After three weeks of testimony in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged in the death of George Floyd, closing arguments were presented on Monday. Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, died on May 25, 2020, after Chauvin, who is white, placed his knee on his neck. The incident sparked nationwide protests against racism and police brutality, and now Chauvin is facing charges of manslaughter, second-degree murder, and third-degree murder. Here’s a guide to what’s happened in court so far, and what to watch for as the case goes to the jury.
The court returned from recess Monday to hear closing arguments from both the prosecution and the defense in the trial of Derek Chauvin.
“His name was George Perry Floyd Jr,” prosecutor Steve Schleicher began, telling the jury about Floyd’s family, the people who loved him.
Schleicher proceeded to lay out the scene of Floyd’s arrest in vivid detail.
“On May 25, 2020, George Floyd died facedown on the pavement right on 38th and Chicago in Minneapolis. Nine minutes and 29 seconds. Nine minutes and 29 seconds. During this time, George Floyd struggled, desperate to breathe. To make enough room in his chest to breathe,” Schleicher said. “But the force was too much. He was trapped. He was trapped with the unyielding pavement, as unyielding as the men who held him down.”
Schleicher pushed back on a notion raised during defense testimony that Floyd could’ve been experiencing “excited delirium” resulting in superhuman strength.
“There’s no superhuman strength because there’s no such thing as a superhuman. Those exist in comic books. And 38th and Chicago is a very real place,” Schleicher said.
He added, “Just a human, just a man lying on the pavement being pressed upon, desperately crying out. A grown man, crying out for his mother.”
Schleicher mentioned how Floyd could be heard in video recordings pleading with Chauvin as he restrained him, calling him “Mr. Officer.”
“George Floyd’s final words on May 25, 2020 were ‘Please, I can’t breathe.’ And he said those words to Mr. Officer. He said those words to the defendant. He asked for help with his very last breath, but Mr. Officer did not help. The defendant did not help,” Schleicher said.
The prosecution brought up the motto of the Minneapolis Police Department, “To protect with courage and to serve with compassion,” in order to draw a contrast between Chauvin and the force he was a member of.
“George Floyd was not a threat to anyone. He wasn’t trying to hurt anyone. He wasn’t trying to do anything to anyone. Facing George Floyd that day, that did not require one ounce of courage, and none was shown on that day. No courage was required. All that was required was a little compassion and none was shown on that day,” Schleicher said.
The prosecution made it clear that its argument against Chauvin is focused on him as an individual and not the profession of policing as a whole.
“This case is called the State of Minnesota v. Derek Chauvin. This case is not called the State of Minnesota v. the Police.” It is not,” Schleicher said. “He is not on trial for who he was. He is on trial for what he did.”
Schleicher asked the jury to recall Chauvin’s body language as he restrained Floyd. He said the former officer was “facing down that crowd” and that they were “pointing cameras at him, recording him, telling him what to do, challenging his authority.”
He cited “ego” and “pride” as the cause of Chauvin’s actions.
“The defendant was not gonna be told what to do. He was not gonna let these bystanders tell him what to do. He was gonna do what he wanted, how he wanted, for as long as he wanted. And there was nothing, nothing they could do about it because he had the authority, he had the power of the badge and the other officers,” Schleicher said.
Chauvin, he said, “chose pride over policing.”
Eric Nelson, Chauvin’s defense attorney, emphasized to the jury that a guilty verdict hinges on the state’s ability to fully prove their conclusion.
Nelson invoked an analogy that he said that he uses with clients, comparing the elements of a criminal case to following a recipe for chocolate-chip cookies — “you have to have the necessary ingredients,” he said.
“The state has the burden of proving each and every element beyond a reasonable doubt,” he continued. “Not just some global proposition that they’ve proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt. They have to prove each of these elements beyond a reasonable doubt and if you determine that they have done so, you convict. But if they are missing any one single element, it is a not guilty verdict.”
Nelson said that the state “has failed” to meet that burden of proof.
The defense focused its argument on what a reasonable police officer would do in a given situation.
“Officers are human beings, capable of making mistakes in highly stressful situations,” Nelson said. “In this case, the totality of the circumstances that were known to a reasonable police officer in the precise moment the force was used demonstrates that this was an authorized use of force. As unattractive as it may be, and this is reasonable doubt.”
The defense frequently returned to footage from the day of the arrest, drawing attention to some of Chauvin’s actions.
