The shooting of a young Black man by suburban police and a 7 p.m. curfew drew local focus away from Derek Chauvin on the last day of the prosecution’s witness testimony in his murder trial.
MINNEAPOLIS (CN) — George Floyd’s brother took the stand Monday afternoon during the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin to tell jurors about his brother’s life and relationship with the mother he cried out for before his death last May.
His testimony and that of a use-of-force expert closed out prosecutors’ case against Chauvin as Minneapolis reeled from the police killing of another Black man in one of its suburbs.
Philonise Floyd, 39, grew up with his older brother George Perry Floyd, Jr., in Houston in the 1980s with two older sisters and a younger brother. Philonise said his family called George “Perry,” and that he was a “mama’s boy” who loved playing basketball and football and taught the neighborhood kids to play.
“He was so much of a leader to us in the household. He would always make sure that we had our clothes for school. He made sure that we all were gonna be to school on time. And like I told you, George couldn’t cook, but he made sure you had a snack,” Philonise said, choking back tears. A favorite, he said, were banana and mayonnaise sandwiches.
He also discussed their mother Larcenia Jones Floyd’s 2018 death. He confirmed what Floyd’s girlfriend Courteney Ross said in her testimony early in the trial: that the loss of the woman most called “Miss Sissy” had hit his brother hard.
“When George, he found out that my momma was passing, because she was in hospice with us — he talked to her over the phone but she perished before he could come down,” Philonise Floyd said. Jurors were shown a picture of George Floyd sleeping on his beaming mother’s chest as a toddler. At her funeral, Philonise Floyd said, mourners had to coax Floyd away from his mother. “He didn’t wanna leave the casket,” he said.
After the funeral, his brother returned to Minnesota, Philonise said, and he never saw him in person again.
Prosecutor Steve Schleicher also took the opportunity to confirm with Philonise that his brother used the word “hooping” to refer to playing basketball. Floyd told officers that he was “hoopin’ earlier” to explain foam around his mouth. Chauvin’s attorney Eric Nelson has asked various witnesses whether they are familiar with another definition, which refers to consuming drugs rectally.
Nelson declined to cross-examine the younger Floyd brother. He was followed by the prosecution’s last witness: Seth Stoughton, a University of South Carolina law professor and former police officer who has written several texts on the use of force.
Stoughton, a regular expert witness, was the subject of a tense dispute before the jury arrived on Monday. Nelson argued that, after hearing from several witnesses from the Minneapolis Police Department and an expert witness from the Los Angeles Police Department, any testimony Stoughton could offer was cumulative. Prosecutors disputed that, saying that as an academic who took a nationwide view on police uses of force, Stoughton was important to show that Chauvin’s conduct would be considered unreasonable even outside Minneapolis.
Judge Peter Cahill ultimately decided to allow Stoughton to testify, but put Schleicher on a tight leash for questioning him. “In motions in limine, I said, ‘we’re not going to call every cop and ask what would you have done differently,’ and basically I think the state has almost done that,” he said. “We now have opinions from the chief, the inspector who was in charge of training, a lieutenant who was in charge of training, Lieutenant Zimmerman … and the sergeant. I think the state has made its own bed here by deciding to ask all of those people what their opinion was as opposed to sticking with their experts.”
“Since it is from more of an academic point of view and national standards, I’ll allow you to call Dr. Stoughton to talk about national standards and how the use of force here violated them,” Cahilll said. “I’m not going to allow you to do the crowd effect on his opinion. It’s really pushing the extremes of his expertise.”
He noted that Stoughton’s opinions on the impact of a crowd watching Floyd’s deadly arrest were fair game, but more general thoughts weren’t.
On the stand, Stoughton presented his analysis of Floyd’s arrest and finding that the force Chauvin and his colleagues used was unreasonable from the point that they put Floyd face-down on the asphalt.
“The prone position, as useful as it is for handcuffing, is supposed to be transitory. It’s used for handcuffing, and then you take him out of the prone position,” he said. For every second that Floyd stayed prone without being moved to his side, he said, the officers were using unreasonable force.
Once someone is handcuffed and on his side, he said, they don’t present a substantial threat of harm to the officers or escape. “There may be some risk of that, but officers can generally maintain control over a handcuffed person who’s in the side recovery position, which is what it’s designed for,” Stoughton said.
After dismissing Stoughton, Cahill addressed the jurors with a loose schedule for the rest of the trial. Defense witnesses, he said, will be testifying from Tuesday through Thursday or Friday, and on Monday the parties will present closing statements. “Pack a bag,” he said, reminding jurors that they would be sequestered during deliberations.
Monday’s proceedings took place against a backdrop of tension not seen since last summer in Minneapolis, brought on by the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright by police in nearby Brooklyn Center on Sunday afternoon. Wright, 20, was killed after police stopped him for a traffic violation and learned that he had an outstanding warrant. Body camera video released Monday showed police struggling with Wright as he tried to get back in his car, then one officer threatened to Tase Wright before shooting him once in the chest or abdomen. Wright fell back into the car, which drove away uncontrolled for a while before crashing into another vehicle, injuring its passenger.
Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon said Monday the officer had intended to fire his Taser, not a gun.
Wright’s death sparked protests, which turned into a confrontation with riot-gear clad police at the Brooklyn Park Police Department Sunday night. Scattered incidents of vandalism and theft hit Minneapolis and the surrounding suburbs as police departments from around the metro went to aid their Brooklyn Park counterparts.
Democratic Governor Tim Walz deployed the National Guard to the area Sunday night, and three counties went under a 7 p.m. curfew on Monday night. Walz promised that “the largest police presence in Minnesota history” would be deployed to Minneapolis, already heavily barricaded and flush with cops for the Chauvin trial. By the time 7 p.m. had come and gone, protesters were still gathering at the site of Wright’s death. Some had erected a large fist statue on the site, similar to one which stands in the center of the intersection of 38th and Chicago, where Floyd’s deadly arrest occurred.