The Most Important Police Prosecution in U.S. History
Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s murder trial in the death of George Floyd is underway. The jury heard opening arguments and the first witnesses took the stand in one of the biggest courtroom cases in U.S. history.
Will there be justice for George Floyd? Journalists Mara Schiavocampo, Wesley Lowery and Keith Reed of the Run Tell This podcast are joined by criminal defense attorney and CNN legal analyst Joey Jackson, and the News Director for BET.com, Wendy L. Wilson.
Check out the show which will be featured twice a week at 6PM EST on the official BET YouTube Channel.
Emotional Day Concludes With Body Camera Video From Each Officer Being Shown
Wednesday (March 31) testimony in the Derek Chauvin trial wrapped up with Minneapolis Police Lt. James Rugel testifying to the prosecution about technical matters, particularly body worn cameras, along with their time stamps.
The testimony included the admitting into evidence the body camera footage of all four arresting officers, Chauvin, Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Keung. The last three are scheduled to go on trial in August under charges of aiding and abetting second- and third-degree murder and also second-degree manslaughter.
Footage was shown from the vantage points of each policeman and with the exception of Chauvin, the entire sequence of George Floyd’s arrest was shown. Chauvin’s footage was cut short as his camera came off and was seen under the squad car. Judge Peter Cahill dismissed the jury for the day soon after.
In each of the three videos, audio and images of Floyd’s struggle with the officers, his pleading to breathe, and the objections of bystanders.
The videos from the three officers essentially constitute testimony from them, although they are not expected to testify in this trial to avoid risk of incriminating themselves. However, the defense did not object to the videos being admitted as evidence.
Court procedures are scheduled to proceed on Thursday morning.
Witness Collapses in Tears As He Relives George Floyd’s Last Moments
The emotional testimony in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin became more poigniant as a witness, who says he tried to get George Floyd to comply with police, broke down in sobs while watching video of officers constricting him to the point where he could not breathe.
Charles McMillian, a resident of the community surrounding the Cup Foods store where the arrest was made, said that he was driving near the location when he noticed the police activity and pulled over to observe it.
But minutes later, as Floyd was being put into the squad car, video shows him struggling with anxiety, saying that he was claustrophobic. Officers tried to force him into the vehicle only to pull him out and pin him to the ground. At the same time, McMillian said that he was trying to help him to “make the situation easier,” he said. "I've had interactions with officers myself and I realize once you get in the cuffs you can't win.
“I'm trying to get him to understand that when you make a mistake, once they get you in handcuffs there's no such thing as being claustrophobic, you have to go," he testified.
McMillian said that he joined with others at the scene telling officers that Chauvin's knee weighing on Floyd's neck was hurting him.
But when Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Erin Eldridge began to play the video of Floyd and the officers struggling, audio could be heard in which he said repeatedly that he could not breathe, called for his mother, complained of fatigue and said “I’m through.”
It was as this video was played that McMillian broke down saying he felt “helpless,” confessing that his own mother has passed away and that he understood Floyd. Judge Peter Cahill called for a break in testimony afterward.
Later, McMillian testified that he had a final interaction with Chauvin, telling him that he "didn't respect what he did." To which the officer said "that's your perspective."
Defense attorney Eric Nelson declined to cross examine.
Store Cashier Who Talked To George Floyd Says He Felt ‘Guilt’ After His Death
Continued testimony in Minneapolis showed more details of the minutes leading up to the arrest and eventual death of George Floyd, described by the store cashier that interacted with him.
The prosecution and defense questioned Christopher Martin, who lived above the Cup Foods store in Minneapolis with his mother and sister, and worked there part time in May 2020. He testified to Assistant Minnesota Attorney General Matthew Franks that Floyd and another individual, as yet unnamed, came into the store on the day in question and he observed Floyd and had a short conversation with him.
Floyd is seen in the store security video interacting with store staff and at least one other person. Martin said that in talking with Floyd, he seemed “high” but did not say he appeared unfriendly or aggressive.
At a certain point, he said, Floyd purchased a pack of cigarettes with a $20 bill that looked counterfeit. But when he told the store manager about it, the manager told him and another worker to go outside to the vehicle Floyd was driving and let him know about the bill. They returned to the car a second time and the occupants of the car would not return to the store. The passenger, Martin said, even tore a real $20 in half and threw it to the ground.
When Martin and the other worker went back inside, the manager called police. He said that he was initially willing to pay for the counterfeit, per store policy, but changed his mind.
