State vs. Chauvin: Testimony continues on Thursday

Judge Peter Cahill swears in a witness in the Derek Chauvin criminal trial on Thursday. Judge Peter Cahill swears in a witness in the Derek Chauvin criminal trial on Thursday. |  Photo: WDIO/Court TV pool

KSTP/WDIO/The Associated Press
Updated: April 02, 2021 09:47 AM
Created: April 01, 2021 10:28 AM

MINNEAPOLIS - Testimony continues Thursday in the criminal trial of Derek Chauvin. The former Minneapolis police officer is on trial, charged with murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd.  On Wednesday, prosecutors laid out the escalating sequence of events, playing store security video of Floyd inside Cup Foods. Witnesses included a store clerk who said he regrets taking a fake bill from Floyd, which resulted in the police call, and a passerby who broke down in court while explaining how he wanted to help Floyd.

In just the first three days of testimony, the state has introduced roughly a dozen pieces of video from May 25 of last year. Jurors have been watching police body camera footage showing how an initial confrontation over an alleged counterfeit $20 bill last year spiraled into an encounter that left George Floyd begging for his life underneath the knee of a police officer as two other officers held him down. 

Experts on policing have questioned whether the Black man needed to be arrested at all, and say the officers should have at least questioned Floyd on whether he knew the bill was fake. They also wondered why the officers appeared to not follow standard de-escalation techniques to calm Floyd and the situation. 

Here are the happenings during court proceedings on Thursday: 

The first witness to take the stand was Courteney Ross. She was in a relationship with George Floyd at the time of his death. Ross started her testimony explaining how she had met Floyd in 2017. Ross became visibly upset while talking about George Floyd. She told the court Floyd worked at Harbor Lights as a security guard. He also worked at Conga Latin Bistro as a security guard.

"Floyd is what I would call a mama's boy... when he came from Houston, he seemed kinda like a shell of himself," Ross stated in court. Ross said Floyd "was broken" after his mother died and added that he had two daughters.

Ross told the court she and Floyd suffered from opioid addiction. 

"It's the classic story of how many people get addicted to opioids, we both suffer from chronic pain," Ross said.

State prosecutor and Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank asked Ross for more details about the types of drugs both she and Floyd would use. She stated that sometimes they would use other people's prescriptions "to make sure they were safe."

Ross said they spent every day together from March to May in 2020 after taking a short break as a couple. He lived in St. Louis Park with two roommates. She told the court she spoke with Floyd the day before he died over the phone.

Ross mentioned when Floyd tested positive for COVID-19, she did not. The defense then took over questioning.

Attorney Eric Nelson asked Ross, "There would be periods of time where one of the other may be using, right?" 

"Yes," Ross replied, confirming to him that Floyd went through some treatment programs. She also confirmed a photo of Morries Hall that was shown to her, adding that she and Floyd had purchased drugs from Hall. 

Nelson asked Ross about a time she took Floyd to the hospital. Ross confirmed she later learned that was due to an overdose. That happened in March 2020.

She testified that the pills she and Floyd took didn't have the same effect on her as other pills. When asked if the pills were taken before or after Floyd was hospitalized, she stated she didn't remember.

Next, two paramedics testified.

Seth Bravinder testified that they were initially dispatched for someone with a mouth injury on code 2, which means normal driving with no lights or siren. He said the call was upgraded to code 3, which means lights and sirens, about a minute and a half later.

"As we were pulling up to the scene I saw multiple officers on the side of the road with our patient laying on the ground next to a squad car," Bravinder said.

Bravinder said his assumption was there must still be a struggle since the officers were still on the patient. He stood at back of the ambulance while his partner went over the patient. 

"I didn’t see any breathing or movement," Bravinder said.

Bravinder said it looked like his partner checked Floyd’s pulse and pupils.

When a prosecutor asked Bravinder if there are multiple reasons a patient’s heart stops, he said yes. He said they believed Floyd was in cardiac arrest and unloaded a stretcher to bring the patient to the ambulance.

