The family of George Floyd pushed back against accusations levied against him in court on Friday after lawyers claimed he had taken drugs prior to his fatal encounter with Minneapolis police in May.
Defense attorneys for the four officers charged in Floyd’s death claimed he had swallowed fentanyl, a deadly synthetic opioid, before his arrest, but the slain man’s lawyers disputed that.
Ben Crump, a lawyer for Floyd’s family, accused the defense team of blaming the dead, a legal maneuver that “flies in the face of what we see with our own eyes on the video,” he added, referring to viral cellphone footage of an officer with his knee on Floyd’s neck before his death.
“The only overdose that killed George Floyd was an overdose of excessive force and racism by the Minneapolis Police Department. George was lucid, cooperative, obeyed commands and had situational awareness when he died,” Crump said in a statement. “The world witnessed his asphyxiation on video, and now defense counsel is asking us to disbelieve our own eyes. Multiple autopsies determined that he died of asphyxiation because of the officers kneeling on his back and neck.”
He claimed Floyd told the officers that he couldn’t breathe and “pleaded for his life,” but those pleas were ignored.
“It is classic police defense to blame the dead and claim that suspects with any amount of drugs in their system were responsible for their own death,” he said. “It’s called ‘blame the dead,’ and it flies in the face of what we see with our own eyes on the video.”
Crump gathered with the Floyd family outside the Family Justice Center, where the pre-trial hearing took place as more than 200 peaceful protesters marched nearby in support. Some gave speeches condemning the police, including the officers involved in Floyd’s death, while others chanted anti-police brutality slogans.
Philonise Floyd, George Floyd’s brother, said the “painful” video of his brother dying has traumatized his family forever. But he said listening to the defense team “blame him for his own death” showed how unfair the justice system is.
“Watching our brother die on video was the most painful experience of our lives. But listening to those defending these officers blame him for his own death today felt like a knife in the heart,” Philonise Floyd said in a statement. “It shows the degree to which the justice system works to protect those in authority at our expense.”
Crump also accused the opposing counsel of portraying “negative narratives” often used against Black victims of police brutality, in which individuals effectively are “assassinated a second time when the official story line destroys their character after they are dead.”
Attorney Antonio Romanucci, who’s also representing the family in the case, said the officers actions displayed the “shameful failure” of the Minneapolis Police Department.
“When George said the first time that he could not breathe, they had a duty to check his oxygen exchange and ensure that he was breathing normally. They did not,” he said in a statement Friday. “In fact, they let him beg and plead for breath until there was none left, and he was dead. They exerted deadly force on a non-violent suspect who was subdued, handcuffed and prone.”
In addition to the criminal charges, the family filed a civil lawsuit against the city of Minneapolis and the four officers involved — Derek Chauvin, Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng — in July. The lawsuit claims they used unnecessary and excessive force when detaining George Floyd, resulting in his death. They are seeking compensatory and special damages and requesting that the city “properly trains and supervises its police officers.”
Last month, a defense attorney for Chauvin asked to have all charges dropped against his client, arguing the death of Floyd, 46, allegedly was the result of a drug overdose and not caused by the officer pinning Floyd to the ground with his knee. Chauvin, who was charged with second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, pleaded not guilty.
Attorneys for Lane and Kueng previously argued that their clients were rookies who followed Chauvin’s lead. Bob Paule, an attorney for Thao, said his client’s role was removed from the attack as he was on crowd control while the others restrained Floyd.
The officers are scheduled stand trail in March of 2021.
The Minneapolis Police Department issued a series of reforms in the wake of the fatal incident. The department now bans officers from shooting at moving vehicles and they are now required to use the lowest level of force possible when apprehending suspects.
“The most impactful thing that we do in this profession is when a decision is made and we have to take a life. Sanctity of life is the cornerstone of how we are guided as a police department, so I see these new changes and updates to use-of-force policy, I think, [keep] both both our officers and our public safe,” Police Chief Medaria Arradondo told reporters last month. “It strengthens our values toward de-escalation and encourages a more reportable force.”
He said the reforms were aimed at reducing encounters like the one that led to Floyd’s death.
“What I have heard from communities over the course of several years is the impact when officers point their weapons at them, even if it doesn’t result in an arrest situation, the trauma that can have,” Arradondo said. “That’s a threatening use of force and we have not captured that before. It’ll be new for our department members, but it speaks to trying to build that public trust.”
ABC News’ Stephanie Wash and Alex Perez contributed to this report.