Following an intense day of testimony from those who watched George Floyd’s fatal arrest up close, Wednesday’s proceedings were less dramatic but included the first-ever publication of the accused officer’s body camera footage.
MINNEAPOLIS (CN) — The trial of Derek Chauvin, the fired Minneapolis police officer charged with murder in the death of George Floyd, slowed down a little Wednesday morning after an emotionally charged round of testimony the day before.
Prosecutors called four eyewitnesses to Floyd’s fatal arrest to the stand Wednesday, but two of them missed the tense final moments before Floyd passed out on the concrete.
One of the two who was present, Minneapolis firefighter Genevieve Hansen, closed out Tuesday with emotional testimony about her shouting match with officers over Floyd’s pulse and a brief back-and-forth with Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill about her answers to defense attorney Eric Nelson’s questioning.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever seen somebody be killed, but it’s upsetting,” she told Nelson in response to a question about the increasingly agitated crowd watching Chauvin kneel on Floyd’s neck on Chicago Avenue on May 25, 2020. That answer was stricken from the record but was widely replayed on television and social media.
Hansen returned very briefly on Wednesday, with Nelson asking only if she provided any identification proving that she was a firefighter. She said she hadn’t. Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank asked a few questions clarifying her answers to Nelson the previous day, all of which were met with yes or no answers.
The afternoon saw testimony from another eyewitness, Charles McMillian. McMillian, 61, was one of the first witnesses on scene for Floyd’s arrest. From the curb, he’d encouraged him to comply with officers trying to get him into a squad car, shouting that “you can’t win.”
McMillian said he’d been on his way east on 38th Street when he saw police approaching the SUV Floyd and two friends were in. Asked why he stopped, he said he was “Bein’ nosy, you know, just bein’ nosy. I’m in the neighborhood, I’m a nosy person.” He started talking to Floyd, he said, in an effort to de-escalate the situation.
He said he’d met Chauvin before, and five days prior had told him “Like I tell all other officers, ‘at the end of the day, you go home to your family safe, and let the next person go home to their family safe.’”
A brief clip from Chauvin’s body camera — made public for the first time in court Wednesday — showed that the officer recognized him, too, though he said it was about two weeks prior. The rest of their interaction was hard to hear, but McMillian said the substance of it was that “you respect me, I’ll respect you. I told you go home to your family, let other people go home to their families.”
Asked why he made that statement, McMillian told prosecutor Erin Eldridge that “what I watched was wrong.”
Watching body-camera footage from then-officer Thomas Lane’s camera, McMillian’s exhortations to Floyd could be heard more clearly. The footage left McMillian visibly shaken and crying uncontrollably.
“I feel helpless,” he said. “I don’t have a mama either. I understand him.”
After a break, McMillan testified he started to realize things were going south in when he heard Floyd saying his stomach hurt and he couldn’t breathe.
“He’s saying things that maybe mean that he’s in trouble,” he said.
“What do you mean by that?” Eldridge asked.
“He’s gonna die…. I knew, when the paramedics arrived, in my mind, in my instincts, I knew that it was over for Mr. Floyd, that he was dead.”
Nelson declined to cross-examine McMillian after a conference with Chauvin and his assistant Amy Voss.
Much of Wednesday morning’s testimony came from Christopher Martin, who was 19 and living above Cup Foods on Memorial Day when Floyd came into the store, where Martin worked as a cashier.
He said he’d recorded part of the incident, but deleted it from his phone because he didn’t want to be questioned about the incident or have to show his video.
After seeing an ambulance take Floyd down 38th Street, rather than north on Chicago Avenue towards Hennepin County Medical Center, he assumed the man was already dead.
“That made it clear to me that he was no longer with us,” Martin testified.
He also recalled having a conversation with another Black man at the scene. “They’re not going to help him. This is what we have to deal with,” he said. That, too, was stricken from the record.
Frank used video aids to walk him through the events of that day. Martin said he had a conversation with Floyd, asking if he played baseball — Floyd responded that he played football — and noticing his height and that he appeared to be intoxicated before Floyd went to the store’s cellphone service counter. Another man attempted to pass a counterfeit $20 bill, Martin said, but he recognized it and the man tore it up. The man appears on video to be Morries Hall, who was shown in the car with Floyd on body-camera videos released early in the case.
