State vs. Chauvin: Witness testimony continues Wednesday

State vs. Chauvin: Witness testimony continues Wednesday Photo: WDIO

WDIO/KSTP
Updated: March 31, 2021 06:12 PM
Created: March 31, 2021 09:48 AM

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - The Minneapolis officer who put his knee on George Floyd's neck defended himself to a bystander afterward by saying Floyd was “a sizable guy” and “probably on something." Prosecutors at Derek Chauvin's murder trial Wednesday laid out the rapidly escalating sequence of events, playing store security video of Floyd inside Cup Foods and still more footage of him outside.

Together, witness accounts and video began to show how events spun out of control, as a scene of people apparently joking around inside the neighborhood market soon gave way to the sight of officers struggling with Floyd and putting him on the ground. 

The Associated Press has contributed to this report.

Here are the happenings during court proceedings on Wednesday: 

The court is back in session in the criminal trial of Derek Chauvin in Hennepin County. Witnesses testified Tuesday that onlookers grew increasingly angry as they begged Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin to take his knee off George Floyd’s neck. 

The teenager who shot the widely seen video of Floyd's arrest testified that Chauvin “just stared at us” and didn't react to bystander pleas. Eighteen-year-old Darnella Frazier says Chauvin and another officer on the scene put their hands on their Mace when bystanders wanted to intervene. She says she began recording because “it wasn’t right, he was suffering, he was in pain.” Frazier's video sent waves of outrage around the globe and led to a national reckoning on racial injustice.

Firefighter Genevieve Hansen returned to the stand. The Minneapolis firefighter broke down on Tuesday as she recounted how a police officer prevented her from assisting George Floyd. 

Hansen told the court on Tuesday that she came upon Derek Chauvin restraining Floyd while out on a walk last Memorial Day. She says she immediately recognized Floyd needed medical attention but another officer forced her and others back onto a sidewalk.

Judge Peter Cahill dismissed Hansen Tuesday afternoon, for arguing with Eric Nelson, Chauvin's attorney, during his cross-examination.

Defense attorney Eric Nelson asked one question for clarification, then state prosecutor Steve Schleicher takes over questioning. Hansen is dismissed a short time later.

Christopher Martin is next to take the witness stand. He worked at Cup Foods at the time of the incident. He lived with his mother and sister above the store back in May 2020. 

Christopher tells the court he interacted with Floyd that day and sold him cigarettes. He had a brief conversation with him, asking if he had a sports background. He noted that Floyd was a little delayed in his response, suggesting he might have been under the influence of something. The court showed video surveillance inside Cup Foods when Floyd was inside the store.

The store worker stated that Floyd came into the store because he needed his phone repaired. He did that before he bought cigarettes.

Floyd and Martin are seen in the surveillance video. The store worker said Floyd could be understood when he purchased cigarettes. 

Martin said he noticed the $20 bill had a blue pigment to it and held it up, adding he assumed it was fake. Frank noted that Floyd didn't leave immediately after seeing Martin hold up the bill. Martin testified that Cup Foods has a policy that indicates if a clerk takes a fake bill it has to come out of their paychecks.

After a short break, questioning resumes for Martin. A juror requested a break. 

"I notified them that they needed to come back into the store and that the bill was fake and that my boss wanted to talk to them, to George actually, sorry, not both of them," he told the state prosecutor. 

He said his manager asked him to go out a second time. Video surveillance shows Martin and a coworker walking outside both times and approach Floyd's SUV.

Martin said he would pay the money owed, but his manager sent him back outside to confront Floyd. 

"The person in the passenger seat was doing most of the talking. We were telling him just to come inside, we just want to talk to George and the person in the passenger seat was saying how that's not me," Martin told the court.

The other person with Martin seen in the video is related to the Cup Foods manager. At one point, you see him bend down and pick something up. Martin said it was a fake bill that was torn in half that the passenger tossed out. 

After that, they soon called the police to the scene. Martin says he was not involved in conversations with authorities, as they spoke with his manager. Martin noticed the commotion happening outside so he went out to see what was happening. He said he saw Chauvin's knee on Floyd's neck soon after. 

Martin says he pulled his phone out to call his mother to tell her to not come downstairs and then recorded a video of the scene. He said he deleted the video because he noticed the ambulance took the long way to the hospital, so he figured that Floyd had died. Frank asked for clarification on why exactly he deleted the video, and he stated "I didn't want anyone to see it."

