Friend of George Floyd Seeks to Avoid Testifying

An attorney for Morries Hall, who was with George Floyd on the day of his death and has been accused of giving him drugs, said he would plead the Fifth if asked to testify in Derek Chauvin’s murder trial.

Adrienne Cousins, public defender for Morries Hall, speaks as Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill hears motions Tuesday, April 6, in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. (Court TV via AP, Pool)

MINNEAPOLIS (CN) — George Floyd’s acquaintance Morries Hall appeared in court Tuesday morning seeking to avoid taking the witness stand in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd’s neck after arresting him last Memorial Day. 

Before testimony began for the day, Judge Peter Cahill held a hearing on a motion by Hall to quash a subpoena. Hall was in the car Floyd was apprehended in on May 25, 2020, and both sides have requested his testimony. Hall appeared via Zoom from the Hennepin County Public Safety Center, across the street from the courtroom. He’s been held there since March 21, awaiting a June 9 court date for charges related to domestic abuse and violation of a protection order. 

Hall left town after Floyd’s death, heading to Texas. He eventually returned to Minnesota after being apprehended by Texas Rangers. 

His reasons for leaving the state were among the things Chauvin’s attorney Eric Nelson wanted to ask about. Those also included Floyd’s drug use on the day he died and behavior inside the Mercedes-Benz where he, Hall and Shawanda Hill were first apprehended. 

Hall’s attorney, Adrienne Cousins, said her client would not testify about any of that. He would plead the Fifth Amendment, she said, as to any of the events of May 25 and any questioning about Floyd’s drug use up to and including that day or his relationship to Floyd. 

Cousins pointed out that Minnesota’s third-degree murder statute has a broad reach when it comes to drug-related deaths. The statute allows third-degree murder convictions for “directly or indirectly, unlawfully selling, giving away, bartering, delivering, exchanging, distributing or administering a controlled substance” to someone who dies as a result. If Chauvin’s defense team prevails on its theory that Floyd died not because of Chauvin’s conduct but because of drug use, she said, Hall’s testimony could put him on the hook for Floyd’s death. 

“At this point in time, Mr. Hall has no immunity. He has been provided no immunity, no protection for his testimony whatsoever,” Cousins said. “I cannot envision any topics that Mr. Hall would be called to testify on that would be both relevant to the case [and] that would not incriminate him.” 

She said that Hall’s mere confirmation that he was with Floyd at the time could lead to prosecution for drugs allegedly found in the car and in the squad car officers attempted to put Floyd in. Floyd’s girlfriend Courteney Ross testified last week that she believed Hall had provided drugs to Floyd before. 

Nelson pushed for Hall to testify, but made little argument beyond outlining the issues he hoped to raise with Hall. Those included his decision to go to Texas, his apprehension, and several questions about his relationship with Floyd, Floyd’s drug use and the events of May 25. He noted that Hall had provided a fake ID to police on that day, and at some point after police arrived had been seen on a security camera throwing something away. 

Reluctant to rule out testimony completely, Cahill gave Nelson what he called “homework,” requesting a list of the questions Nelson intended to ask Hall so that he could rule on which would and would not be subject to Fifth Amendment privilege. Several of the issues Nelson brought up in court were straight out, he said, but potential testimony about Floyd falling asleep in the car before officers arrived could walk the line. “There’s really a very small, narrow line of topics that might be permissible,” the judge said. 

That followed a brief discussion with Cousins, prodding at Hall’s boundaries. 

“If we totally avoid the word drugs, and just have Mr. Hall say, ‘I was the passenger in the car’– which is already clear, there is video evidence…. Would you agree that that’s not incriminating?” Cahill asked. 

Cousins said that still put Hall in close proximity to Floyd around the time he ingested drugs, and could be sufficient to incriminate him on drug-related charges by virtue of his being in the car. 

Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank said he was most interested in making sure these negotiations stayed behind-the-scenes. “Our dog in the fight is a fair trial for Mr. Chauvin — one trial,” he said. “And what we can’t have is invocation of this privilege in front of the jury.” 

He argued that placing Hall on the stand would likely violate Hall’s rights and allow Nelson to frame him as an alternate perpetrator. 

“Here there is a legitimate link in the chain from what he’s going to be asked about and quite a few potential crimes, not just the third-degree murder,” Frank said. 

Hall himself rarely spoke, piping up only to state and spell his name and to thank Cahill at the end of the hearing. 

Minneapolis Police Crisis Intervention Coordinator Ker Yang testifies Tuesday, April 6, in the trial of Derek Chauvin. (Court TV via AP, Pool)

When the jury joined proceedings, the brass of the Minneapolis Police Department went on to continue a long series of condemnations of Chauvin’s treatment of Floyd. Two of Chauvin’s trainers said he had better options available to him than placing a knee on Floyd’s neck. 

