State vs. Chauvin Trial: Opening statements, witness testimony | www.WDIO.com

State vs. Chauvin Trial: Opening statements, witness testimony

State vs. Chauvin Trial: Opening statements, witness testimony Photo: WDIO

WDIO/KSTP
Updated: March 29, 2021 05:59 PM
Created: March 29, 2021 08:57 AM

Opening statements begin on Monday in the criminal trial of Derek Chauvin. The former Minneapolis police officer faces one count each of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in connection with the in-custody death of George Floyd on May 25.
 
The state and defense will make their opening statements to a complete jury panel.

Jury selection took just over two weeks, but the process was not without its problems. According to Hubbard sister-station, KSTP, a win for the state allowed the third-degree murder charge to be reinstated, but lingering questions about a pending appeal threatened to delay the trial before potential jurors even set foot in the courtroom.

Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill carried on with jury selection and reinstated the charge, but the process quickly stalled four days after it began. On March 12, the Minneapolis City Council approved a record $27 million settlement with Floyd's family in a wrongful death suit against the city.

News of the massive payout rippled across the city and crept into the pool of potential jurors. By that point, seven jurors had been seated. Cahill resolved to interview the already-selected jurors to determine whether the news had changed their ability to remain impartial in the trial; the judge was forced to excuse two of them.

In the end, the jury panel was seated, made up of nine women and six men. Six identify as people of color. The 15th juror was added as insurance — the trial requires 12 jurors and two alternates, and Cahill wanted to make sure 14 could be sworn in when the trial starts.

This week lawyers on either side of the case will present their opening statements to the jury panel and call witnesses to the stand.

The panel could also eventually see footage showing a 2019 arrest of Floyd that Cahill allowed the defense to use during the trial. The judge also allowed the prosecution to present two of Chauvin's prior arrests as evidence.

Here are the happenings during court proceedings: 

State prosecutor Jerry Blackwell and defense attorney Eric Nelson will deliver the opening statements to begin the trial on Monday. Judge Cahill addressed the jury to get things started, noting many things the jurors will have to do and not do while the trial is ongoing. 

State prosecutor Jerry Blackwell began his opening statement, touching on what police are sworn in to do. 

"And as you will learn as applies to this case... never employing a necessary force or violence," Blackwell said to the court. "You will learn what happened in that nine minutes and 29 seconds, the most important numbers you will hear in this trial are nine two nine."

He described to the jury what they will see in the bystander video, punctuating key moments with the statement. 

Blackwell says the jury will hear from a California use of force expert and a Minneapolis Police Department sergeant. Police Chief Medaria Arradondo is also expected to testify. The prosecution team states that Arradondo will testify that Chauvin's actions were not consistent with the department's use of force training. 

The jury will hear from a forensic pathologist, pulmonologist, cardiologist and Hennepin County Medical Examiner Dr. Andrew Baker. 

"You will learn amongst the bystanders was a first responder, a member of the Minneapolis Fire Department... she wanted to check his pulse.. she wanted [Chauvin] to let up and get up," Blackwell said, adding that that member of the fire department will also testify. 

Blackwell says a lot of the prosecution's tactics will rely heavily on witness statements. 

The video will be shown to the jury, to which Blackwell warned of its graphic nature. Blackwell then played the video for the jury. Bystanders are heard in the video asking police to help Floyd and get off his neck. 

A 911 dispatcher will also testify in this case. Blackwell said she called the police on the police to report what she saw, because "she found it that disturbing." He added she will describe what she felt when she saw a man lose his life. 

The jury will also hear from MPD members who will address Chauvin's training. Blackwell said. "above all the police are trained in the side-recovery position... you turn them over on their side as soon as possible so you don't obstruct their airway."

Blackwell also said that jurors will learn that Floyd's death was not related to a heart attack and drugs did not kill Floyd. 

"After he had died, saw no injuries, no evidence or a heart injury and it was so remarkable he didn't even photograph the hear," Blackwell said, speaking on the medical examiner's comments on Floyd's heart. He added that Floyd's behavior was "not consistent" with someone dying of an overdose. Floyd is noted to die from a lack of oxygen, according to the state prosecution team.

Blackwell points out that the manner of death was stated as a "homicide," or "at the hands of another person."

Blackwell reminded the jury that all of this happened over a fake $20 bill.

Blackwell then reminded the jury that all of this happened over a fake $20 bill. Blackwell wraps up his opening arguments by telling the jury, "There was no excuse for the police abuse of Mr. Chauvin."

Defense attorney Eric Nelson began his opening arguments, starting by discussing reasonable doubt. 

"But for purposes of my remarks this morning, I want to talk about reason and common sense, and how that applies to the evidence that you're about to see during the course of this trial," he said. 

He told the jury that "there is no political or social cause in this courtroom," further stating that telling the jury the evidence is what matters.