Bravider said at that point, the Minneapolis Fire Department was not yet on scene. When asked how Minneapolis Fire would have helped, Bravinder said they can do things like chest compressions and control the patient's airway more quickly with more people.

Bravinder said he was at Floyd’s head when they moved Floyd to the stretcher. 

"He was limp would be the best description, he was unresponsive and wasn’t holding his head up or anything like that," Bravinder said.

Bravinder said they drove to 36th and Park, where he parked and moved to the back of ambulance to help with resuscitation. He, his partner, and former officer Lane were in the ambulance.

Bravinder said a cardiac monitor showed Floyd didn’t have heart activity. He said their attempts to resuscitate Floyd included giving him Epinephrine in an attempt to restart his heart, which he said is standard treatment for cardiac arrest.

Bravinder says before they started moving again, they needed to have chest compressions, medications and breathing for him in place.

"The longer the patient goes without resuscitation the lower likelihood they will be resuscitated," Bravinder said, adding that the primary goal is circulating blood through chest compressions. 

Prosecutor Erin Eldridge asked what happens if there’s a delay.

"Based on my understanding that’s not good for his outcome," Bravinder said.

Bravinder said when they arrived at the hospital and moved him to hospital bed, Floyd's overall condition "did not appear to change" and he did not have a pulse.

Next, Hennepin County EMS paramedic Derek Smith described telling his partner he thought Floyd was deceased and wanted to get him away from the scene.

Smith said, "I walked up to the individual, noticed he wasn’t moving didn’t see any chest rise or fall ... he was in handcuffs."

Prosecutor Erin Eldridge asked what he did. Smith said he checked for a pulse and pupils - “they were large, dilated”

"In lay terms, I thought he was dead," Smith said.

He said he needed one of the officers to come with to help with chest compressions. Body camera footage confirmed that officer was Thomas Lane. Smith added that when he and his partner arrived on scene, no medical services were being provided to Floyd.

Smith also said he took off the handcuffs that police put on Floyd. The video shows Lane starting to give chest compressions on Floyd.

The paramedic pointed out some "superficial" injuries on Floyd's neck and nose. He was more concerned about the cardiac arrest. 

Smith says once Floyd was loaded into an ambulance, he directed his partner to move them to a "more secure" location and met up with the Minneapolis Fire Department. There, Lane left and the fire department began helping with efforts to resuscitate Floyd.

"We got him to a relatively stable position where I could manage this cardiac arrest," Smith said, saying they actively worked on him entire trip to Hennepin County Medical Center.

Smith confirmed that Floyd "flatlined" or "was dead" in the ambulance. When they shocked Floyd's heart, Smith said "he remained in his quote on quote dead state."

The defense follows up with cross-examination of the witness. After a few follow-up questions, the witness is excused.

Another witness, Capt. Jeremy Norton of the Minneapolis Fire Department, takes the stand. Norton said about "80%" of a firefighter's work is "medical in nature."

He stated he is in charge of the safety, well-being, and training of his crew. He adds he responds to calls with his crew as well. He explained that the fire department provides support for paramedics in situations where the individual is in critical condition. 

On May 25, 2020, Norton said they were given a "Code 2" notice, but was provided "very little information." He said it was later upgraded to a Code 3. 

"I believe the only information we had on our screen initially was Code 2 for one with mouth injury and then it was updated," he said, adding there wasn't much more information provided. 

He also said they went into Cup Foods when they arrived on scene, looking for the injured person. They were not provided a patient description. Norton said he was alerted by the off-duty firefighter at the scene, Genevieve Hansen, on what happened at the scene. He described her to be "agitated and distraught" when he spoke to her. 

One police officer inside Cup Foods told Norton that "medics left" and they needed Norton. 

Eldridge presented evidence in court, a photo of the fire department arriving on scene. He later was directed to meet the medics, who were on the corner of 36th Street and Park Avenue South. 

Norton said he saw Floyd as "unresponsive," in the ambulance with a breathing tube in and a CPR device ongoing. 

After Norton saw Floyd's condition once he arrived at the hospital, he said he realized what Hansen was talking about at the original scene. He sent a crew back to the scene to check on that off-duty firefighter. 

