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The Hennepin County Government Center is seen during the Derek Chauvin trial on April 1, 2021, in Minneapolis. (AP/Tuite) The Hennepin County Government Center is seen during the Derek Chauvin trial on April 1, 2021, in Minneapolis. (AP/Tuite)

The Hennepin County Government Center is seen during the Derek Chauvin trial on April 1, 2021, in Minneapolis. (AP/Tuite)

Bill McCarthy
By Bill McCarthy April 8, 2021

If Your Time is short

  • It’s difficult to make out George Floyd’s words in a short clip of his arrest that Derek Chauvin’s defense attorney played in court during Chauvin’s murder trial.

  • One witness initially agreed with the defense that Floyd appeared to say, “I ate too many drugs.” But after the prosecution showed a longer clip, the same witness amended his statement and said, “I believe Mr. Floyd was saying, ‘I ain’t do no drugs.’”

The legal defense for Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer on trial for murder in the death of George Floyd, tried unsuccessfully to get two witnesses to testify that Floyd said he "ate too many drugs" as he was pinned under Chauvin’s knee.

Defense attorney Eric Nelson did not come away with the answer he sought during the eighth day of Chauvin’s trial. But the brief clip he played in court fueled unproven claims that Floyd died from an overdose, despite two autopsy reports that ruled his death a homicide.

"Wow. Chauvin’s lawyer just played a short excerpt of George Floyd — while being held on the ground — screaming out, ‘Ahhh! I ate too many drugs!’" said one April 7 Instagram post, which showed a screenshot of a widespread tweet. "This trial shouldn’t be happening."

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

The post is missing important context, as what Floyd said in the clip Nelson played in court was disputed during the trial. One witness said that he couldn’t make Floyd’s words out. The second witness said at first that Floyd appeared to say, "I ate too many drugs." But under questioning from the prosecution, the same witness later said he believed Floyd was saying, "I ain’t take no drugs."

Here’s what happened, in context.

The first witness Nelson asked about Floyd’s comments was Sgt. Jody Stiger of the Los Angeles Police Department, a use-of-force expert.

Nelson played for Stiger a four-second clip pulled from body camera footage. The clip showed Floyd speaking as Chauvin restrained him. What Floyd said in the short clip is not completely clear. His face is not visible, and other voices are heard speaking at the same time.

The rest of the exchange between Nelson and Stiger went like this:

Nelson: "Did you hear what he said?"

Stiger: "No. I couldn’t make it out."

Nelson: "Does it sound like he says, ‘I ate too many drugs’? Listen again."

Stiger: "I can’t make that out, no."

Later in the trial, Nelson posed a similar line of questioning to witness James Reyerson, a senior special agent with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

Nelson started by asking Reyerson if he had ever heard Floyd say he ate too many drugs while reviewing footage of Floyd’s arrest from body cameras. Reyerson responded that he had not.

Then, Nelson played the same four-second clip for Reyerson. Their exchange went like this:

Nelson: "Did it appear that Mr. Floyd said, ‘I ate too many drugs’?" 

Reyerson: "Yes. It did."

But Reyerson ultimately amended his statement under questioning from prosecutor Matthew Frank. In answers to a series of questions, Reyerson said that his response to Nelson was the first time he had been asked to assess what Floyd said in the four-second clip.

Frank later played a roughly 40-second clip from body camera footage that he said showed Floyd’s remarks in the context of what the officers were saying. Reyerson testified that prior to what was shown in the shorter clip Nelson played, the officers had been discussing drug use.

After the longer video finished playing, Reyerson had the following exchange with Frank:

Frank: "Having heard it in context, are you able to tell what Mr. Floyd is saying there?"

Reyerson: "Yes. I believe Mr. Floyd was saying, ‘I ain’t do no drugs.’"

Frank: "So that’s a little different than what you were asked about when you only saw a portion of the video, correct?"

Reyerson: "Yes, sir."

Floyd’s drug use has become a fixture of the defense’s case to clear Chauvin of the murder and manslaughter charges against him. Two autopsy reports conducted after Floyd’s death found different causes of death, but both of them ruled the manner of his death a homicide.

The Hennepin County medical examiner’s autopsy report found higher-than-normal levels of fentanyl in Floyd’s system, but it said his death was caused by "cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law-enforcement subdual restraint, and neck compression."

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Did George Floyd say he ‘ate too many drugs,’ as Derek Chauvin's defense claimed?