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Week 1 of Chauvin murder trial concludes with officer testifying use of force used against Floyd was 'unnecessary'

Dylan Stableford and Crystal Hill
·10 min read
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The first week of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin’s trial concluded Friday with testimony from a veteran member of the force who described the force used to subdue George Floyd as “totally unnecessary.”

“Pulling him down to the ground face down and putting your knee on a neck for that amount of time is just uncalled for,” Richard Zimmerman, a lieutenant in the homicide division of the Minneapolis Police Department, told the prosecution. “I saw no reason why the officers felt they were in danger, if that’s what they felt. And that’s what they would have to feel to be able to use that kind of force.”

Zimmerman’s testimony came after four days of emotional testimony from bystanders who witnessed the May 25, 2020, encounter and from other law enforcement officers who were called to the scene where Chauvin pinned Floyd against the pavement by placing a knee on his neck. A total of 19 witnesses have testified during the first week of Chauvin’s murder trial. Hundreds of witnesses could potentially be called before the case is sent to the jury to decide.

Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Court TV via Reuters Video
Genevieve Hansen, Derek Chauvin and Richard Zimmerman. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Court TV via Reuters Video)

Floyd’s death was declared a homicide by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office, which concluded that the 46-year-old died from “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression.” The report also listed “other significant conditions,” including heart disease, fentanyl intoxication and “recent methamphetamine use.”

Chauvin, 45, is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death. His murder trial is expected to take several weeks.

Here are the key takeaways from week one.

Trial opens with nine-minute video of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd's neck

The trial opened Monday with prosecutors showing in court the nine-minute, 29-second video of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck.

“Nine-two-nine,” prosecutor Jerry Blackwell told jurors during his opening statement. “The three most important numbers in the case.”

The video, taken by a bystander, shows Chauvin restraining Floyd, facedown, with his knees on his neck and back. Floyd can be heard saying “I can’t breathe” 27 times as onlookers plead with Chauvin to stop.

From left, Jerry Blackwell, Eric Nelson and Derek Chauvin
From left, prosecutor Jerry Blackwell, defense attorney Eric Nelson and defendant Derek Chauvin. (Jane Rosenberg/Reuters)

The footage touched off protests across the U.S. last summer. But jurors seated for the trial said during jury selection that they had not seen the video of Floyd in its entirety.

Jena Scurry, a 911 dispatcher who watched live security camera footage of the scene, was the first witness called by prosecutors. Scurry testified that as she watched Floyd lie motionless on the ground, she thought the video footage had frozen.

“My instincts were telling me that something’s wrong,” Scurry said.

She became so concerned that she placed a call to a police sergeant to report a possible misuse-of-force incident.

Witnesses recount anguish watching Floyd's death

On Tuesday, some of the bystanders who watched Floyd die recalled that they felt helpless as the fateful incident unfolded.

Donald Williams
Donald Williams. (Court TV via Reuters Video)

Donald Williams, a student of mixed martial arts, testified that he was scared for his own safety as he pleaded with Chauvin to take his knee off of Floyd’s neck — and that he called 911 after Chauvin did not respond to him.

“I did call the police on the police,” Williams said. “Because I believe I witnessed a murder.”

Williams teared up as an audiotape of his 911 call was played in court. He can be heard on the call telling a dispatcher that an officer “pretty much just killed this guy that wasn’t resisting arrest. He had his knee on the dude’s neck this whole time.”

Genevieve Hansen, a Minneapolis firefighter who filmed the incident while off-duty, broke down in tears as she described not being able to render aid to Floyd.

“There was a man being killed,” Hansen said, under questioning from the prosecution. “Had I had access to a call similar to that, I would have been able to provide medical attention to the best of my abilities, and this human was denied that right.”

Genevieve Hansen
Genevieve Hansen. (Court TV via Reuters Video)

David Schultz, a visiting professor at the University of Minnesota Law School and professor at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn., told Yahoo News that the prosecution was using the testimony from the bystanders to try to “cast a picture” that Chauvin was either “indifferent” or “grossly negligent about George Floyd’s plight.”

“What was particularly interesting is how [the bystanders] described their impressions of Derek Chauvin,” Schultz said, “where they said repeatedly that he didn't seem to be phased. He was ignoring the pleas from George Floyd.”

Store employee says Floyd appeared to be under the influence

On Wednesday, the jury heard from witnesses who interacted with Floyd before he died, including a cashier at Cup Foods, the convenience store where Floyd purchased cigarettes with a counterfeit bill before his arrest.

Christopher Martin, a 19-year-old former Cup Foods employee, was asked by prosecutors to narrate the events captured on the store’s security camera that showed Floyd interacting with staff and other customers.

Christopher Martin
Christopher Martin. (Court TV via Reuters Video)

“He seemed very friendly, approachable. He was talkative, just having an average Memorial Day, living his life,” Martin said. “But he did seem high.”

Martin believed that Floyd didn’t know the bill he used to purchase the cigarettes was fake.

Martin testified that the manager at Cup Foods called the police about the counterfeit bill, adding that he had offered to use his own money to cover the debt and felt guilt over the altercation that followed after police arrived.

Prosecutors also showed body camera footage that provided a closer look at the attempts by Chauvin and his fellow officers to restrain Floyd.

Floyd’s girlfriend takes the stand; Floyd family attorney speaks out

On Thursday, Courteney Batya Ross, Floyd’s girlfriend, testified that she and Floyd struggled with an opioid addiction and that Floyd used drugs while grieving the death of his mother.