Nelson said the BCA had at least 50 agents on the case and the FBI had at least 28. Together, they interviewed at least 50 MPD officers and nearly 200 civilian witnesses. 

Nelson says jurors will see surveillance video from inside Cup Foods, where Floyd and a friend had run into a former girlfriend of his. He said the video will show Floyd passing the counterfeit $20 bill, prompting the store clerk to follow him out of the store. He said after confronting Floyd, the clerk called 911, telling them that he believed Floyd was intoxicated. Nelson says that's when Floyd went back to his car, took two Percocets and "nodded off." A short time later, two officers arrived on the scene.

Nelson suggests to the jury that the evidence will show that when confronted by police, Floyd put drugs in his mouth in an effort to conceal them from the police. The defense explained what was captured in the body cam and surveillance video before the bystander video.

Nelson said there was a struggle at the MPD squad car when officers arrived. 

"So much so that it catches the attention of the 911 dispatcher Jenna Scurry. This was not an easy struggle," he said.

Nelson called the use of force "not attractive," but stated, "it is a necessary component of policing." 

The defense brings up Floyd's cause of death and breaks down what was found in the autopsy. He stated that the cause of death will be the biggest battle in this case.

Court took a short morning recess until 11:15 a.m.
 

The first witness takes the stand. Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank is questioning Minneapolis 911 dispatcher Jena Scurry. 

Scurry described how the Minneapolis Police Department divides the city into five precinct sectors and respective officers and units are assigned to calls within a sector. The state prosecutor is asking the witness how the dispatch job works closely with police.

"Sometimes we do have cameras available to us... to keep us up to date," Scurry said. She adds there are about six TVs on the wall showing those angles. She also said there is typically at least one sergeant on duty in each precinct. 

She told the state she is aware of the Minneapolis area, including the area of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue, as she stated she has walked through the area before. 

Scurry was working on May 25, 2020. She told the court she was a police dispatcher that day, including for the third precinct. Scurry dispatched officers to Cup Foods.

The State presented Exhibit 151, showing the call records from May 25, 2020, relating to the Floyd incident.  The dispatcher tells the court that all of the information regarding the call logs are sent to the officers and is available for reference in their squad car. 

The court played the dispatcher call for the jurors. 

Frank showes Scurry exhibit 10, which is dispatch audio and Scurry confirmed it was her voice. According to KSTP reporter Callan Gray, you can hear the dispatcher sending officers to the Cup Foods, saying "they are reporting there is a person using a conterfeit bill at the business."

Scurry confirmed that some of the officers sent to the scene in south Minneapolis included officers from the Minneapolis Park Police, who are able to respond to calls in the city beyond parks alone. She dispatched park police as backup because she heard "a loud noise" in the background.

When asked if she could see any of the surveillance video of the incident, she said "we were able to see what was going on. At first I just saw the squad car, I didn't see the officers... I did not watch the whole video or as it was happening I did not watch the whole time. I still had other calls to take care of."

Scurry said at first she thought the screen had frozen because the situation hadn't changed when she looked up again.

"My instincts were telling me something was wrong — it was a gut instinct — in the incident, something is not going right," she said. She adds at that point, she called the sergeant on duty.

"I can call them regarding calls if something doesn't look right, in a call if there's a caution note, if there's something that they can do beyond the scope of the call, I can call them," Scurry said. 

She is heard on the call saying, "I don't know if they have used force or not they got something out of the back of the squad and all of them sat on this man." She also used the term "snitch" when referring to reporting to the sergeant about the situation. She was voicing her concerns in regards to seeing a possible use of force issue. 

She noted before that call, she had never done anything like that. 

The court took a recess for lunch at around 12:25. The defense will question the current witness on the stand when the court resumes at 1:30 p.m.

Questioning resumes with the 911 dispatcher. Chauvin's attorney Eric Nelson took over questioning of Minneapolis 911 dispatcher Jena Scurry.  Nelson asked Scurry if it was "fair to say you're not a police officer, and have not been through the police academy?" Scurry  replied, "correct."

Scurry said it's rare to see an incident she dispatches first responders to show up on the televisions in the room she works in, saying it has happened "three or four" times in her career. 

The 911 dispatcher said squad 320 was former officers J Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane, while squad 330 included Chauvin and Tou Thao. Squad 830 were responding as park police. Squad 830 was the first to respond to the area.

Nelson makes the court aware that Scurry asked for paramedics at the scene because she believed Floyd was under the influence, not because officers asked for emergency medical services at the site. The responding EMS group initially arrived at the site but then left to another area nearby, according to Nelson, who is seen reading from the incident report. 

Nelson notes to the court that Scurry, due to her job tasks, wasn't fully focused on what was happening on TV screens outside of Cup Foods. 

