Derek Chauvin Trial: 6 Key Takeaways From Week 1 Of Witness Testimony

Friday marked the end of the first week of witness testimony in the high-profile trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with murder and manslaughter in George Floyd’s death.

Multiple witnesses became emotional as they recounted Chauvin, who is white, kneeling on Floyd’s neck on May 25, 2020, as Floyd, who is Black, repeatedly stating that he couldn’t breathe and crying out for “Mama.”

Chauvin has been charged with second- and third-degree murder as well as second-degree manslaughter. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Here were the biggest takeaways from this week’s proceedings:

Public Safety Officials Were Alarmed By Chauvin’s Actions

Several witnesses who took the stand this week were public safety officials, including Genevieve Hansen, a Minneapolis firefighter who was off duty when she witnessed Floyd’s arrest.

Hansen testified that Officer Tou Thao blocked her from providing medical assistance to Floyd after she identified herself as a Minneapolis firefighter. (Hansen said she was not wearing her uniform at the time, nor did she present Thao with any identification.)

She can be heard in bystanders’ video repeatedly telling Thao and Chauvin to check Floyd’s pulse and that the man needed help.

After paramedics loaded Floyd’s body onto an ambulance, about nine minutes after Chauvin began kneeling on his neck, Hansen called 911. The prosecution played a portion of the call in which Hansen can be heard telling the dispatcher that the police “fucking killed” Floyd.

“I literally watched police officers not take a pulse and not do anything to save a man,” Hansen, 27, told the dispatcher.

On Monday, prosecutors called to the stand Jena Scurry, a 911 dispatcher who reported Chauvin’s and the other officers’ actions to her supervisor after witnessing Floyd’s arrest on a surveillance camera.

Scurry had dispatched police to the Cup Foods store that night when a worker reported someone ― later determined to be Floyd ― had used a $20 bill suspected of being counterfeit.

Scurry said that she watched officers restrain Floyd for so long on the camera footage that she wondered if the “screens had frozen.” She then called the supervising sergeant to let him know that something seemed off.

“My instincts were telling me that something’s wrong,” Scurry testified. “Something wasn’t right.”

Bystanders Feel Guilt, Sorrow Over Floyd’s Death

Several people who witnessed Floyd’s arrest, including multiple teenagers, became emotional as they testified about his death and said they wish they could have done more to help him. 

Darnella Frazier, 18, recorded a video of the arrest that was viewed millions of times around the world. She said Tuesday that she stays up some nights “apologizing and apologizing” to Floyd for “not saving his life.”

But Frazier suggested it was Chauvin who bore responsibility for Floyd’s death.

“It’s not what I should have done,” she said. “It’s what he should have done.”

Alyssa Funari, who was 17 at the time of Floyd’s arrest, also testified Tuesday. She became tearful at times, stating that it was difficult for her to talk about that night.

“I felt like that there wasn’t really anything I could do,” Funari said of watching Floyd’s death. “That I was powerless … I felt like I was failing him.”

Two other young eyewitnesses testified Tuesday: Frazier’s 9-year-old cousin, Judeah Reynolds, and Funari’s friend Kaylynn Gilbert, 17.

Charles McMillian, a 61-year-old witness, broke down in tears as the prosecution played a video of Floyd’s arrest in which he could be heard calling out for “Mama.” McMillian said the video made him feel “helpless.” Floyd’s mother had died two years earlier.

“I don’t have a mama either ― I understand him,” McMillian said before Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill, who is presiding over the trial, called for short break so the witness could compose himself.

On Thursday, Christopher Martin, who was working at Cup Foods the night of the arrest, testified about that night and the “disbelief” and “guilt” he felt over Floyd’s death.

Martin, 19, said Floyd appeared to be “high” but was also “talkative” and “very friendly” when he came into the store that night. He said he rang Floyd up for a pack of cigarettes and soon suspected that Floyd had paid with a counterfeit $20 bill.

After Martin reported it to his manager, another store employee called 911. About an hour later, Floyd would be dead.

“If I would have just not taken the bill, this could have been avoided,” Martin said.

Hansen, the firefighter, tearfully testified that she was “totally distressed” by not being allowed to provide medical aid to Floyd during the arrest. 

‘No Reason’ For Police Not To Initiate Chest Compressions

Derek Smith, one of the paramedics who took Floyd to the hospital, testified Thursday that Floyd appeared to be dead when he arrived at the scene. Smith said Chauvin was still kneeling on Floyd’s neck when he checked it for a pulse. He didn’t find one.

Officer Thomas Lane, one of the first officers to respond to the initial 911 call made by the Cup Foods worker, went in the ambulance and helped the paramedics with resuscitation efforts after they drove a few blocks away from the scene, Smith said. 

