custody of the subject, that the technique was used on the subject.
From this description and the video evidence, as well as the facts laid out in the complaint, Derek Chauvin was applying a neck restraint. It was not a choke hold. The reason he was applying a neck restraint seems to be that his job was to restrain George Floyd’s head area while the other two officers were tasked with restraining his torso and legs. As the complaint states, George Floyd was actively resisting, which is defined as follows by the Use of Force policy:
Active Resistance: A response to police efforts to bring a person into custody or control for detainment or arrest. A subject engages in active resistance when engaging in physical actions (or verbal behavior reflecting an intention) to make it more difficult for officers to achieve actual physical control. (10/01/10) (04/16/12)
What is a Neck Restraint?
As we read in the Use of Force Policy a “neck restraint” is subdivided into two sub-types. The first is a “conscious” neck restraint and the second is an “unconscious” neck restraint. Neither neck restraint allows the officer to cut off the trachea or airway (in other words, no “strangulation” or “traumatic asphyxia” allowed).
The only difference between the “conscious” and “unconscious” restraint is the degree of pressure applied. The policy allows an “unconscious neck restraint” for “life saving purposes.” We do not know which type of neck restraint Derek Chauvin was applying, because we cannot tell from video how much weight is on the neck and whether it is “light or moderate” (“conscious”) or “appropriate” (“unconscious”) or something else.
If Derek Chauvin was using a “conscious neck restraint,” then this is explicitly authorized by the policy, as it is clear from the complaint that George Floyd was actively resisting on two separate occasions, including the moment before he was restrained on the ground.
If Derek Chauvin was using an “unconscious neck restraint,” then he would need to justify his use of it. One potential justification is that an unconscious neck restraint was an effort to address the EXD by sedation, due to the unavailability of pharmacological sedation, as the paramedics were not on the scene.
Note that the only known witnesses of the type of neck restraint are the three officers restraining George Floyd. The witness best able to speak about the intent of Derek Chauvin involving the neck restraint is Derek Chauvin himself.
Regarding why Derek Chauvin did not remove his knee for more than a minute after George Floyd was unconscious, this is only known by Derek Chauvin. However, what is clear is that Derek Chauvin gave intense attention to George Floyd during the entire event, except when he was forced to pull out his mace to ward off the bystanders. As the restraint policy requires, he kept George Floyd under close attention until the EMTs arrived.
According to the video, the paramedics arrive and quickly check for a pulse at the neck, as the officers had been checking for a pulse at the wrist. The effort lasts no more than 10 seconds. Soon thereafter, George Floyd’s limp body is loaded onto a stretcher with difficulty. The ambulance drives away with lights, but no sirens. It is quite probable that George Floyd was already dead by the time the paramedics arrived. According to the complaint, George Floyd was pronounced dead at the hospital.
While the specific reasons for the knee remaining on the neck are unknown, it is clear that the knee did not cause George Floyd’s death. It is also clear that Derek Chauvin’s actions seem to fall within the general guidelines of restraining subjects who are actively resisting.
The Charges Derek Chauvin is Facing
Derek Chauvin has been charged with two crimes in the complaint.
Third Degree Murder
The first is Third Degree Murder. It is defined in the code as follows:
Whoever, without intent to effect the death of any person, causes the death of another by perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind, without regard for human life, is guilty of murder in the third degree and may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than 25 years.
Due to the evidence from the Medical Examiner, there is not yet evidence that Derek Chauvin’s actions “caused” the death of George Floyd. Based on (1) the policy of the Minneapolis Police Department and (2) the extremely dangerous nature of EXD, and (3) the lack of any causal evidence from the Medical Examiner for strangulation or traumatic asphyxia, there are serious doubts about whether the actions of Derek Chauvin were “eminently dangerous to others.”
As Derek Chauvin was carefully consulting with his fellow officers and making decisions based on the belief of EXD, there is serious doubt as to whether his actions show “a depraved mind, without regard for human life,” especially in light of the fact that an ambulance was called before George Floyd was ever restrained.
Therefore, it is very unlikely that Derek Chauvin will be convicted of Third Degree Murder
The second charge is Manslaughter. This is defined in the code as follows:
A person who causes the death of another . . . by the person’s culpable negligence whereby the person creates an unreasonable risk, and consciously takes chances of causing death or great bodily harm to another
Based on (1) the call for the ambulance, (2) the extremely dangerous nature of EXD, and (3) the intense attention given by Derek Chauvin to George Floyd for the entire incident, as well as (4) the lack of any causal evidence from the Medical Examiner for strangulation or traumatic asphyxia, there is serious doubt as to whether Derek Chauvin had “culpable negligence” that created “an unreasonable risk.”
Therefore, it is very unlikely that Derek Chauvin will be convicted of Manslaughter.
