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The latest on the civil rights trial of 3 officers involved in George Floyd's death

ADRIAN FLORIDO, HOST:

In Minnesota, three former Minneapolis police officers are on trial for their involvement in the death of George Floyd under Derek Chauvin's knee in May of 2020. The three officers face federal charges of violating Floyd's constitutional rights, and testimony this week has centered on a controversial syndrome referred to as excited delirium.

Minnesota Public Radio's Jon Collins joins us now from the courthouse in St. Paul. Hey there, Jon.

JON COLLINS, BYLINE: Hey.

FLORIDO: Tell us more about the charges against these three former police officers. How do prosecutors say they violated Floyd's constitutional rights?

COLLINS: Well, prosecutors are trying to prove that these three defendants ignored their departmental policies and their training and that they did not give medical aid to George Floyd when it was clear he needed it. And then prosecutors also want to show that two of these former officers did not intervene with the officer who kneeled on Floyd's neck.

FLORIDO: Jon, the prosecution is calling witnesses first in this case, and one of the things the testimony this week seems to be making clear is that prosecutors are expecting the defense to suggest that George Floyd, during his arrest, was suffering from something called excited delirium that required officers to be extra aggressive with him. What is excited delirium?

COLLINS: Well, it's defined as a syndrome, so there are a lot of potential symptoms that are associated with it. The way one paramedic described it is that people are irrational, acting erratically, not making sense, and they often take their clothes off, want to they break things. Allegedly, they can develop a sort of superhuman strength.

FLORIDO: But isn't diagnosing excited delirium itself pretty controversial?

COLLINS: Oh, it is. The American Medical Association released a statement - it was just last year - strongly opposing the diagnosis of excited delirium, saying it's got a history of being used to justify police use of force.

We talked to Dr. Joshua Budhu. He's a clinical fellow in neuro-oncology at Massachusetts General Hospital, and he told us this term isn't taught in medical school. It's not in medical textbooks because he says it isn't real.

JOSHUA BUDHU: It really is a convenient excuse to explain away any death in police custody.

COLLINS: But excited delirium is widely taught in police trainings.

FLORIDO: How else is this idea of excited delirium playing out in the trial?

COLLINS: One way is that excited delirium can be used to justify the force that was used on George Floyd that day. But there's also a medical implication. One of the things that officers learn about excited delirium is it can lead to cardiac arrest, meaning someone's heart stops. So for the defense, this casts doubt on the cause of Floyd's death, which a pulmonologist testified earlier this week was asphyxia. But the prosecution did bring in medical experts to talk about the controversy around the term and the requirements that police officers have to offer aid to people in their custody.

FLORIDO: So what's next in this trial, Jon?

COLLINS: The prosecution is still presenting their case. And after this medical testimony, we can expect use of force witnesses, maybe some people from George Floyd's life. And then the three defense attorneys will present their cases, which will include testimony by at least one of the former officers. And then these three defendants also face charges in state court for aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter, and that state trial is scheduled now for June.

FLORIDO: That's Minnesota Public Radio's Jon Collins. Thank you, Jon.

COLLINS: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jon Collins