Nelson pointed to Chauvin offering to roll the window down or turn on the car’s air-conditioning for Floyd, asking if that was evidence of intent to use unlawful force. He also said Chauvin declined to use other higher uses of force when he would’ve been permitted to do so.
“All of the evidence shows that Mr. Chauvin thought he was following his training. He was, in fact, following his training. He was following Minneapolis Police Department policies. He was trained this way. It all demonstrates a lack of intent,” Nelson said. “There is absolutely no evidence that Officer Chauvin intentionally, purposefully applied unlawful force.”
Given the chance for rebuttal, prosecutor Jerry Blackwell told the jury that the 46th witness that they will hear from is “common sense.”
“Why is it necessary to continue applying deadly restraint to a man who is defenseless, who is handcuffed, who is not resisting, who is not breathing, who doesn’t have a pulse? And to go on and do that for another three plus minutes before the ambulance shows up and then to continue doing it.” Blackwell said. “How is that a reasonable exercise in the use of force?”
“You can believe your eyes, ladies and gentlemen. It was what you thought it was. It was what you saw. It was homicide,” he added.
The prosecution rested with Blackwell, alluding to the defense’s past arguments, saying the jury was told “that Mr. Floyd died because his heart was too big.”
He continued, “And now, having seen all the evidence, having heard all the evidence, you know the truth. And the truth of the matter is that the reason George Floyd is dead is that Mr. Chauvin’s heart was too small,” Blackwell said.
What Happened on Day 14
Chauvin put an end to speculation on whether he would personally take the stand on Thursday by invoking his Fifth Amendment right not to testify.
Eric Nelson, Chauvin’s attorney, outlined the details of this privilege, asking if he understood that invoking the right could not be used against him regarding his potential guilt or innocence and that he could waive this right and would be subject to cross-examination from the prosecution. Chauvin said that he understood.
“I will invoke my Fifth Amendment privilege today,” Chauvin said.
Judge Cahill spoke to Chauvin directly and asked whether this decision was truly his choice and whether he had received any threats or pressure to dissuade him from speaking.
“No promises or threats, Your Honor,” the former officer responded.
After calling only two days’ worth of witnesses, the defense officially rested its case.
As part of a rebuttal, the prosecution then recalled pulmonologist Dr. Martin Tobin to the witness stand to comment on an issue raised by yesterday’s defense witness, David Fowler, the former chief medical examiner for the state of Maryland.
The prosecution asked Tobin about Fowler’s assertion that Floyd could have been exposed to carbon monoxide from the squad-car tailpipe that was near him while he was restrained.
Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell referenced a slide from Fowler’s presentation that raised the possibility that Floyd’s carboxyhemoglobin levels could have risen by “10-18 percent” in seven minutes.
When asked if he thought that was accurate, Tobin said, “No, I believe it is not reliable.”
Tobin said he based it on the arterial-blood gas sample taken from Floyd when he was at the hospital, saying that the reading looked at the oxygen saturation, which measures “how much of the hemoglobin, the protein in the blood that carries the oxygen, how much of that hemoglobin is saturated with oxygen.
“And we know in Mr. Floyd, it was 98-percent saturated,” Tobin said.
The doctor went on to say that a 98-percent oxygen saturation means that the level of carbon monoxide in the blood could only be a maximum of 2 percent.
“Doesn’t even tell you that it is 2 percent. It could be something else. But 2 percent of carboxyhemoglobin is within the normal range,” Tobin said. “You and I have levels of carboxyhemoglobin of somewhere between 0 and 3.”
On Fowler’s assertion that it was more like a double-digit increase, Tobin said, “It’s simply wrong.”
The trial now stands in recess until Monday, when closing arguments will begin for both sides.
What Happened on Day 13
David Fowler, the former chief medical examiner for the state of Maryland, testified for the defense, giving his opinion on George Floyd’s cause of death.
Fowler is currently being sued by the family of Anton Black, a 19-year-old from Maryland who was killed during an encounter with the police that bears a similarity to Floyd’s case. Black died in police custody in 2018, with video footage showing Black in a struggle with officers and eventually being pinned down by them.
Fowler declared Black’s death an accident stemming from “sudden cardiac death,” and no officers were implicated.
On Wednesday, Fowler said his professional opinion is that Floyd died of a “sudden cardiac arrhythmia” while being restrained by police due, in part, to his heart disease. He also named other contributing factors, including methamphetamine and fentanyl in Floyd’s system and exposure to carbon monoxide from the tailpipe of the nearby squad car.
Hypertensive heart disease, Fowler said, can cause an enlarged heart, which has to work harder in situations involving a lot of exertion.
