On May 25th 2020, George Floyd died under Derek Chauvin’s knee whilst being held to the floor outside a store in Minneapolis. Chauvin had his knee on Floyd’s back and neck for over 9 minutes, despite Floyd stating he could not breathe. The event was filmed by bystanders, and Floyd’s death caused an uproar across the nation, drawing attention to racism, police brutality, and the Black Lives Matter movement. On Monday 29th March 2021, Derek Chauvin’s trial officially began in America. Other officers involve, Tou Thao, J Alexander Keung and Thomas Lane will face trial later this year.
After day one in court, this is what you need to know.
Prior to the trial starting, Floyd’s friends, family and lawyer knelt outside the courthouse for as long as Chauvin had knelt on Floyd. Relatives of Floyd’s were calling what happened ‘a modern-day lynching’.
The trial has a jury of 12 after several drop outs, with a mix of races taking their seats in court. The trial began with prosecutor Jerry Blackwell playing the clip of George Floyd’s untimely death, wherein jurors and the court could hear Floyd tell the officers he couldn’t breathe 27 times, as well as his other heartwrenching statements like ‘Tell my kids I love them’, and ‘I will probably die this way’.
Blackwell went on to say that Chauvin ‘betrayed his badge’ and that the video shows he was ‘engaging in behaviour that was imminently dangerous … without regard for its impact on the body of George Floyd.’
One witness, Donald Williams III, a 33-year-old entrepreneur who was present as George Floyd passed, said that he could see Mr Floyd ‘slowly fading away’. Mr Williams had urged the police officers to check on Mr Floyd, and check his pulse when he arrived at the scene, originally intending to just visit the store.
Another witness, the 911 dispatcher, said that whilst watching the scene unfold through CCTV, she thought the screen had frozen when Chauvin was on Mr Floyd for so long and was ‘concerned something might be wrong’.
In defence of Mr Chauvin, his lawyer said that the force used was ‘unattractive but necessary’, and that evidence would show that Mr Floyd died of ‘cardiac arrhythmia’, which it appears he is intending to argue was caused by an overdose on pain killer fentanyl.
At the moment, Derek Chauvin is denying both murder and manslaughter, which could carry up to 40 years in prison.
Update – 1st April 2021
The trial continued on the 31st of March 2021. Yesterday in court, we saw a range of testimonies, body camera footage, and CCTV footage.
The testimonies came from 6 witnesses, 4 of whom testified off-camera with live audio due to being under 18. One of them, a high school student, spoke about wanting to walk away because the scene unfolding was hard to watch, but said that they “knew that it was wrong and [they] couldn’t just walk away”.
Another witness, Ms Frazier, a 17-year-old from Minneapolis, recorded the incident. Her footage is one of the videos which went viral. In the trial, Ms Frazier said Mr Floyd reminded her of her father, and that she stayed up night after night apologising to Mr Floyd for not doing more.
We also heard from Genevieve Hansen, an off-duty firewoman who approached the scene last May to assist and then was turned away by the officers. She testified to seeing Mr Floyd’s face “smushed into the ground”, and went into detail as to what should have been done, and what the officers said to her.
Donald Williams II also testified again and had an uncomfortable encounter with Mr Chauvin’s lawyer, who tried to paint Williams as an angry man, and disputed that Williams was making unfounded medical claims in regards to Mr Floyd’s cause of death.
Finally, we also heard from Christopher Martin, the Cup Foods cashier, who made the call that the note given in by Mr Flopyd was counterfeit. He said that the store policy is to dock employee pay for any counterfeits accepted, and so he decided to alert his manager. A representative of the store has said this claim about store policy is incorrect, as it is illegal. Mr Martin went on to say that other than being a little slow to speak, Mr Floyd seemed perfectly fine and that he feels “disbelief and guilt” for his involvement in the case.
Jurors were also reminded that in Minneapolis, counterfeiting is merely a gross misdemeanour, and Mr Floyud could have just been given a citation. Instead, the body camera footage shows Thomas Lane approaching Mr FLoyds car with his gun out, accusing Mr Floyd of being “on something” and then attempting to take him into custody – all the while Mr Floyd was talking politely with the officer, saying things like “Mr Officer, please don’t shoot me, please man”, and apologising profusely before even knowing why he was being arrested.
