The Daily Mail’s publication of body-cam footage in the George Floyd homicide raises a number of questions, not the least of which is — just how did this footage leak, and for what purpose? The video came from a camera of some sort pointing at a computer screen playing the video, which means someone in the courthouse or connected to the case either recorded it or allowed it to be recorded. The transcripts of these bodycam videos had already been released by the court, but the videos themselves were supposed to be under seal.
Two of the four are out now, which means other questions will arise — and it’s best to know just what those will be. Just FYI, the second video has a content warning on it, but it’s a bit like closing the barn door after the horse has bolted. We’ve seen the horrible death of Floyd ad infinitum from bystander footage already:
The Daily Mail’s coverage of the tapes is anything but sympathetic to the police.
Bodycam footage from two cops accused in the murder of George Floyd is revealed exclusively by DailyMail.com today — and it shows a rookie officer terrifying Floyd by pointing a handgun at his head and another callously picking a pebble from the squad car tire just inches from the dying man and seconds before he draws his last breath.
The tapes show in minute detail how a very distressed Floyd begs ‘Mr. Officer, please don’t shoot me. Please man,’ before the struggle that ended with his death on May 25.
It also shows how belligerent cops cursed at and manhandled the sobbing suspect, ignoring his pleas for compassion.
Floyd resisted as the cops tried to force him into the back of the car, telling them he suffers from claustrophobia and anxiety and how Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, leading to his death, ignoring Floyd’s repeated cries of ‘I can’t breathe.’
Floyd is even heard predicting his own death. ‘I’ll probably just die this way,’ he says.
Transcripts from the videos were released in mid-July but a judge in Minneapolis had ruled the video could only be viewed in the courthouse, meaning few people have had the chance to watch the powerful images.
That itself is a very curious question. The court has already let it be known that it isn’t pleased with this leak and plans a full investigation into it:
Hennepin County District Court spokesman Spenser Bickett confirmed that the court was aware of the leak, and said an investigation was underway. “The court will provide no further comment on this matter at this time,” Bickett said in an e-mail.
Attorney General Keith Ellison, who is leading the prosecution of the four former Minneapolis police officers charged in Floyd’s death, issued a statement that he was not the source of the leak.
“We will continue to take the strictest precautions to ensure a fair trial,” Ellison said.
It’s probably a safe bet that it didn’t come from the prosecution. For one thing, it depicts the arresting officers in a more or less normal approach to dealing with a recalcitrant suspect; despite the Mail’s description, the officers are trying to reassure Floyd that he’ll be okay in the car, but he keeps resisting. That makes it tough to establish the kind of malice or reckless disregard necessary for a murder count, meaning that Ellison’s bigger problem might be overcharging:
This video will not bode well for the prosecution. A window into his mental state, layered w/ his toxicology report, the fact he bagan stating he couldn’t breathe long before prone or had any pressure applied. The event was tragic but the DA overcharged https://t.co/dDj50sqDxL
— Rob O'Donnell (@odonnell_r) August 3, 2020
John Hinderaker agrees, although he’s always been somewhat skeptical of the charges:
Floyd wouldn’t get into the squad car, saying he was claustrophobic. The officers struggled with him for around ten minutes, but were never able to get him securely inside the squad car. At one point he tumbled out the opposite door of the squad car, onto the street. The officers, believing correctly that Floyd was high on drugs, called for an ambulance.
Floyd complained of being unable to breathe long before anyone knelt on his neck. (Shortness of breath is a symptom of fentanyl overdose.) He apparently preferred being on the ground to being inside the squad car. One of his companions, his “ex” according to the Daily Mail, made a finger-twirling-next-to-the-temple gesture to explain his mental state.
A more likely explanation is drugs. The toxicology report that was part of his autopsy found that Floyd had 11 ng/mL of fentanyl in his blood, along with other drugs and metabolites. Published literature (based on a modest Google search) finds lethal overdoses of fentanyl down to 5 ng/mL, less than half the concentration in Floyd’s blood. If I am misreading the literature, I am happy to be corrected.
I disagree somewhat, at least to the extent of what a jury would conclude about Floyd’s death from this video. Derek Chauvin had his knee on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes, which is beyond excessive. People on fentanyl die, but they also survive, and it would be tough to conclude that compressing Floyd’s neck wasn’t the proximate cause of his demise. That’s especially the case since Chauvin continued that compression for a couple of minutes past the point when Floyd became non-responsive, a status that bystanders urged Chauvin to notice. “He’s not responsive right now, bro!” one man yells clearly enough to be heard on the bodycam video.
However, sustaining a murder charge against Chauvin is going to be tough, unless the other two videos show something significantly different. A manslaughter charge would have made more sense, but that would have made it very difficult if not impossible to charge the other three officers. Two of them had made several attempts to get Floyd into the car without success, and it’s clear that Floyd was resisting almost from the first point of contact. This won’t acquit Chauvin, but it’s very possible that the other three could walk if a jury considers the full context of the video.
So who leaked the video? It could have been anyone, but usually the best question in these cases is this: cui bono?