“The more the individual is stressed, both physical and other ways, the more the demand on the heart is going to increase,” Fowler said.
On the positioning of Chauvin’s knee, Fowler said he did not find that the former officer impacted any “vital structures” of Floyd’s neck. While reviewing the case, Fowler indicated that he saw no visible injuries, such as bruising, on Floyd’s neck or back where Chauvin placed his knee.
“It speaks to the amount of force that was applied to Mr. Floyd was less than enough to bruise him,” he said.
Regarding Floyd’s manner of death, Fowler said he considers it “undetermined” due to the multiple factors at play, including personal health and toxicology findings.
During cross-examination, prosecutor Jerry Blackwell questioned Fowler on carbon monoxide, asking if he had ever seen a report of an injury connected to carbon monoxide inhalation. Fowler said “No,” but indicated that testing had never been done.
Blackwell questioned Fowler’s expertise, asking if he was either a toxicologist, a pulmonologist, or a cardiologist. Fowler, a forensic pathologist, said “No” to all three questions.
The prosecution also inquired about whether the weight of several officers on an individual’s abdomen could result in “compressional or positional asphyxia.”
“If it exceeds the limits of 225 pounds as found by multiple studies, then yes, your argument is correct,” Fowler said.
What Happened on Day 12
As the trial went into its 12th day, the prosecution rested its case and the defense called its first witnesses.
The defense began with former Minneapolis Police officer Scott Creighton, who testified on his 2019 arrest of George Floyd. Body-camera footage from the arrest was played for the court.
Judge Cahill introduced the recording, saying to the jury, “This evidence is being admitted solely for the limited purpose of showing what effects the ingestion of opioids may or may not have had on the physical well-being of George Floyd. This evidence is not to be used as evidence of the character of George Floyd.”
Creighton described the traffic stop, saying that Floyd, who was in the passenger seat of the vehicle, was “unresponsive and noncompliant to my commands.”
“I reached in finally and grabbed his hand and put it up on the dash, and then that individual was taken from the vehicle and handcuffed,” Creighton said.
The prosecution went through the video moment by moment, confirming that Floyd ultimately followed Creighton’s instructions and that he was awake and not in medical distress.
Prosecutor Erin Eldridge wrapped up by asking Creighton if Floyd dropped dead during their interaction, to which he answered, “No.”
The defense also called on Barry Brodd, a use-of-force expert, to give his perspective on Chauvin’s arrest of Floyd. Brodd supported the defense’s argument that Chauvin’s actions were largely in line with what he was taught by the department and were suited to the situation.
“I felt that Derek Chauvin was justified and was acting with objective reasonableness, following Minneapolis Police Department policy and current standards of law enforcement in his interactions with Mr. Floyd,” Brodd said.
He added, “It’s easy to sit and judge in an office on an officer’s conduct. It’s more of a challenge to, again, put yourself in the officer’s shoes, to try to make an evaluation through what they’re feeling, what they’re sensing, the fear they have, and then make a determination.”
Having examined the videos of the arrest, Brodd said he believed the crowd that grew around the scene affected Chauvin. He said that officers in the field have to contend with multiple factors and have to determine what is the bigger threat at a given moment.
“I could see that Officer Chauvin’s focus started to move from Mr. Floyd to the crowd to one point, I think, Officer Chauvin felt threatened enough that he withdrew his pepper-spray canister and gave verbal commands to the crowd to stay back. So, now he’s dealing with the bigger threat,” Brodd said.
What Happened on Day 11
The week’s proceedings began as Minnesota is grappling with the death of another Black man during an encounter with police. Twenty-year-old Daunte Wright was shot and killed by a police officer during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, a town about 10 miles outside of Minneapolis.
Judge Peter Cahill denied a request from Eric Nelson, Chauvin’s defense attorney, to sequester the jury and question them about the incident. The jury is expected to be sequestered at the beginning of closing arguments.
The court heard testimony from Dr. Jonathan Rich, a cardiologist from Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, who spoke on Floyd’s medical condition.
“After reviewing all of the facts and evidence of the case, I can state with a high degree of medical certainty that George Floyd did not die from a primary cardiac event and he did not die from a drug overdose,” Rich said.
Rich went on to say that he believed that methamphetamine “played no substantive role at all” in Floyd’s death because it was a “relatively low level” of the drug.
“I believe that Mr. George Floyd’s death was absolutely preventable,” Rich said.