"I took it anyways and was willing to put it on my tab, and then I second guessed myself," he said.
He said the person who was with Floyd seemed to be trying to “get over” possibly hinting that he may have known about the alleged fake bill. But Floyd, on the other hand, seemed to be oblivious.
"He just seemed like he didn't, like, want this to happen, he was just kind of like 'Aww, why is this happening' " Martin testified.
After the call to police was made, Martin said he continued his work, but noticed a commotion outside a little later, which turned out to be Floyd being pinned to the ground by then-officer Derek Chauvin.
"George was motionless, limp and Chauvin seemed very, he was in a resting state, meaning like he rested his knee on his neck,” said Martin. “I pulled my phone out first and called my mom and told her not to come downstairs and then I started recording."
That recording he later deleted after seeing Floyd being taken away by an ambulance because, "I just didn't want to have to show it to anyone and be questioned about it."
He was in another video pacing outside of the store, nervously. “They're not gonna help him, this is what we have to deal with,’ “ he recalled saying to another witness, a Black man, at the scene. But Judge Peter Cahill ordered that comment stricken from the record. His emotional state was one of “disbelief and guilt.” Franks asked him why.
"If I would have just not taken the bill, this could have been avoided," he said.
Defense attorney Eric Nelson’s cross examination was fairly brief and he only asked Martin about whether Floyd seemed to be intoxicated. Martin said FLoyd "just seemed to be enjoying just an average Memorial Day. But he did seem high."
Martin said he later quit his job at Cup Foods because he "didn't feel safe."
The prosecution then called another man, Christopher Belfry, whose car was parked behind Floyd’s across the street from Cup Foods. He saw two officers, identified as former officers Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng, with lane’s gun drawn on him. He recorded that part of the arrest but stopped to move his car to avoid being caught in the middle of the incident.
He started recording again, but moved on after he got food. "I was scared. ... One of the officers started staring at me." Also, when he saw Floyd on top of the police car, he thought the arrest was over.
The morning’s testimony began with brief questioning of Genevieve Hansen, the EMT who recorded Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck. Nelson asked her if she showed her identification to the officers she told that she had emergency response training. She answered that she didn’t.
On redirect, Franks asked her if she had her identification on her since it was her day off, to which she answered she did not.
Day 3 Testimony In Chauvin Trial Continues After Heated, Emotional Exchanges
March 31, 2021
A third day of testimony in the Derek Chauvin trial opens up Wednesday (March 31) with first responder Genevieve Hansen taking the witness stand again. She returns after an emotional day in which individuals, both minors and adults, were at the scene on May 25, 2020, to watch police arrest George Floyd and restrain him in a way in which prosecutors say caused his death.
On Tuesday, Hansen, who was off-duty at the time, testified that she pleaded with officers to help Floyd because her experience told her that he was in distress and in danger of losing his life, only to be rebuffed.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys are expected to continue questioning her about the incident, but she was warned at the end of Tuesday’s testimony by Judge Peter Cahill about being argumentative under cross examination by Chauvin’s attorney Eric Nelson.
"You will not argue with the court, you will not argue with counsel," Cahill told her.
Meanwhile, Donald Williams, the mixed martial arts fighter who was at the scene with Hansen and is on a viral video being vocal with the four arresting officers, is receiving praise over his testimony and exchanges with the defense.
In his testimony, he said that he felt he “witnessed a murder” and did not flinch when asked about the stong language he used with police.
Day 2 Testimony Ends With EMT Describing Her Desperate Pleas To Help George Floyd
An emotional and at times contentious second day of testimony in the Derek Chauvin trial concluded with the off-duty emergency medical technician that witnessed George Floyd’s arrest on May 25, 2020, telling prosecutors and defense lawyers what she saw based on her own expertise.
Genevieve Hansen, a Minneapolis firefighter who has been in her job for two years testified that she tried to tell former officer Tou Thao that she was a first responder and could offer help, but he apparently didn’t believe her and ordered her along with others at the scene to get back on the sidewalk. She argued with Thao, pleading to be allowed to take his pulse. He told her if she were an EMT, she should know better.
She testified that she knew Floyd was in distress because of the “puffy and swollen” appearance of his face, “which would happen if you are putting a grown man’s weight on someone’s neck,” referring to Chauvin. Hansen said that she also noted what she thought was a fluid coming from Floyd’s body, indicating a sign of impending death.
