The first week of the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with murdering George Floyd last May 25, wrapped up Friday, capping a week of vivid eyewitness accounts, harrowing video evidence, and testimony by officers from the defendant's own department who called his deadly use of force against the unarmed Black man excessive and "totally unnecessary."
"Holding him down to the ground, face down and putting your knee on a neck for that amount of time is just uncalled for. I saw no reason why the officers felt they were in danger."
—Lt. Richard Zimmerman,
Minneapolis homicide detective
During opening statements Monday, prosecutors repeatedly referred to 9:29; that is, nine minutes, 29 seconds, the amount of time Chauvin actually kneeled on Floyd's neck—significantly longer than the "8:46" rallying cry that was often seen on the signs and heard from the mouths of demonstrators at last summer's worldwide Black Lives Matter protests.
Prior to the first of many screenings of video showing Floyd slowly dying beneath Chauvin's knee, prosecutor Jerry Blackwell told the jury: "You will be able to hear Mr. Floyd saying, 'Please, I can't breathe. Please, man. Please.' You will see that as Mr. Floyd is handcuffed there on the ground, he is verbalizing 27 times... 'I can't breathe. Please, I can't breathe.'"
"You will see that Mr. Chauvin is kneeling on Mr. Floyd's neck and back," Blackwell continued. "You will hear Mr. Floyd as he's crying out. You hear him at some point cry out for his mother... He was very close to his mother, you will learn. You will hear him say, 'Tell my kids I love them.' You will hear him say... 'I'll probably die this way... They're going to kill me..'"
"You will hear him... cry out in pain... and you'll see at the same time, while he's crying out, Mr. Chauvin never moves," said Blackwell. "The knee remains on his neck... And it just goes on. You will hear his final words, when he says, 'I can't breathe.'... You will hear his voice get heavier. You will hear his words further apart. You will see that his respiration gets shallower and shallower and finally stops, when he speaks his last words, 'I can't breathe.'"
And they did, over and over again, day after day, throughout the week. The jury, the court, and everyone watching around the world saw and heard recordings of the incident from eyewitness' phones, officer body cameras, and public police surveillance cameras in Powderhorn Park, what Chauvin defense attorney Eric J. Nelson called a "high-crime neighborhood."
People from that neighborhood, or in it last May 25—people Blackwell called "a veritable bouquet of humanity"—testified throughout the week.
After hearing from 911 dispatcher Jena Scurry, who said Monday that she had a "gut feeling" that what she saw on the police surveillance camera that fateful evening "wasn't right," another public servant, off-duty Minneapolis firefighter Genevieve Hansen, took the stand on Tuesday. Hansen was present at and recorded video of Floyd's arrest; she can be heard repeatedly imploring officers to check his pulse as he died. Prosecutors played a recording of Hansen's 911 call in which she told a dispatcher that police "fucking killed" Floyd.
When Nelson—who during his opening statement attempted to blame Floyd's drug use, underlying health problems, and even distraction caused by bystanders for his death—asked Hansen during cross examination if onlookers were upset by what they saw, she replied, "I don't know if you’ve seen anybody be killed, but it's upsetting," earning a stern rebuke from Judge Peter A. Cahill.
"I don't know if you've seen anybody be killed, but it's upsetting" -- Genevieve Clara Hansen to Chauvin defense attorney Eric Nelson pic.twitter.com/dFQ10UI0Ca
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 30, 2021
Hansen also said she would have rushed in to administer life-saving first aid to Floyd, but "officers didn't let me into the scene."
Hansen shed the first of many witness tears throughout the week when prosecutor and Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank asked her how that made her feel.
"Totally distressed," she replied.
Testifying on both Monday and Tuesday, eyewitness Donald Williams, who has trained and competed in professional mixed martial arts, provided damning expert analysis of the "blood choke"—which causes unconcsiousness by starving the brain of blood—Chauvin applied to Floyd's neck.
"The knee was diagonal across the throat," Williams testified. "The officer on top was shimmying to actually get the final choke in while he was on top, the kill choke."
Williams wiped away tears while listening to his 911 call, during which he told the dispatcher that Chauvin "just pretty much killed this guy that wasn't resisting arrest."
When Nelson—who attempted to portray Williams as "angry"—asked why he called 911, Williams replied, "Because I believe I witnessed a murder."