When asked if Floyd would’ve lived were it not for the police’s lengthy restraint, Rich said, “Yes, I believe he would have lived.”
Philonise Floyd testified about his brother George’s relationship with their mother, saying, “It was one of a kind. George, he would always be up on our mom. He was a big mama’s boy … He just, he loved her so dearly.” Philonise cried as he described how his brother couldn’t bring himself to leave their mother’s casket during her funeral in 2018.
Philonise also spoke about how George took care of him growing up, being the older brother.
“He was so much of a leader to us in the household. He would always make sure that we had our clothes for school. He made sure that we all were gonna be to school on time. Like, I told you, George couldn’t cook. But he’ll make sure you have a snack or something to get in the morning,” he said.
He added, “He just was like a person that everybody loved around the community. He just knew how to make people feel better.”
What Happened on Day 10
Dr. Andrew Baker, the Hennepin County medical examiner who performed the autopsy on Floyd, took the stand Friday.
Baker said that he did not view the footage of Floyd’s arrest prior to the autopsy, in order to avoid bias, but indicated that he did view the bystander video afterwards.
“I don’t want to go into an autopsy with a preconceived notion that I already know what happened, because that might tempt you to skip certain steps or not do certain things that could turn out to be relevant,” Baker said.
Baker noted that Floyd had “very severe underlying heart disease” which meant that his heart “already needs more oxygen than a normal heart by virtue of his size, and it’s limited in its ability to step up to provide more oxygen when there’s demand because of the narrowing of his coronary arteries.”
Baker concluded that the police restraint “was just more than Mr. Floyd could take, by virtue of those heart conditions.”
On Floyd’s autopsy, Baker had written “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression” under cause of death and categorized Floyd’s death as a homicide.
When asked by the prosecution if he stood by his findings, Baker said, “So, my opinion remains unchanged. It’s what I put on the death certificate last June.”
He added, “That was my top line then. It would stay my top line now.”
Baker agreed that factors such as a history of heart disease or fentanyl in Floyd’s system were “not direct causes of Mr. Floyd’s death,” but rather contributing causes that are also involved.
“The other significant conditions are things that played a role in the death, but didn’t directly cause the death. For example, Mr. Floyd’s use of fentanyl did not cause the subdual or neck restraint. His heart disease did not cause the subdual or neck restraint,” Baker said.
But, factoring all of this in, Baker still stands by his conclusion.
“Yes, I would still classify it as a homicide today,” he said.
What Happened on Day 9
On Thursday, Dr. Martin Tobin, a pulmonologist at the Hines VA Hospital in Illinois, provided his medical perspective on the circumstances of Floyd’s death and what might have caused it.
“Mr. Floyd died from a low level of oxygen, and this caused damage to his brain that we see, and it also caused a [pulseless electrical activity] arrhythmia that caused his heart to stop,” Tobin said.
He added, “The cause of the low level of oxygen was shallow breathing, small breaths, small tidal volumes. Shallow breaths that weren’t able to carry the air through his lungs down to the essential areas of the lungs that get oxygen into the blood and get rid of the carbon dioxide.”
Tobin attributed Floyd’s shallow breathing to how he was positioned during the restraint, noting that he was “prone on the street, that he has the handcuffs in place combined with the street and then that he has a knee on his neck and then that he has a knee on his back and on his side.
“All of these four forces are ultimately going to result in the low tidal volume which gives you the shallow breaths that we saw here,” Tobin said.
Tobin addressed whether Floyd’s underlying health issues could have contributed to his death, a key element in the defense’s argument, concluding, “A healthy person subjected to what Mr. Floyd was subjected to would have died as a result of what he was subjected to.”
He provided analysis of the various videos of Floyd’s arrest, pinpointing the moment when the doctor said there was “not an ounce of oxygen left in his body.”
When asked by the prosecution if Chauvin’s knee was removed by that point, Tobin said, “No, the knee remained on the neck for another three minutes and two seconds after we reached the point where there was not one ounce of oxygen left in the body.”
On the role that fentanyl might’ve played in Floyd’s death, Tobin said, “if it was with fentanyl, you’d be expecting a respiratory rate above 10.”
But Tobin indicated that Floyd had a higher reading of 22.
“Basically, it tells you there isn’t fentanyl on board that is affecting his respiratory centers,” Tobin said.
What Happened on Day 8
Sergeant Jody Stiger, who works with the Los Angeles Police Department’s Inspector General’s Office investigating police wrongdoing, testified on Wednesday, describing Chauvin’s use of force as “excessive,” and saying that the position Chauvin put Floyd in put him at risk of positional asphyxia — which is how the independent examiner determined Floyd was killed.