“In a lot of cases, we see a patient release their bladder when they die,” she said, but also admitting she didn’t know for sure where the fluid was coming from. But what indicated that Floyd’s death was imminent to her was his “altered state of consciousness.” In a normal state, she said, Chauvin’s knee would have been painful enough for him to react, but he did not.
She testified to Assistant Minneapolis Attorney General Matthew Frank the steps she would have taken to help Floyd, had she been allowed. “I would have requested additional help, asked someone to call 911 for paramedics to come,” and also checked his airway because of a possible damage to his spinal cord and also checked for a pulse and started chest compressions.
In cross examination, defense attorney Eric Nelson asked Hansen if she had ever fought a fire where others approached and told her how to do her job.
“I'm very confident in the training i've been given so I would not be concerned,” she said.
“What if someone threatened you?” said Nelson.
“I'm confident in my job and what i do and what needs to be done. so i would continue to do that,” she replied. He also asked her about being filmed doing her job but she said that she had been filmed.
That later led to Judge Peter Cahill scolding Hansen about the answers she was giving, telling her that she was to answer questions specifically. He ended testimony for the day after that.
Hansen is expected to resume testimony Wednesday morning.
Teen Witness Testifies Feeling of Helplessness Watching George Floyd’s Arrest
A teenager who was present when officers attempted the fatal arrest of George Floyd said that she felt helpless as she watched officers pin him to the ground and as he slowly lost consciousness while former officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck.
“I knew time was running out or it had already,” said the high school senior who said that she once knew Darnella Frazier, the witness who had testified earlier.
She said she had gone to Cup Foods, the store where Floyd was accused of passing a counterfeit $20 bill to buy an auxiliary cable for her phone. But when she saw the disturbing scene, she began to record the incident on her cellphone and joined others in yelling for officers to get off of Floyd. It was so unnerving, she said, that she considered leaving.
“I almost walked away at first because it was a lot to watch. But I knew that it was wrong and I couldn’t just walk away, even though I couldn’t do anything about it,” she told Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Erin Eldridge.
Prosecutors played the video from her phone, which was similar to other Frazier’s footage but from a different vantage and with the same audio.
On cross examination, Chauvin defense lawyer Eric Nelson asked the teenager about an interview she had with police who were investigating the incident in which she said the responding officers check Floyd’s pulse “multiple times.” But in the questioning she disputed that. Previous witnesses testified they did not see that happen.
None of the witnesses who were minors at the time of the incident were shown on camera. Frazier was not shown, but her name was revealed as she has been public about her involvement as a witness.
Tearful Testimony From Young Woman Whose Video of George Floyd’s Death Went Viral
The testimony of two young witnesses, one of whom took the video that millions have watched of George Floyd’s last conscious moments, became emotional, at times fighting back tears, during the trial’s second day as descriptions of Derek Chauvin making the arrest were recounted.
Darnella Frazier, who was a minor at the time of the incident, but has since turned 18, posted the video of the arrest on Facebook and it went viral from there. Almost from the beginning, she was emotional and nervous when she remembered the events of May 25, 2020.
Under questioning from Special Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell, she said that she was at the scene with her younger cousin and that she began to record what happened. "I heard George Floyd say, 'I can't breathe. Please get off me,” she said. “It seemed like he knew it was over for him. He was suffering."
In describing Chauvin, whose knee was on Floyd’s neck: “He just stared at us, looked at us. He had like this cold look, heartless,” she said. “He didn’t care. It seemed as if he didn’t care what we were saying.”
Frazier has been public about witnessing George Floyd’s arrest. She has given interviews to the media and has received a national courage award for her role in making the issue known. Her face was not shown during the testimony because Judge Peter Cahill wanted her to be more comfortable on the witness stand.
In cross-examination, defense attorney Eric Nelson asked Frazier about the crowd that had gathered becoming louder. She said they did become louder as things continued.
"What we seen is how we reacted," she said. "Like you said, the video speaks for itself."
In redirect questioning, Blackwell asked how seeing what happened to Floyd affected her.
"When I look at George Floyd, I look at my dad, I look at my brothers, I look at my cousins, my uncles, my friends because they're all Black,” she said. “I look at how that could have been one of them."
She said that she sometimes stays up crying, apologizing to Floyd, and wishing she could have done more to help him.
Frazier’s 9-year-old cousin also briefly testified. Her identity was concealed because of her age. She testified to Blackwell that she saw an ambulance arrive, and ask Chauvin “nicely” to release him, but he did not comply and they had to physically remove him.