When Floyd bought cigarettes with a similar bill, Martin said, he immediately recognized it but opted at first to give the man a break. Counterfeits, he explained, came out of employees’ tabs at Cup Foods. Questioned by Nelson about this, he said he thought Floyd hadn’t realized the bill was fake. Having second thoughts, he brought it to his manager. The manager sent him and another younger co-worker out to an SUV Floyd and some companions were sitting in, telling them to get Floyd inside to talk to him.
The boys took two trips out to the car, talking with Hall about coming into the store. During those interactions, Martin said, Floyd didn’t speak but was clearly awake, shaking his head and putting his hands on his face. Asked by Nelson whether the interaction ever got aggressive, he denied it.
“It wasn’t, in any way, shape or form, aggressive. It was just pretty annoying,” Martin said.
After the second attempt, Martin said, he went back in the store and the manager called the police. He said he didn’t pay much attention to Floyd until he heard a commotion outside the store and saw him pinned to the ground.
Floyd’s level of intoxication was also a point of interest for both attorneys. Martin said Floyd was happy, friendly and talkative inside the store. “He seemed to be having an average Memorial Day, just living his life. But he was high,” he said.
Frank asked whether this appeared to be impacting Floyd’s balance, noting that he seemed to be doing a dance at some point in the video. Martin said he hadn’t seen the dance, but that Floyd wasn’t stumbling or falling over.
Like many other witnesses, Martin grappled with guilt about the incident.
“If I could have just not taken the bill, this could have been avoided,” he said.
He said he quit the store shortly afterwards because he didn’t feel safe. Cup Foods closed shortly after Floyd’s death, and an attempt to reopen in June quickly failed. The store reopened again in August with an announcement that it had changed policies about when employees should call the police. Martin has since moved to Bloomington, a Twin Cities suburb. He didn’t say whether his mother and sister, who lived with him above the store, moved with him.
Martin was followed by another eyewitness who caught only fragments of Floyd’s arrest. Christopher Belfrey, a Southside native, said he had driven up to Cup Foods with his fiancé to pick up some food. He parked behind the SUV Floyd, Hall and Shawanda Hill were in and was surprised to see an officer draw his gun after approaching the car. He started recording a video with his cellphone, and eventually drove to the other side of the street to pick up his fiancé and continue recording.
“They brought him out, walked him over to the sidewalk, sat him down, walked over to the people on the other side of the vehicle, and started asking them questions,” he said.
Once police had put Floyd into their squad car, Belfry said, he figured the matter was over.
“They went to walk him across the street, then when we went to turn to go back home, we saw them putting him in the police car… I thought it was over, I thought he was detained, and we went on home,” he said.
Nelson declined to cross-examine Belfrey as well.
Much of the rest of the afternoon was spent on body-camera footage, interspersed with conversations with Lt. Jeff Rugel of the Minneapolis Police Department. Rugel, the head of the MPD’s Police Business Technology unit, answered several questions about the operation of and data storage for the department’s body-worn and fixed security cameras. A “foundational” witness, Rugel’s testimony served largely as a vehicle for the display of footage from Chauvin’s camera, along with those of fellow officers Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao.
That testimony also revealed a possible reason Chauvin’s camera footage hasn’t been in the public eye: Shortly after the officer arrived at the scene, as he was pulling Floyd out of the squad car, the camera drops to the ground. It can be seen in Lane’s camera footage, but the next several minutes of Chauvin’s footage is a close-up view of asphalt with muffled voices behind.
At an earlier break, a pool reporter had a chance to talk with Floyd’s cousin, Shareeduh Tate, who was in the courtroom. A registered nurse from Houston, Tate was making her second visit to the courtroom. A rotating group of Floyd’s family have been in the one seat allocated for them throughout the proceedings.
“Yesterday went well for us,” she told New York Times reporter Shaila Dewan.
Asked about defense efforts to paint the crowd as angry and interfering with Chauvin and his fellow officers, she dismissed it.
“I think they had to find something,” she said. “When you can’t use the facts you have to do something different.”