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Trial of cops on scene of George Floyd murder treads familiar ground

Prosecutors spent Tuesday rehashing video and testimony familiar to those who followed the Derek Chauvin trial last year.

SAINT PAUL, Minn. (CN) — Jurors in the federal civil rights trial of three former Minneapolis police officers involved in the deadly arrest of George Floyd spent Tuesday watching footage of Floyd’s death from several angles and hearing testimony from two eyewitnesses and a 911 dispatcher. 

Any jurors who may have followed former officer Derek Chauvin’s murder trial in 2021 may have recognized witnesses Christopher Martin and Charles McMillian, as both testified against Chauvin. Jenna Scurry, the 911 dispatcher who relayed Cup Foods’ call to police and reported concerns about Floyd’s arrest to a sergeant, also returned to the stand. 

All three witnesses took the stand after a lengthy series of videos, shown to the jury during the testimony of FBI forensic media examiner Kimberly Meline. Meline, who described the FBI’s methods for evaluating and compiling footage on Monday afternoon, was largely quiet through the remainder of her time on the stand. Although admitted into evidence in its entirely in the Chauvin trial, attorneys for the government and all three officers drew focus to different clips of the footage than were shown in court in April, emphasizing the perspectives each officer had on the scene and comparing them to eyewitnesses. 

Late Tuesday morning, prosecutors called Martin to the stand. Martin, 20, was a clerk at Cup Foods — the corner store where Floyd was suspected to have passed a counterfeit $20 bill. He described his interactions with Floyd and the officers and discussed watching the scene that unfolded. His testimony mirrored his statements at Chauvin’s 2020 trial, and he stuck to one-to-three-word sentences throughout much of it. Asked by prosecutor Samantha Trepel how Floyd looked when Martin saw him on the ground, he simply responded “dead.” 

Attorneys Robert Paule and Earl Gray, who have brought up Floyd’s drug use at a few points in the trial, pushed Martin on his impression that Floyd was intoxicated in the store. 

Paule, who represents former officer Tou Thao, also questioned Martin on his statement that Thao pushed one of his co-workers at one point. “If he had gotten off the street, Mr. Thao would not have had to push him off the street, is that correct?” Paule asked. Martin reluctantly agreed.

Paule also asked about a call Martin made to his mother, who lived above Cup Foods, telling her not to come down. Efforts to show that Chauvin and his fellow officers felt unsafe at the scene of Floyd’s arrest were central to Chauvin’s defense, and Paule, Gray and Kueng’s attorney Thomas Plunkett have brought up similar concerns in pretrial hearings for their clients’ state trials. 

After a few hours, Martin started to tire of questioning. Asked by Plunkett if he was a high school student at the time of Floyd’s death, he responded that he was and added, “Now I’m in college, so I have to do homework. Today.” 

McMillian, 61, was a neighbor who said he passed the scene on his way to work and stopped to satisfy his “nosiness.” The first of the eyewitnesses on the scene, McMillian said he could tell that “something was wrong,” and that Floyd was in danger.

“A friend of mine had died in a squad car in Robbinsdale, and I didn’t want to see that happen to George Floyd,” he said, spurring objections that Judge Paul Magnuson quickly sustained. 

MicMillian testified briefly, in part because of his civil-but-curt style with defense attorneys and a few emotional moments. Magnuson, who expressed a fervent desire to keep witnesses from plucking jurors’ heartstrings when he forbade the government from calling the nine-year-old cousin of Darnella Frazier — the teen who filmed Floyd's murder — sustained several objections until prosecutors asked to halt proceedings to discuss how McMillian should be approached. 

“We want to do this in an efficient way and in a way that comports with the court’s ruling,” Trepel told Magnuson. 

Magnuson said he recognized the difficulty, but was wary of telling prosecutors how to try their case. He ultimately said prosecutors’ questions were fine but recommended they ask them without visual aids. 

Following McMillian, Minneapolis 911 dispatcher Jena Scurry took the stand to discuss the 911 call that led to Floyd’s arrest and her own call to the sergeant on duty when she saw Floyd’s arrest on a city surveillance camera. 

Scurry walked through the procedures for responding to police and medical calls for the jury’s benefit before discussing the specifics of May 25, the day of Floyd's murder. While Chauvin and Thao went to assist newly minted patrolmen J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane on their forgery call, she said, dispatch never received a call for backup at any point during the investigation and arrest. 

After observing the officers sitting atop Floyd for several minutes on a surveillance camera, Scurry said, she called a sergeant. “I do not understand why the scene hasn’t changed to moving on to whatever they need to do,” she said. 

With Scurry confirming their contentions, prosecutors pointed out the Minneapolis Fire Department could, and often does, responds to calls on short notice for medical emergencies. On cross-examination, Paule asked about the limitations on her view of the scene. She agreed that she had only ever watched police interactions on the cameras “three or four times,” and that policing was “always fluid.” 

Plunkett, meanwhile, asked about an interaction she’d had with Kueng and Lane prior to the incident, in which she congratulated the pair of rookies for getting “signed off,” or completing their field training period. 

“I do that to many,” Scurry said.

“Because you’re being nice to many,” Plunkett replied. 

“They’re our co-workers,” she responded, and confirmed she hadn’t known any of the officers involved before the incident. 

Prosecutors completed their redirect of Scurry shortly after the court’s scheduled closing time at 5 p.m.. Magnuson said he would reconvene court at 9:30 Wednesday, though who will testify is unclear.

The future will likely hold more reruns of Chauvin’s trial, however, as Floyd’s girlfriend Courteney Ross is expected to testify. Magnuson excluded Ross from the courtroom Tuesday after learning that she gave a press conference Monday afternoon despite an order for witness sequestration. She arrived after Magnuson’s ruling, however, and remained in court all day. 

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