Nelson did not cross-examine her.
Further Questioning of Donald Williams Becomes Tense As Defense Goes Deeper
The exchange between Donald Williams and defense and prosecution lawyers in the Derek Chauvin trial became more detailed and at times testimony became contentious as both sides questioned him.
Defense attorney Eric Nelson asked Williams about his experience as a wrestler and as an MMA fighter, but also got him to admit that in his mixed martial arts training at a gym where law enforcement personnel also trained, that he never trained with them.
Later he moved on to the incident in which Floyd was being subdued by Chauvin, and pressed him on what he said in his exchanges with the former officer along with Tou Thao, who was responding with him. He confirmed that he shouted obscenities at Chauvin and called him a “bum” multiple times.
Alluding to the crowd that had gathered possibly distracting Chauvin, Nelson asked him if he became angry when he spoke with the officers, but he maintained that he was not. "I stayed in my body. You can't paint me out to be angry."
But Williams also testified that he called 911 when the incident happened. "I believe I witnessed a murder,” he told Assistant Minnesota Attorney General Matthew Frank. “I felt the need to call the police on the police.”
Nelson launched a series of objections over questioning of Williams using his expertise as a mixed martial artist as opposed to his not being a medical doctor and being unable to answer questions that would be medical in nature.
In further questions, Williams, who also has worked as a security guard, said he felt he had to vocally defend Floyd because of the distress he appeared to be in.
“I just was really trying to keep my professionalism and make sure that I speak out for Floyd’s life because I felt like he was in very much danger and I seen another man like me being controlled in a way…” he said, before the judge told him he had answered the question.
Four other witnesses were being called for more testimony, but their identities and faces will not be shown because they either are minors or were minors at the time of the incident in question.
Day 2: Donald Williams Impromptu Expert Witness Testimony Continues
March 30, 2021
The trial of former Minneapolis policeman Derek Chauvin started Tuesday morning (March 30) with the continued testimony of Donald Williams, a professional mixed martial arts fighters who witnessed the arrest of George Floyd, which resulted in his death.
Williams, a high school and college wrestler who has trained in MMA with law enforcement officers at a local Minneapolis gym, testified Monday that he recognized the "blood choke" being applied by Chauvin and that he knew it could be fatal.
Prosecutors will continued to question Williams about what he witnessed as he begged along with others for Chauvin to release him from the hold he had on Floyd by pinning him under his knee. Defense lawyers will follow with more questioning, but it is unclear what direction that will take.
Also, presiding Judge Peter Cahill also determined that the witnesses who are minors, whose identities have been withheld will also not be shown on camera while they testify.
MMA Fighter Who Saw George Floyds’ Death Becomes Impromptu Expert Witness
The first day of the Derek Chauvin trial was filled with basic descriptions of the scene in front of the Cup Foods store on 38th Street and Chicago in Minneapolis, but ended with an eyewitness, who because of his expertise in wrestling and mixed martial arts, turned out to be, for all intents and purposes, an expert witness for the prosecution.
Donald Williams, a Minneapolis resident, who was a high school and college wrestler who later became a professional MMA fighter, testified that Chauvin used on George Floyd what is called a “blood choke” whose purpose is to cut off oxygen and render an opponent unconscious and can lead to death.
While on the stand, Williams said Chauvin was “shimmying to actually get the final choke in while he was on top, to get the kill choke.”
Williams had driven to the corner grocery after a fishing trip earlier that day. He said he noticed police activity there, but decided not to avoid the scene. When he got there, other people were there as Floyd was being restrained. On video of the incident presented earlier in the day, Williams’ voice could be heard pleading with the officers to let Floyd up and telling officer Tou Thao to check Floyd’s pulse.
He said that he told Chauvin what type of hold he had on Floyd and their eyes met and the officer acknowledge him, but continued the procedure.
"When I said it was a blood choke, it's the only time he looked up," Williams said. "You see Floyd fade away like the fish in the bag. He vocalized that he can't breathe and 'I'm sorry.' His eyes rolled back in his head."
Two other witnesses also took the stand on Monday. Jena Scurry, a 911 dispatcher, testified that she started to worry when she saw on a monitor that officers were kneeling on Floyd to hold him to the ground.
"My instincts were telling me that something was wrong,” she said. "I don't know if they had to use force or not. They got something out of the back of the squad, and all of them sat on this man. So I don't know if they needed to or not, but they haven't said anything to me yet." She said she called the sergeant to report what was happening.