This is the part that hurts. Based on the evidence we have, Derek Chauvin is almost certainly an innocent man, and we have no outlet for our understandable anger.
You may have read that Derek Chauvin had 18 complaints before this incident. However, what is not often shared is that these 18 complaints came over the course of Chauvin’s more-than-two-decades as an officer. That is less than one citizen complaint per year. Only two of these complaints ever moved past an administrative dismissal and resulted in any discipline. In my experience representing police officers, this is a very low level of discipline, which is a measurement far below criminal activity.
Therefore, according to the information we have right now, there is no history of bad behavior on the part of Derek Chauvin.
So, George Floyd was a good man. Frustratingly, it also seems that Derek Chauvin was a good officer. In fact, Derek Chauvin was quite possibly doing his best to save George Floyd’s life from the onset of EXD. But he failed.
A Prayer to Heal Our Land.
What does this mean? What do we do? Where should our anger pour out if not into the street?
As I write this document, several American cities are burning due to riots that have arisen in response to the death of George Floyd. Sadly, I’m sure that some who have been the most violent are also the least concerned with George Floyd’s death. Among those who are angry, there is genuine anger and admirable strength in the midst of this difficulty.
Not only does the death of George Floyd rock our collective consciousness, but other good men like Ahmad Aubrey and good women like Breonna Taylor have died at the hands of the police and their fellow citizens. There is real and genuine and understandable anger.
E Plurbis Unim is our motto, but we are not one. We are not united. We are angry.
To make matters worse, due to the current global pandemic of COVID 19, millions of Americans are out of work, anxious regarding their academic future, and fearful of their economic prospects. Tragically, even apart from racial strife, the mere presence of our fellow citizens makes us concerned for our physical safety. We are afraid.
Perhaps never in our nation’s history have we faced a crises as acute, as dire, as far reaching, and as divisive as the current moment. Our Nation is being tested. We could lose it all.
What Do We Do?
Let us remember others who were in a similar position. My mind is drawn to an ominous example in the Bible, when an alarming event in Israel caused large numbers of people to react, and many were afraid that the occupying Roman forces would destroy the country. We are told of following event:
So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. (John 11:47-53)
Derek Chauvin is not Jesus Christ. However, one man has already died in our nation. His name was George Floyd.
On the one hand, we can react in anger and fear, as we are doing now. On the other hand, we can let George Floyd’s death be the one that will save our nation and bring together the scattered children of God.
If Derek Chauvin is innocent of these crimes, we cannot convict him. But what can we do with the death of George Floyd? His blood cries out from the ground! What do we do?
WE MUST HAVE HOPE.
Notice the shocking thing about the plot of the priests to take Jesus’s life: What they meant for evil, God meant for good.
The high priest did not know what he was saying, but a single man’s death would save their nation and their people. It would bring together all the children of God scattered among the nations.
However, the nation the priests had would be destroyed, not by violence, but by righteousness. In the wake of that righteousness, the nation would be cleansed of its sin, and all people would be made righteous through their faith.
The Bible tells us:
“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
and to listen than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry (1 Samuel 15:22-23)
We must obey the voice of the Lord and love our neighbor as ourselves.
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8)
We must suffer as Christ suffered, weep as Christ wept, and pray as Christ prayed for the kingdom of heaven to come and for God’s will to be done. As we read in scripture:
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. . . .Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. . . . My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:12, 16, 19-20)
Our nation is in great darkness right now and great anger, and we all have great sin. No one is innocent. But there is still hope. As the Bible says:
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:5-10)
So let us have faith and walk with our God, in our actions, in our thoughts, and in our prayers. Let us desire what our God desires. As the Bible says:
“Yet even now,” declares the Lord,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
and he relents over disaster. (Joel 2:12-13)
Pray that God will relent over this disaster.
We must rend our hearts and not our garments, not our laws, not our brotherhood, not our trust, not our cities, not our fellowship, and not our nation.
The truth is an elusive thing, but we MUST find it. It does not depend on the facts in a courtroom or in a video. As the Bible says:
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)
Wounds from a friend can be trusted. I pledge to be the friend to those who mourn and desire that justice like water will cleanse the United States of America.
As a friend, hear my plea: Pray for peace. Pray for the ability to forgive. Pray for brotherly love. Pray as you mourn. Pray that justice in our broken hearts will roll down like waters and cleanse our nation. But above all, pray with hope.
Have any been perfect in this age where division grows, where words can travel across the world in the blink of an eye? No. Not at all. We are all guilty.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
In hope, pray that we all can be saved.
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If Scouts taught me anything it was how to start a fire. A spark is obviously very important, but so are the surrounding conditions. If it was raining, good luck. But if it’s dry and you kept your tinder dry, but you forgot to clear the fire pit of dried leaves and other kindling, then you might quickly have a whole other problem.