Another surveillance video is shown to the court, from the vantage point of Cup Foods when Floyd is held under the officers' pressure. Martin noted that Thao pushed his coworker back onto the curb, who went outside to see what was occurring. After that coworker was brought back inside the store, Martin went outside to see the scene at a closer angle.

Martin describes his feeling as "disbelief" and "guilt." Many who have taken the stand have shared the mutual feeling of guilt. 

"If I would have just not taken the bill, this could have been avoided," he said. The state concluded their questioning and Nelson takes over.

Martin tells Nelson he did not continue to work at Cup Foods, as he feared for his safety. 

When asked about the counterfeit bill, Martin confirmed that it was fake. He said he was looking at the bill, but "didn't know" what he was looking for. 

He suggested to Nelson that Floyd "may not have known" it was a counterfeit bill. He noted a passenger in Floyd's car was "scheming" like he was trying to pass a fake bill, and provided money to Floyd. 

"I thought George didn't really know that it was a fake bill, so I thought I'd be doing him a favor," Martin said.

He described Floyd to be "shaking his head with his hands up" when he was outside asking for Floyd to come back inside the store. Martin also noted that the passenger — seen in the video wearing red — threw a bill that was similar to the one used in the store on the ground outside.

Martin told the court he was never officially trained in what to look for in spotting a counterfeit bill. 

Martin has been excused from the stand. The next witness, Christopher Belfrey, takes the stand. He says he has lived in south Minneapolis for about three years. He arrived at Cup Foods the night of the incident to grab some food.

Belfrey parked his vehicle behind Floyd's when he arrived at the scene. He says he was startled because "one officer approached with a gun." 

Belfrey told the court he didn't know what was happening, so he moved his car across the street. The court showed his video recording he took on May 25, 2020. The video shows Thomas Lane and J Alexander Kueng standing next to Floyd's vehicle, with Lane on the driver's side and Kueng on the passenger side. The recording continues, showing Floyd get pulled out of the vehicle by the officers.

Another video is shown without audio, as the court states the conversation Belfrey and his fiance had in the car wasn't relevant to the case. The video shows Floyd sitting, handcuffed, with Kueng standing over him. They were seen across the street from Cup Foods.

He says he eventually stopped recording because he noticed one of the officers was looking at him, and that made Belfrey feel threatened. He tells the court he soon drove off, as he saw Floyd being led to the squad car and assumed he had been "detained."

The defense does not cross-examine this witness. 

Next on the witness stand is Charles McMillian. He stated he was "being nosy" to see what was going on in front of Cup Foods. 

Video surveillance shows McMillian walking closer to the scene on the sidewalk. He saw Floyd handcuffed with officers bringing him over to the squad located outside of Cup Foods.


The man says he was attempting to tell Floyd as he was sitting inside the squad car that he "can't win," and to let the officers take him into custody. The video's audio portion captures Floyd telling officers he is claustrophobic. 

McMillian says five days prior to the incident, he saw Chauvin in the community in uniform. He states he has seen him in the community before that as well. He was able to identify him at the scene right away, due to seeing him previously.

The man showed heavy emotion while on the stand when the video from Cup Foods was shown side by side with the body cam footage of Floyd. 

The court has gone into a 10-minute break as McMillian was crying from watching the video. 

"I can't, I feel helpless. I don't have a mother either. I understand him," McMillian said, as he watched Floyd cry out "I can't breathe" and "Mama."

The court is back in session. 

McMillian has conducted himself as he retakes the witness stand. State prosecutor Erin Eldridge resumes questioning.

He said he kept trying to communicate with Floyd during the developing situation. He was asked what stood out to him from watching that.


"When he kept saying 'I can't breathe,' 'Mama, they're killing me,' 'my body is shutting down,'" McMillian said. He heard the officers saying "if you keep talking you can breathe," in response to McMillian telling them to let off of Floyd.

McMillian is heard in the video saying, "get up! get in the car!" McMillian tells the court he was trying to help Floyd. He confirmed he told Chauvin that having his knee on Floyd's neck "was wrong." He was concerned for Floyd, stating he believed he could die.

Another video captured an interaction between McMillian and Chauvin. He said he told Chauvin, "Five days ago I told you the other day to go home to your family safe ... now I gotta look at you as a maggot." 