As soon as the eyewitness Donald Williams suggests his own race was the same as George Floyd’s (“I seen another man like me”), Derek Chauvin’s defense attorney objects. pic.twitter.com/PTQfXQVOIn
— Keith Boykin (@keithboykin) March 30, 2021
On Tuesday, more eyewitnesses to Floyd's arrest and death were called to the stand, including people who were not shown because they were under 18 years old at the time of the incident. Darnella Frazier, who was 17 years old last May, told the court that she lies awake at night "apologizing and apologizing" to Floyd "for not saving his life."
However, Frazier ultimately concluded that "it's not what I should have done, it's what he should have done," referring to Chauvin.
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"When I look at George Floyd, I look at my dad," said Frazier. "I look at my brothers. I look at my cousins, my uncles, because they are all Black. I have a Black father. I have a Black brother. I have Black friends. And I look at that, and I look at how that could have been one of them."
"I look at my brothers. I look at my cousins, my uncles, because they are all Black. I have a Black father. I have a Black brother. I have Black friends. And I look at that, and I look at how that could have been one of them."
Frazier's 10-year-old cousin Judeah Reynolds, who was also present at Floyd's death, took the stand after Darnella, saying she was "sad and kind of mad" at what she saw.
Wednesday saw emotional testimony from witnesses who were in or near the Cup Foods store where Floyd allegedly used a counterfeit $20 bill to purchase a pack of cigarettes shortly before his fatal arrest. The jury watched CCTV footage from inside the store showing Floyd, apparently intoxicated, harmlessly interacting with customers and staff.
Christopher Martin, a 19-year-old Cup Foods cashier, testified that Floyd was "very friendly" and that he considered accepting the fake $20 bill and charging it to his account, or not taking it at all. Saying he felt "disbelief and guilt," Martin told the court that "if I would have just not taken the bill, this all could have been avoided."
Martin's testimony was interrupted by Judge Cahill, who ordered a 20-minute break after a juror, a white woman in her 50s, suffered what she called a "stress-related reaction."
On Wednesday jurors were also shown officer body camera footage on which Chauvin is heard for the first time in his own words.
"We got to control this guy because he's a sizable guy, and it looks like he is probably on something," he says. The video shows Floyd begging officers to "please don't shoot me" and saying he is "scared as fuck" by the encounter.
On Thursday, Courteney Ross, Floyd's girlfriend of nearly three years, broke down in tears as she told the court that he was a loving partner, a devoted father, and had tremendous love for his mother. Ross also testified about the couple's shared struggle with opioid addiction—a strategy prosecutors hoped would establish that Floyd had a high tolerance for fentanyl and methamphetamine and refute defense claims he died of an overdose.
"Our story, it's a classic story of how many people get addicted to opioids," Ross said. "We both struggled from chronic pain. Mine was in my neck and his was in his back."
Testimony from police officers also began on Thursday, with one of Chauvin's supervisors, Sgt. David Pleoger, telling the court that he believed officers should have stopped pinning Floyd down as soon as he became unresponsive.
"When Mr. Floyd was no longer offering up any resistance to the officers, they could have ended their restraint," Pleoger said.
Derek Chauvin’s supervisor David Pleoger was just asked his opinion on when the restraint of George Floyd should have ended:
“When Mr. Floyd was no longer offering up any resistance to the officers, they could have ended their restraint.”
“No further questions.” pic.twitter.com/tMBRAMHwmw
— philip lewis (@Phil_Lewis_) April 1, 2021
During a shortened session Friday, homicide detective Lt. Richard Zimmerman—who, with 35 years of service, is the longest-tenured officer in the Minneapolis Police Department—testified that he has never been trained to kneel on a suspect's neck, and that such action was "totally unnecessary" in Floyd's case.
"Holding him down to the ground, face down and putting your knee on a neck for that amount of time is just uncalled for," Zimmerman testified. "I saw no reason why the officers felt they were in danger, if that is what they felt. And that is what they would have to have felt to be able use that kind of force."
"If your knee is on a person's neck, that can kill him," Zimmerman added.
Lt. Richard Zimmerman, a top Minneapolis police lieutenant testifying at Derek Chauvin's trial, said that officers had never been trained to kneel on people’s necks while they were handcuffed and lying on their stomachs because "that can kill them." https://t.co/3n3TeVrzHQ pic.twitter.com/VSVdFeput0
— The New York Times (@nytimes) April 2, 2021
Chauvin's trial is set to resume on Monday at 9:30 am local time.