The defense asked Scurry if she could hear anything from the video or what kind of discussions were happening between the officers. She replied no. She also acknowledged that she is not an MPD officer with use of force training. 

Nelson replayed the video, asking the dispatcher if she can note where she sees the squad car rocking back and forth during the struggle seen between Floyd and the former officers. The defense ended their questioning, with the state prosecutor taking over.

A point made by the defense was how busy the area was during the incident. They argue that police had to restain Floyd due to the fear he could run into a busy intersection.

The state resumes questioning with the dispatcher.  After a few questions of clarification, she steps down from the witness stand. 

The state calls the next witness, Alisha Oyler to the witness stand. Oyler worked as a shift lead at the Speedway gas station on the corner of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue. Oyler tells the court she is 23 years old, and had worked at Speedway for "about a year" before it was shut down. 

Oyler confirmed to the court, that on May 25, 2020, she was able to see outside to the street from the cash register. She told state prosecutor Steve Schleicher she first noticed police when they were near the vehicle.

Oyler said she doesn't know Floyd and didn't know who he was at the time of the incident. She noted that she saw the police "messing with someone."

Oyler tells the court that she started recording the incident with her cellphone. She started to record when Floyd was being placed in handcuffs in the squad car. She ended up making seven different recordings regarding the incident. Those videos are now being used as evidence. 

Schleicher plays Exhibit 9, which is surveillance video from across the street from Cup Foods, where Oyler worked. 

Oyler was asked why she kept recording the incident as it unfolded. "Because I always see the police and they're always messing with people and it's wrong," she replied. Oyler said she could hear people across the street yelling at police. She couldn't make out words used.

At 3:05, the court took a short recess.  When court resumes, the defense takes over questioning of the witness. Nelson asked Oyler for a better picture of what the inside of the Speedway she worked at looked like. 

She agrees in saying that her recordings were only one perspective, but stated that multiple videos were provided for this case. 

Nelson asked Oyler if the growing crowd that gathered to witness the incident were yelling and becoming hostile, to which she agreed, but she added that "people were going to be mad either way."

According to KSTP reporter Callan Gray, Oyler took seven cell phone videos that provide a new angle of the scene that night. Schleicher uses this to narrow in on the position of officers after the ambulance arrived.

Both the state and defense have concluded their questioning with the witness.

Donald Williams is the next witness to take the stand. He is one of the bystanders who can be heard on the cellphone video. He is an entrepreneur and professional fighter. 

He stated he has worked alongside police in Minneapolis as a security guard for the past 12 years at various businesses around the city. Williams used to be a wrestler in high school before he turned to martial arts.

He also has coached a youth wrestling program and continues to do so, while also working with his kids. He has been involved in martial arts since 2009. He has participated in 10 amateur fights. He states he is in the gym training Monday through Friday when he is actively fighting. 

Williams discussed chokeholds in detail from his martial arts background. He also described "tapping out" and other methods that he is knowledgeable about. He noted that he has been rendered unconscious from a chokehold. 

He said earlier during the day of May 25, 2020, he was out fishing with a friend. He went into detail about showing his son how to properly cut and store fish after being caught. He came back from cutting fish at his place to stop at Cup Foods "for some air." He said he was going to get something to drink from the store. 

Surveillance video showed Williams walking near Cup Foods after he parked his vehicle. 

Williams said he noted that he saw police in the area. He said he did not make it into Cup Foods because he sensed the energy was "off." He explained there was a lot of commotion going on when he turned the corner. 

He heard someone crying for their mother and people saying "you should let him up, he's not resisting arrest."

Williams says once he started to walk closer, he noticed the situation involving the officers and Floyd. He called Thao "a dictator" of the situation. He states, "he's the guy who let it go on."  He said Floyd was speaking in a "distressed" way.

"He was saying 'I can't breathe,' 'I'm hurt'... he said he was sorry for what he did," Williams said.

Williams said he called the chokehold Chauvin had on Floyd "a blood choke"— and that is when Chauvin looked up towards the camera of the bystander video that went viral. He says he could have gotten closer to the incident, but said a "fear factor" played into that as well."

Williams also said that Tou told Williams, "this is what drugs do to you." He said that aggravated him, as he disagreed, due to his personal experience with martial arts. He added that none of the officers checked Floyd's pulse. 

He adds he was able to settle down a younger bystander at the scene. The crowd was concerned but not unruly, according to Williams.

He identified the knee pressure Chauvin used in the bystander video as he mentioned earlier. 

Judge Cahill addressed Williams about his testimony. There were a lot of discussions between the attorneys about what Williams can testify to regarding the incident. Cahill wants Williams to explain his observations, not his opinions on what he saw.

There were some technical issues with the feed from inside the courtroom.

Judge Cahill addressed the technical glitches that occurred. One of the issues is that the stream cut out for family members in another room, and due to that, the judge said the court is in recess until Tuesday morning. 

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