A prosecution witness, Ross testified under cross-examination that Floyd was hospitalized following an overdose in March 2020, two months before his own death. Ross said she had taken Floyd to the hospital because he complained he wasn’t feeling well and that his stomach hurt. She later learned that Floyd suffered an overdose, but said she never learned what drugs had caused it.

Courteney Batay Ross
Courteney Batya Ross. (Court TV via Reuters Video)

As Ross delivered her testimony, Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci, attorneys for Floyd’s family, issued a statement to reporters that criticized the defense team for attempting to “construct the narrative” that the fentanyl discovered in Floyd’s system was the cause of his death.

“We want to remind the world who witnessed his death on video that George was walking, talking, laughing, and breathing just fine before Derek Chauvin held his knee to George’s neck,” the attorneys said in a statement.

Ross also testified that, at the time of his death, Floyd was still grieving the loss of his mother, who had died two years previously. Earlier in the trial, prosecutors played video filmed by bystanders in which Floyd calls out “Mama!” as Chauvin applies pressure to Floyd’s neck with his knee.

After returning from her funeral in Houston in May 2018, Ross said that Floyd, who she described as a “mama’s boy,” seemed “like a shell of himself.”

"He was broken,” she said.

During cross-examination, Ross said that Floyd also called her “mama,” raising the possibility that Floyd had called out for his girlfriend — rather than his mother — during his final moments alive.

Paramedics say Chauvin stayed on Floyd’s neck after they arrived

Derek Smith and Seth Zachary Bravinder
Hennepin County paramedics Derek Smith and Seth Zachary Bravinder. (Court TV via Reuters Video)

Seth Zachary Bravinder, a paramedic who treated Floyd, testified that he asked Chauvin to get off Floyd’s neck so they “could move the patient” to begin resuscitation.

When he arrived, Bravinder said he had assumed there was potentially an ongoing struggle because police officers were still on top of Floyd.

But Bravinder and his partner soon discovered that Floyd was “unresponsive,” didn’t have a pulse and appeared to be in cardiac arrest.

According to Bravinder, the paramedics loaded Floyd into the ambulance, in part, to get away from the crowd of bystanders who appeared to be angry.

Bravinder’s partner, Derek Smith, testified that he checked Floyd’s pupils and determined that they were dilated, and that he also did not detect a pulse.

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

Minnesota police sergeant believes restraint on Floyd went too far

David Pleoger
Minneapolis Police Sgt. David Pleoger. (Court TV via Reuters Video)

Former Minneapolis Police Sgt. David Pleoger, who was a shift supervisor at the time of the incident, told prosecuting attorney Steve Schleicher that he believes the use of restraint on Floyd should have ended when he no longer resisted.

“Based on your review of the body-worn camera footage,” Schleicher asked Pleoger, “do you have an opinion as to when the restraint of Floyd should have ended in this encounter?”

“Yes,” Pleoger said.

“What is it?” Schleicher asked.

“When Floyd was no longer offering up any resistance to the officers,” Pleoger said.

Pleoger also testified that he did not know Floyd had died until he and the other officers who were involved in the incident went to Hennepin County Medical Center. It was there that Chauvin told Pleoger that he had knelt on Floyd’s neck, according to Pleoger’s testimony.

Through the testimony of Pleoger and Zimmerman, and potentially other law enforcement officials, the prosecution is seeking to establish that what Chauvin did was “not acceptable practice” for a police officer, Shultz said.

Prosecutors are trying to show that Chauvin “wasn't following protocol. He wasn't doing what he was supposed to,” Schultz said. “Therefore that takes him out of what a reasonable police officer would have done.

“That’s going to be important, eventually, for establishing that he's beyond the protection of the qualified immunity or statutory immunities,” Shultz said.

Chauvin’s defense seeks to counter video footage of Floyds death

While the prosecution is making its case during the first weeks of the trial, Chauvin’s defense team has been building their own narrative throughout the proceedings. Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, attempted to challenge the perception that Floyd was helpless during the incident. He described Floyd as combative and resistant, and said the evidence will show that, when confronted by police, he “put drugs in his mouth in an effort to conceal them” from the officers.

Eric Nelson, left, with Derek Chauvin
Defense attorney Eric Nelson, left, with his client Derek Chauvin. (Jane Rosenberg/Reuters)

“You will see that three Minneapolis police officers could not overcome the strength of Mr. Floyd,” Nelson said during his opening statement on Monday. “Mr. Chauvin stands 5-foot-9, 140 pounds. Mr. Floyd is 6-foot-3, and weighs 223 pounds.”

Through his questions this week, Nelson seemed to suggest that the group of bystanders, who grew angry as Chauvin and other officers remained on Floyd, affected the officers’ decision making.

“What he’s trying to suggest here is that, given the crowd's reaction, either (a) Derek Chauvin was acting very professionally in not reacting to the crowd, or (b) given the fact that he didn’t know what the crowd was going to do, he had to continue keeping George Floyd under control,” Schultz said. “[Nelson] clearly was giving the jury an alternative context for understanding what was going on.”

The bystanders who have testified at the murder trial of Derek Chauvin. (Video grab of evidence: Court TV via Reuters Video, annotated and adjusted to protect a minor by Yahoo News.)
The bystanders who have testified at the murder trial of Derek Chauvin. (Video grab of evidence: Court TV via Reuters Video, annotated and adjusted to protect a minor by Yahoo News.)


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