He said that Floyd’s distress was clear: “His breath was getting lower. His tone of voice were getting lower. His movements were starting to cease. So at that point, as an officer on scene, you have a responsibility to realize that: ‘Okay, something is not right.’”
A paid expert on use-of-force training, Chauvin said that his “opinion was that no force should have been used once he was in that position.” Stiger added that when Floyd was detained, Chauvin did not pay attention to pain compliance, which is the police term for reducing force after someone who is arrested adheres to their instructions.
While cross-examining Stiger, Chauvin’s defense attorney Eric Nelson played muddled audio from body-cam footage from the scene at Cup Foods, claiming that as Floyd was being detained, he said, “I ate too many drugs.” When asked what he heard, Stiger said he could not “make that out.” Later, Nelson posed the same question to James Reyerson, a senior special agent with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, who said he believed he heard “I ain’t do no drugs.”
In the cross-examination of Stiger, Nelson also claimed that Floyd saying “I can’t breathe” while refusing to get in the squad car could be considered resisting arrest, which would constitute use of force. Nelson also argued that Chauvin’s knee was not directly on Floyd’s neck.
What Happened on Day 7
On Tuesday, more members of the Minneapolis Police Department testified about the training that officers receive on usage of force and crisis intervention.
Sergeant Ker Yang, a crisis intervention training coordinator with the department, described the 40-hour training that Chauvin participated in back in 2016.
“That course covers individuals in crisis, symptoms and de-escalation strategies that may be used for individuals in crisis. So, it’s a scenario-based training,” Yang said.
The prosecution then asked if officers could change their strategy as a situation unfolded, giving the example of a medical issue arising while attempting to arrest someone.
“If somebody’s in need of medical attention, then we give them medical attention,” Yang said.
The court also heard from Lieutenant Johnny Mercil, a use-of-force instructor, who said the restraint Chauvin used on Floyd isn’t something taught by the department.
“Knee on the neck would be something that does happen in use of force that isn’t unauthorized,” Mercil said.
But once someone is handcuffed and compliant, Mercil said that would be “an appropriate time” for an officer to remove their knee.
Mercil also agreed with the prosecution that officers do not have “unfettered discretion” to use any type of force that they want against a person.
What Happened on Day 6
The head of the Minneapolis Police Department undercut the defense of Derek Chauvin on Monday, saying the former officer did not follow department policy during his arrest and restraint of George Floyd.
On the sixth day of Chauvin’s murder trial, Chief Medaria Arradondo largely spoke on the different aspects of training that Minneapolis police officers receive throughout their careers, saying that the program is “absolutely vitally essential to us as a department.”
One aspect of this training is de-escalation, a technique that Arradondo said all officers in the department are taught. “The goal is to resolve the situation as safely as possible. So, you want to always have de-escalation layered into those actions of using force,” Arradondo said.
The prosecution showed Arradondo a still image from a bystander’s video that depicts Chauvin with his knee on Floyd’s neck, then asked if this particular restraint was a departmental technique.
“It is not,” Arradondo said. “A conscious neck restraint, by policy, mentions light to moderate pressure. When I look at Exhibit 17 and when I look at the facial expression of Mr. Floyd, that does not appear, in any way, shape, or form, that that is light to moderate pressure.”
Arradondo testified that a restraint is considered a use of force and that such force is required by departmental policy to be “objectively reasonable.”
“We have to take into account the circumstances, information, the threat to the officer, the threat to others, the severity of that,” Arradondo said. “So, that is not part of our policy. That is not what we teach and that should be condoned.”
Lieutenant Richard Zimmerman, the head of the department’s homicide unit, previously testified that Chauvin’s actions were “totally unnecessary.”
Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck and back for over nine minutes, and Arradondo said that the restraint should’ve ended “once Mr. Floyd had stopped resisting and, certainly, once he was in distress and tried to verbalize that.
“To continue to apply that level of force to a person proned out, handcuffed behind their back … that, in no way, shape, or form, is anything that is by policy, it is not part of our training and it is certainly not part of our ethics or our values,” Arradondo said.
Arradondo also testified that, while watching video of Floyd’s arrest, he never saw Chauvin attempt to offer Floyd first aid, something that is expected from department policy.
The police chief stressed that an officer must take the community into consideration when contemplating a use of force.