Smith then instructed Lane to begin chest compressions on Floyd and Lane complied, Smith testified. Lane left the ambulance after firefighters arrived and began assisting the paramedics.

During his cross-examination of Smith, defense attorney Eric Nelson asked Smith why he didn’t have Lane continue to help with resuscitation efforts, appearing to suggest that Lane and other officers didn’t have the proper training to render medical aid.

“Is it because he’s not an EMT?” Nelson asked.

“Any layperson can do chest compressions,” Smith responded. “There’s no reason [the police] couldn’t have started chest compressions.”

Bystanders in videos of Floyd’s arrest could be heard imploring the officers to get off of Floyd and help him. But the officers continued to pin Floyd to the pavement, even after he stopped speaking and moving, until the paramedics arrived.

Police Lieutenant: Chauvin’s Actions ‘Totally Unnecessary’

Minneapolis Police Lt. Richard Zimmerman, the longest-serving police officer in the department, testified Friday that Chauvin’s actions were “totally unnecessary.”

“Pulling him down to the ground facedown and putting the knee on the neck for that amount of time is just uncalled for,” said Zimmerman, who helped secure the area of the arrest hours after Floyd was taken to the hospital.

“If your knee is on a person’s neck, that can kill him,” Zimmerman later said.

Zimmerman said Minneapolis police officers are trained every other year or so in cardiopulmonary resuscitation, including instruction on how to perform chest compressions.

Officers “need to provide medical care for a person that is in distress” ― even if an ambulance has already been called, Zimmerman testified.

A day earlier, retired Minneapolis police Sgt. David Pleoger, Chauvin’s supervisor at the time of Floyd’s arrest, testified that he believed the officers could have stopped restraining Floyd so severely once Floyd had stopped resisting.

On Monday, eyewitness Donald Williams, who said he’d trained for years as a mixed martial artist, said Chauvin had used a “blood choke” on Floyd when he knelt on him. 

Williams testified that he called out to Chauvin as he was kneeling on Floyd and accused him of using the move, which is meant to hinder a person’s blood flow. 

“He looked at me,” Williams said, adding that Chauvin stared at him “dead in the eyes” at that point. “That’s the only time he looked up.”

Williams called 911 after the arrest to report the officers’ actions, testifying that he felt he “witnessed a murder” and needed to “call the police on the police.”

New Video Shows Chauvin’s Actions After Arrest

This week, the prosecution presented videos never before seen by the public that showed Floyd’s arrest from various perspectives and its aftermath. 

In video recorded by Chauvin’s body camera, he can be seen returning to his squad car after the ambulance leaves.

“That man is going to haunt you for the rest of your life,” Williams can be heard telling Chauvin in the video.

As Chauvin approaches his squad car, McMillian can be heard expressing concern over Chauvin’s decision to kneel on Floyd’s neck.

“That’s one person’s opinion,” Chauvin responded. “We gotta control this guy. He’s a sizable guy. Looks like he was probably on something.”

Defense Strategy Revealed

Nelson, Chauvin’s attorney, outlined the prosecution’s arguments in his opening statement Monday. He contended Floyd’s death was the result of preexisting conditions and a drug overdose ― not Chauvin’s actions.

The Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office released an autopsy report in June that said Floyd’s death was a homicide and that his cause of death was “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint and neck compression.” It also reported that Floyd had fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system when he died.

Courteney Ross, Floyd’s former girlfriend, became emotional as she testified about meeting Floyd ― a “mama’s boy” ― for the first time and their subsequent three-year relationship. She also described how she and Floyd ― like millions of other Americans each year ― struggled with opioid addiction.

“It’s a classic story of how many people get addicted to opioids,” Ross said. “We both suffered from chronic pain. … We both had prescriptions. … We got addicted and tried really hard to break that addiction many times.”

During cross-examination, Nelson asked Ross to discuss Floyd’s “extended hospitalization” in March 2020. She said she drove Floyd to the hospital one night because he complained of severe stomach pains. She noticed “foam” near his mouth while she was bringing him there.

She testified that she later learned Floyd was ill because he had overdosed. 

Nelson has also tried to portray the crowd of bystanders as violent and unruly, which he’d suggested made it more difficult for the officers to do their jobs. Though two paramedics who treated Floyd said the crowd was yelling and seemed upset, neither of them said they saw bystanders physically fighting.

Zimmerman testified, based on his viewing of both the bystander and body camera videos, that no one in the crowd appeared to be attacking the officers.

“The crowd really shouldn’t have an effect on your actions,” he said.

The trial will resume Monday around 9 a.m. Central time. You can livestream it here.




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