"Once we got into the ambulance and I saw the severity of Mr. Floyd's condition and the gravity ... I understood the justification for duress and so I set my crew back to check on her to make sure she was OK," he said.

He stated in the report that "a man was killed in police custody." He also informed his deputy that an off-duty firefighter was a witness at the scene.

Nelson followed up with questions about the timing of the call. The state then took over questioning again. Capt. Jeremy Norton is released, and the court takes a short recess, until 3:10 pm.

When the proceedings resume, former Minneapolis Police Sgt. David Pleoger takes the witness stand. State prosecutor Steve Schleicher begins the questioning. 

Pleoger said he was a sergeant on May 25, 2020. He stated he was the person called by the 911 dispatcher, who voiced her concerns about what she saw on the video monitor at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue. He was the 3rd Precinct supervisor that was on duty at the time of Floyd's death. 

The retired sergeant was the first supervisor to arrive at the scene that day. He arrived at 8:45 p.m., about 37 minutes after officers first encountered Floyd and 14 minutes after the call with the dispatcher ended. 

The police department is required to contact a supervisor if some kinds of use of force are used, according to Pleoger.

The court is looking at documents that state MPD policies. Pleoger is asked to explain the purpose of a hobble or maximal restraint technique is. That restraint was not used in Floyd's arrest.

Pleoger said he has known Chauvin since 2008, noting they worked on the same shift together. He also confirmed he knows Tou Thao, J Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane. He stated that Kueng and Lane were "new officers."

The court played audio of the 911 dispatch call to Pleoger on May 25, 2020. After the call was made, he called Chauvin on his cellphone. They then played body camera footage of Chauvin on that call. He asked if Chauvin's camera was on or off, due to department policy, during the call. Chauvin shut his camera off at a certain point. 

He told the then-sergeant, "We just had to hold a guy down; he was just going crazy." He did not mention anything about having his knee on Floyd, according to Pleoger. 

Pleoger says once someone is handcuffed and is not resisting, the restraint can stop. The officers did not let up the restraint on Floyd once he was motionless. The retired officer stated that a restraint such as that should only be administered for "a reasonable time."

Chauvin was also not clear with Pleoger on how long he held Floyd in that restraint. After talking with Lane and Kueng at the scene, they advised him that Floyd was handcuffed. They didn't mention any other restraint. Schleicher askes Pleoger, "Based on the description the defendant gave you... did you get any sense from the defendant how long this restraint lasted?" Pleoger answered, "No, I didn't have any idea."

Chauvin was directed to talk with witnesses in body camera footage, but Chauvin told Pleoger "I can try but they are pretty hostile." The retired sergeant told him to do it anyways. 

The court is showed Chauvin and Thao inside the hospital where Floyd was taken. Pleoger was also present at Hennepin County Medical Center with them. Hospital staff later told the officers that Floyd had passed away. Thao and Chauvin made Pleoger aware at that point that Floyd's neck was knelt on. 

After learning of Floyd's death, Pleoger stated the situation would be treated as a "critical incident." He set up rides for officers down to City Hall and asked for the scene to be secured.

Pleoger was asked if he believes the restraint used on Floyd should have ended at some point, and the judge would not let him answer.

Nelson with the defense, moves to disregard Pleoger's opinion on whether or not the use of force should have stopped at some point. Schleicher provides more background information on the witness, stating he is allowed to give a partial opinion on it. Judge Cahill agrees. The jury comes back into the courtroom. 

In response to the original questions, Pleoger stated when Floyd was no longer resisting, officers should have stopped using the restraint. 

Pleoger also confirms he has had bystanders film him before while he was on duty. Nelson takes over questioning for the defense, asking about how officers report use of force. "when a police officer is engaged in a situation, would you agree an officer is constantly taking in new information... and making decisions based on information as it come in?"  Pleoger answers, "yes."

Nelson continues a barrage of questions of certain situations where police may be under duress. He clarified again to the court that he wasn't aware it was a critical situation until he was notified at the hospital. 

The witness has been dismissed and the court has adjourned for the day. The jury will return Friday at 9:15 a.m.

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