When asked why McMillian chose to speak to Chauvin, he informed the court "because what he did was wrong."

The defense chooses to not cross-examine this witness, ending his time spent on the stand. Judge Cahill put the court into a 20-minute break. He says counsel is going to discuss how to streamline upcoming testimonies.

The court has reconvened. A new witness takes the stand, Lt. James Rugel. He works at the Minneapolis Police Department. He notes he has worked there for "just over 32 years." He adds he manages the tech equipment for the department.

State prosecutor Steve Schleicher considers this witness "more of a foundational" witness. 

He was promoted in 2000. Rugel states he previously worked as a patrol officer and also worked as an investigator on gang and drug trafficking cases. 

When asked about surveillance footage available, Rugel tells the court that there are roughly 250 public safety cameras in high traffic areas, or areas they expect to see a lot of "activity." He adds the cameras are on 24/7 and can be monitored from police precincts and at a strategic information center. He went into more detail of the process in how videos can be requested and downloaded from their database.

A sergeant requested to see the video from the incident that happened last Memorial Day. Rugel says the timestamp in the videos cannot be edited by anyone.

One of those cameras, positioned on top of Speedway, across the street from Cup Foods in Minneapolis, recorded the incident. The court shows that video to jurors.

Rugel identified on a map where cameras can be seen in the area. Schleicher also asked about body-worn cameras.

"As of now every sworn employee has a body-worn camera," he said, adding his department is the primary point of contact for their body-worn camera vendor. 

"It requires officers working in uniform, always wear their body-worn camera. That they have it on standby mode whenever they're working and that they activate and record video when they're responding to a call," Rugel said.

Rugel compared the functionality of the cameras to DVR. He said when you press a button on the camera to activate it, it turns on the sound and saves the previous 30 seconds without sound. He also says depending on the type of video, the minimum retention is a year. For any other evidence, it is held for seven years, and some specific cases could be an "infinite" amount of time they are able to retain the footage. 

Body camera footage was played from Lane on May 25, 2020.

The video shows Lane approaching Floyd's vehicle, detaining Floyd, and then he starts to question the two other passengers in the car. Then, Floyd is moved to the squad car, where police wanted him in the backseat. 

At the 8:27 mark of the video, Schleicher points out an object on the ground as officers put their weight on Floyd. Rugel confirmed it was a body camera. 

An officer is heard asking if they should move Floyd on his side. The officers remain on top of Floyd. The bystanders are heard repeatedly requesting the officers to check his pulse.

After showing Lane's body camera footage, Schleicher presented Kueng's body camera footage of the incident. It shows Kueng approaching the passenger side of the vehicle, then switches to the driver's side to assist Lane. He then questions Floyd about the 911 call.


As Floyd pleads that he is claustrophobic, an officer says "I hear you," and continues to shove Floyd into the squad car. Floyd suggested the officers have him "lay on the ground," again stating he was claustrophobic. Kueng appears to strike Floyd with his hands on the chest and torso several times to try to force him into the back seat of the squad car as Floyd continues visibly and audibly panicking in the video.

An officer is heard telling Floyd "it takes a lot of oxygen to keep talking," in response to Floyd pleading that he couldn't breathe. Floyd eventually fell silent with officers remaining on top of him. One officer is heard saying "he's passed out."

Thao's body camera footage is also presented to the court. 

Chauvin is seen holding Floyd in a position while he was in the back of the squad car. The three officers on top of Floyd — Lane, Kueng and Chauvin — are seen without any emotion as Floyd pleads "I can't breathe."

"This is why you don't do drugs, kids," Thao tells the bystanders.

Based on Rugel's review, he confirmed the body camera seen on the ground was Chauvin's. His body camera is next to play in court. The footage was paused before Chauvin steps outside of the vehicle.

Chauvin's body camera resumes, and shortly after Chauvin has Floyd in the back of the squad car in a position, the body camera falls off his uniform onto the ground.

The jury is dismissed for the day. They will return for court on Thursday starting anywhere between 9:15-9:30 a.m., according to the judge.


Nelson cross-examines Rugel. He also proposed an offer of proof, noting that he believes the state shortened the length of the body cameras.

Rugel makes the court aware that the Minneapolis Park Police maintains their own body camera videos, separate from MPD.


The Associated Press has contributed to this report.

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