The first of those was Sergeant Ker Yang, an MPD veteran of 24 years and the department’s crisis intervention training coordinator. Yang spoke on the methods Minneapolis police use to deescalate situations with people in crisis, and confirmed that Chauvin had been trained in those methods. 

“When we talk about fast-evolving situations, I know they do exist, they do happen, but … a lot of the time we have the time to slow things down, reevaluate and reassess, and we go through this model,” he said. “I provide this training because I believe it does work.” 

He was followed by Lieutenant Johnny Mercil, who oversees the MPD’s use-of-force training. He explained the use of two different neck restraints, which he said were borrowed from the traditions of jiu-jitsu. Mixed martial artist Donald Williams, who witnessed Floyd’s deadly arrest, said in his testimony last week that he recognized Chauvin’s hold as a jiu-jitsu move and a “blood choke.” 

“A knee on the neck would be something that does happen in use of force — it is authorized,” Mercil said, but added that it would depend upon the amount of resistance being provided. Once a subject is handcuffed, he said, such a hold would no longer be authorized. 

“We may show the younger officers how that looks like, but we don’t train that,” he said of neck holds like the one Chauvin used on Floyd. “I don’t believe we ever have.” 

Nelson continued on a tack he has used since the beginning of trial, playing up the impact of a growing and distressed crowd on Chauvin and his colleagues’ decision-making. He also asked whether Mercil had ever been in a situation where a subject said they were having a medical emergency and he did not believe them. Mercil acknowledged that he had. 

Near the end of cross-examination, he called back to something Chauvin and colleague Tou Thao told bystanders. 

“Have you ever been trained, or trained others, that if someone can talk, they can breathe?” Nelson asked. 

“It’s been said, yes,” Mercil replied. 

Prosecutors called two more witnesses after a break for lunch, including their first expert witness. Sergeant Jody Stiger is a 28-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department and has served as a use-of-force expert in several cases around California and nationally. Prosecutor Steve Schleicher quizzed him on his qualifications, which he said included about 2,500 use-of-force reviews. 

Stiger did not unilaterally condemn Chauvin and his colleagues’ use of force, but said that it should have stopped after Floyd was prone. 

“Initially, when Mr. Floyd was being placed in the back seat of the vehicle, he was actively resisting officers, so at that point the officers were justified in using force,” Stiger said. “However, once he was placed in the prone position on the ground, he slowly ceased his resistance and at that point the officers — ex-officers, I should say — they should have slowed down or stopped their force as well.” 

He also noted that early in their interactions, officer J. Alexander Kueng appeared to develop a rapport with Floyd. That could have been used, he said, to deescalate the situation. 

Stiger’s testimony followed a low note for the state. The prior witness, MPD Medical Support Coordinator Nicole Mackenzie, helped Nelson land several strong shots on cross-examination. 

Schleicher asked Mackenzie a series of questions regarding the department’s CPR training, which she confirmed Chauvin had taken. She agreed with Schleicher that an officer had a duty to provide emergency medical service to a subject in serious distress until EMTs or other more qualified health care providers arrived. 

When Nelson started cross-examining her, however, Mackenzie’s testimony strayed away from that offered by some of her superiors earlier this week. Nelson has worked in cross-examination to depict the crowd of bystanders who cried for Chauvin and his colleagues to check a pulse and get off of Floyd as an unruly, potentially dangerous mob that complicated his client’s decision-making. Mackenzie seemed to bolster that argument, saying that a “hostile” crowd could prevent an officer from providing CPR or other services. 

“Bystanders do, occasionally, attack EMS crews, so sometimes getting out of a situation is the best way to defuse it,” she said. “It’s very difficult to focus on a patient while there’s other things around you, if you don’t feel safe around you.” 

Schleicher pushed back on that during redirect. “Can the activities, though, of a group of onlookers excuse a police officer from the duty to render emergency medical aid to a person that needs it?” he asked.

“Only if they were physically involved,” Mackenzie replied. 

Mackenzie also brought up the department’s training on “excited delirium,” a controversial condition frequently attributed to people injured or killed in struggles with police. The idea that Floyd was suffering from the condition, which is ill-understood and not recognized by any major medical organizations or listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, was first raised in defense of Thomas Lane.

Lane is one of the three officers scheduled for an August trial on aiding-and-abetting charges for Floyd’s death. On the scene, Lane told Chauvin he was concerned about “excited delirium or whatever,” and speculated that Floyd was on PCP. 

Mackenzie said that excited delirium could cause a lack of sensitivity to pain and the appearance of “superhuman strength.” When Schleicher, working to walk her back on that, asked whether cries of pain would rule the condition out, she denied it.

“It may or may not be excited delirium,” she said. “That’s not for us to diagnose.” 

Mackenzie’s answers seemed to please Nelson, who requested to call her back as a witness for the defense. She is expected to return for that testimony next Tuesday at 9 a.m.

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