Tense exchanges between an off-duty firefighter who watched George Floyd’s fatal arrest and defense counsel for the officer on trial for it led to a reprimand from the judge.
MINNEAPOLIS (CN) — A long day of difficult testimony in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the death of George Floyd ended on a sour note early Tuesday evening, with Judge Peter Cahill reprimanding a witness for arguing with defense counsel and the court.
At issue was the cross-examination questioning of Genevieve Hansen, a two-year veteran of the Minneapolis Fire Department who was on scene at the time of Floyd’s fatal arrest on Memorial Day 2020.
Hansen, called by the prosecution, had already walked through her training and her view of the scene with Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank and fielded questions from Chauvin’s attorney Eric Nelson about performing the difficult job of a first responder under pressure.
“Do you think it would make your job fighting a fire harder, if someone started yelling at you, telling you that you were doing it wrong?” Nelson asked.
“I’m very confident in the training that I’ve been given,” Hansen replied. “So I would not be concerned about somebody who has not been trained to the extent that I have been.”
She said she’d been concerned at the scene about an abnormally slow response time from medics and a nearby fire station. Things got tenser as Nelson started questioning her behavior on the scene.
“You would agree that your own demeanor got louder, and more frustrated, and upset?” he asked.
She admitted to that. “I got quite angry after Mr. Floyd was loaded into an ambulance,” she said, “and there was no point in trying to reason with those officers anymore. Because they’d just killed somebody.”
Cahill quickly struck that last sentence from the record. He did so again when, in response to a question about the increasingly agitated crowd, she said, “I don’t know if you’ve ever seen somebody be killed, but it’s upsetting.”
Finally, when she sought to correct an earlier statement to police interviewers over Nelson’s objection, Cahill dismissed the jury.
“You will not argue with the court. You will not argue with counsel. They have the right to ask questions,” he said.
“I will instruct you when your answer is done.”
Cahill then dismissed Hansen and, after briefly dealing with housekeeping matters, adjourned court until Wednesday. Hansen will take the stand in the morning to finish cross-examination and prosecutors’ redirect.
She’d testified earlier about her struggles to get Chauvin’s fellow officer Tou Thao to allow her to help. “I tried different tactics, of calm, and reasoning — I tried to be assertive,” she said.
“I was desperate to help, and it wasn’t getting done, what I needed to do,” she continued.
She said she’d recognized the signs of Floyd losing consciousness, and hadn’t seen or heard any of the officers checking for a pulse. That, she said, had led her to fear for Floyd’s life and the lives of other black men on the scene. She called 911 after Floyd left to report the incident.
“There was a man being killed,” she said, pointing out that a fire station was just a few blocks away. “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.”
Hansen’s testimony followed that of two high school students who were also on the scene that day, childhood friends who were both underage at the time of Floyd’s death. They’d come to Cup Foods on 38th and Chicago for snacks and an “aux,” or auxiliary connector, cord used to plug a phone into a car stereo. When they parked across the street, the older of the two said, she left her friend in the car and borrowed her phone to record Floyd’s arrest.
In the videos she shot, which were shown in court, she could be heard narrating the officers’ conduct and yelling at them to stop, eventually shouting expletives at Chauvin.
“I knew time was running out, or that it had already,” she said at that point. “That he was going to die.”
She spent much of the rest of the videos demanding badge numbers from the cops.
“At that point I felt like all I could do was catch what was going on with the camera,” she said.
“I almost walked away at first, because it was a lot to watch,” she continued. “But I knew it was wrong, and I couldn’t just walk away, even if I couldn’t do anything about it.”
She confirmed to Assistant Attorney General Erin Eldridge that she hadn’t seen anybody being violent towards the police. Nelson cross-examined her only briefly, pointing to an interview with Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agents in which she said she’d seen police take Floyd’s pulse a few times. She said she didn’t remember that, but when prompted with the transcript, she agreed.
Her friend was a St. Paul resident who was audibly nervous on the stand, stammering out that she was 17 years old with some difficulty. By the time she got out of the car, she said, Floyd was already unconscious.
“He looked purple, like he wasn’t getting enough circulation,” she said. “He looked limp.”
After a brief huddle with Chauvin and assistant Amy Voss, Nelson declined to cross-examine her. He hasn’t cross-examined either minor witness called to the stand so far.
Two other young witnesses were at the center of this morning’s testimony: Darnella Frazier, who was 17 when she shot the video of Floyd’s arrest that first went viral, and her young cousin, who was 9. Not one witness who testified Tuesday managed to do it without tears, but Frazier was particularly shaken up, expressing a feeling of survivor’s guilt.
“When I look at George Floyd, I look at my dad. I look at my brothers, I look at my cousins, my uncles, because they are all Black. I have a Black father, I have a Black brother, I have Black friends,” she said near the end of her testimony. “And I look at that, and I look at how that could have been one of them. It’s been nights when I stayed up apologizing. Apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more, and not physically interacting, and not saving his life. It’s not what I should have done. It’s what he should have done.”
Outside the courtroom, protests have been a regular occurrence. Rallies accompanied the close of testimony on Monday afternoon and its beginning that morning. On Tuesday, local high school teacher Kaia Hirt chained herself to a chain-link fence erected around the Hennepin County Government Center, where the trial is taking place. She told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that she’d taken two unpaid days off to protest with the activist group Good Trouble for Justice.
“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are,” she said, leading a chant in a video posted to the group’s Facebook page.
Chauvin’s trial for second- and third-degree murder and manslaughter is expected to last through much of April. The city has been promoting its “operation safety net” as a massive law-enforcement response to maintain control of possible protests.