But the defense attempted to show jurors that she was not an expert on use of force techniques.
Also, Alisha Oyler, who worked at the gas station across the street from the store testified that she stood several dozen feet away, taking cellphone video. She testified that she took the footage because “police is always messing with people.” But she could not specifically recollect every detail of what happened.
Testimony wrapped up late Monday and is expected to continue with more questioning of Wiliams by the prosecution and then cross-examination from the defense.
Derek Chauvin Defense Opens By Arguing Trauma From Arrest Did Not Kill George Floyd
The defense began the Derek Chauvin trial, maintaining that George Floyd’s cause of death was not because of being pinned to the ground by the neck, but because of other medical conditions and drugs in his system.
Attorney Eric Nelson pointed out to jurors that Floyd had other conditions including heart disease, that there were no bruises or contusions that would show evidence of asphyxiation, that Floyd attempted to hide drugs in his mouth to conceal them from police, and that bystander noise and a perceived threat prevented officers from administering proper care to Floyd.
“A significant battle in this trial is going to be: What was Mr. Floyd’s actual case of death,” said Nelson. He also noted that officers did call for emergency help and alerted them to arrive as soon as possible. Also, he said an entire conversation between the officers behind the squad car was taking place that bystanders were not aware of.
“When you review the actual evidence, and when you hear the law and apply reason and common sense, there will only be one just verdict, and that is to find Mr. Chauvin not guilty,” Nelson said.
Prosecutors Open With Video of George Floyd’s Arrest and Death At Police Hands
11: 47 a.m.
The disturbing nine-minute video of George Floyd’s final moments was shown to jurors at the murder trial of Derek Chauvin as the first exhibit of evidence against the former Minneapolis officer.
The footage is just one of several pieces of video evidence that prosecutors said they will show, including other cellphone footage from other bystanders. A long list of witnesses will be called by the prosecution, among them two minors who were standing in front of the grocery where the incident took place, the vocal young man heard on the video shouting at Chauvin that Floyd was losing his life, and the first responder who kept asking officers to check Floyd’s pulse.
Prosecuting attorney Jerry Blackwell explained to jurors that Chauvin refused to get off of Floyd for the entire time he pleaded for him to, which constituted a homicide. He also said that although Floyd struggled with an opioid addiction, that his death was not characteristic of an opioid overdose.
"He put his knees upon his neck and his back, grinding and crushing him, until the very breath -- no ladies and gentlemen -- until the very life, was squeezed out of him," Blackwell said in his one-hour opening statement.
Opening Statements To Start in Trial of Derek Chauvin; Prosecutors, Defense Begin Their Strategies
March 29, 2021
The most anticipated trial of the past decade gets underway Monday (March 29) in Minneapolis with opening arguments as former police officer Derek Chauvin faces a jury who will determine if he goes to jail for the death of George Floyd. Jury selection was completed last week with 12 jurors seated to hear the trial, with two alternates chosen as well.
The trial is expected to be a heavily-watched proceeding because of the international response to Floyd’s death last May 25. The 46-year-old man had been suspected by a store clerk of passing a counterfeit $20 bill. But Chauvin, in an attempt to subdue him, knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes as he gasped that he could not breathe. He later died at a nearby hospital. A medical examiner determined that he asphyxiated.
Chauvin and the other officers who responded Tou Thau, J. Alexander Keung and Thomas Lane were fired and later arrested in connection with Floyd’s death. Chauvin was charged with second- and third-degree murder, along with second-degree manslaughter. The remaining officers are scheduled go on trial in August.
Defense attorneys are expected to argue that Floyd’s death was caused by drugs found in his system during the medical examination rather than the pressure of Chauvin’s knee on his neck. But prosecutors are expected to use video footage showing the amount of time the incident took place, providing what they say is evidence of Chauvin’s negligence.
Appearing on NBC’s “Today” show, Monday morning, Floyd’s brother Philonise, along with family attorney Benjamin Crump, said the case should be open and shut.
“We know that this case, to us, is a slam dunk because we know the video is the proof. That’s all you need. The guy was kneeling on my brother’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 second,” said Floyd. “A guy who was sworn in to protect, he killed my brother in broad daylight. That was a modern-day lynching.”
Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill will preside over the trial, which is expected to last three weeks.
Come back to BET.com each day for continued coverage of the trial as it progresses in Minneapolis.