The body camera footage went on to show officers attempting to get Mr Floyd into the back of the police car, only for him to say he recently had COVID and was claustrophobic. This could be seen, and will likely be used by the defence, as resisting arrest. The footage went on to show Mr Floyd’s pleas, amongst the bystanders, and his heartwrenching calls for his family. Meanwhile, the officers discuss whether he is on drugs.
Speculation assumes that prosecutors will focus on the emotional testimonies and how long Mr Floyd was restrained. That way, even if force was deemed necessary by defense, they can argue that the length of time he was held down was unlawful, as well as traumatising to those nearby.
Update: 6th April
We are now on day 7 of the trial, so we have a summary of the last few days of court.
Day 4 – April 1st 2021
On April 1st, prosecutors bought Miss Ross to the stand, George Floyd’s girlfriend. The 45-year-old was asked to testify both in order to humanise George Floyd, but also to testify as to the extent of their shared opioid addiction, and subsequently Mr Floyd’s tolerance. This comes after many cases like this have lost due to defense painting the victim as a drug addict.
Ross gave heartwarming testimony about herself and Mr Floyd’s relationship, including anecdotes about how they met, their first kiss, and their lives together. She explained that they began taking opioids when prescribed for chronic pain, but that they continued them past prescription. Both she and Mr Floyd had recovered and relapses multiple times.
When the defense, Eric Nelson, began to question Miss Ross, he began by expressing sympathy for her addiction, before moving on to probe as to where the pills were from. Miss Ross explained that they had previously bought pills from Mr Hall, a long-term friend of Mr Floyd’s who was there on the day of his death. It is not yet confirmed whether of not Mr Hall will be asked to testify, and it is likely he will plead the fifth (against self-incrimination) if he is.
During the defense’s questioning of Ross, Mr Nelson also insinuated how the pills made her Miss Ross feel – she then disputed these claims.
Later that day, we heard from Seth Zachary Bravinder and Derek Smith, the two paramedics who came to the scene of Mr Floyd’s death. They said that he appeared to be dead before they got there and that despite medical attempts and chest compressions, he was not regaining a pulse. When cross-examining Mr Bravinder, the defense seemed to want the paramedic to state that Chauvin had put Mr Floyd on his side – as police protocol dictates. Jurors will have to compare this to the videos they have seen.
Following the paramedics, Jeremy Norton, the captain of the Fire Department was called to the stand. He reiterated the points made by the paramedics and went on to discuss how Hansen, who spoke on the first day of the trial, was so adversely affected, describing her as agitated by what she had seen.
Finally, the jury got to hear from David Pleoger, former sergeant of the Minneapolis Police Department. He arrived at the scene following a second 911 call. He discussed that Chauvin failed to mention the way in which he restrained Mr Floyd, and the prosecution asked Mr Pleoger whether he believed the restraint should have ended during the encounter. Following the defense objecting, and subsequently both parties meeting with the Judge, Mr Pleoger answered: “When Mr Floyd was no longer offering up any resistance to the officers, they could’ve ended their restraint.”
Day 5 – 2nd April 2021
On Good Friday, the court heard from two high ranking officers. One, Lieutenant Richard Zimmerman, the head of the Minneapolis Police Department’s homicide team called Chauvin’s use of force “completely unnecessary”. The other, Sergeant Jon Curtis Edwards, spoke about the crime scene and the response.
Day 6 – 5th April 2021
Police Chief Medaria Arrandondo said that kneeling on a persons neck is not a trained tactic, and is, in fact, a violation of protocol when called to the stand on the 5th of April. This was later corroborated by Officer Katie Blackwell, previous commander of training, who stated (about Chauvin’s position on top of Floyd): “I don’t know what kind of improvised position that is… It’s not what we train.”
Also on the 5th, we heard from Dr Bradford Wankhede Langford, who said that Mr Floyd’s cardiac arrest was most likely caused by lack of oxygen.
Day 7 – 6th April 2021
So far today, we have heard fro, Police Crisis Trainer, Sergeant Ker Yang, who has worked with the police for 24 years. When discussing the usual training, Mr Yang said that “if somebody is needing medical attention, then we give them medical attention.”