“It is my firm belief that the one singular incident we will be judged forever on will be our use of force. And so, while it is absolutely imperative that our officers go home at the end of their shift, we wanna make sure that our community members go home too,” Arradondo said.
“So, sanctity of life is absolutely vital. That is our pillar for use of force.”
What Happened on Day Five
On Friday, Lieutenant Richard Zimmerman, the head of the Minneapolis Police Department’s homicide unit, testified on the use of force.
Zimmerman was asked if he was ever trained to kneel on the back of someone that was handcuffed behind their back like Floyd was, to which Zimmerman responded, “No, I haven’t.”
Zimmerman explained that an action like that would be considered “deadly force,” saying “If your knee is on a person’s neck, that can kill them.”
On handcuffing someone behind their back, Zimmerman said the action, “stretches the muscles back through your chest and it makes it more difficult to breathe.”
“Once a person is cuffed, you need to turn them on their side or have them sit up. You need to get them off their chest,” Zimmerman said.
He added, “If you’re laying on your chest, that’s constricting your breathing even more.”
When asked by the prosecution what his view was on the use of force against Floyd, Zimmerman called it “totally unnecessary.”
“Well, first of all, pulling him down to the ground, facedown, and putting your knee on a neck for that amount of time is just uncalled for,” Zimmerman said. “I saw no reason why the officers felt they were in danger, if that’s what they felt.”
What Happened on Day Four
Courteney Ross, Floyd’s girlfriend, testified about her late partner on Thursday, revealing more about their life together. She described how they met in 2017 at a Salvation Army shelter where she was visiting her son’s father. She said that Floyd approached her when she was visibly upset in the shelter’s lobby.
“He said, ‘Well, can I pray with you?’ I thought, I was so tired and we’d been through so much, my sons and I, and this kind person just to come up to me and say, ‘Can I pray with you?’ when I felt alone in this lobby,” Ross recalled through tears.
She added, “It was so sweet and, at the time, I had lost a lot of faith in God.”
Ross revealed that they both became addicted to opioids after being prescribed the medications for chronic pain conditions, and worked to get clean throughout their relationship
“Addiction, in my opinion, is a life-long struggle. So, it’s something that we dealt with every day,” Ross said. “We tried really hard to break that addiction, many times.”
Ross also acknowledged that Floyd had been hospitalized in March 2020, two months before his death, for an overdose. A key part of the defense’s strategy is pointing to other factors that might have caused Floyd’s death, such as his cardiovascular health or drugs found in his system during the autopsy.
The court also heard from Derek Smith and Seth Bravinder, two paramedics who responded to the scene. They both said that while they made every effort to revive Floyd, they suspected that he was dead by the time they arrived.
“From what I could see from where I was at, I didn’t see any breathing or movement or anything like that,” Bravinder said.
Bravinder said his partner checked Floyd’s pulse and his pupils and indicated to him that Floyd was in cardiac arrest. “It’s the term we’re gonna use for anybody that’s not responsive, not breathing, and doesn’t have a pulse, currently,” he explained.
Smith recalled that as he approached, three officers were still on Floyd, who was in handcuffs.
“I looked to my partner, I told him, ‘I think he’s dead, and I want to move this out of here and begin care in the back,’” Smith said. “In a living person, there should be a pulse there. I did not feel one. I suspected this patient to be dead.”
David Pleoger, a retired Minneapolis police sergeant, testified about his conversation with Chauvin after Floyd was taken away from the scene in an ambulance.
Pleoger was the supervisor that 911 operator Jena Lee Scurry testified to calling after witnessing the arrest via surveillance camera footage.
Audio of Chauvin’s call with Pleoger was recorded through a police body camera. In the clip, Chauvin can be heard saying, “Not really, but we just had to hold the guy down. He was … uh … going crazy, wouldn’t go in the back of the squad.”
Pleoger told the prosecution that Chauvin told him Floyd became “combative” and that he suffered a medical emergency after struggling with police.
When asked if Chauvin told him that he personally applied force or a restraint against Floyd, Pleoger said, “I don’t believe so.”
Pleoger said he remembers Chauvin mentioning “holding somebody down,” but not specifically about the use of a knee on Floyd’s knee or back.
When asked by the prosecution if the restraint of Floyd should have ended based on his review of the body camera footage, Pleoger said, “When Mr. Floyd was no longer offering up any resistance to the officers, they could’ve ended their restraint.”
What Happened on Day Three
Jurors have now heard testimony from 11 people who witnessed George Floyd’s death, and as the Washington Post observes, a common theme has emerged: Many have said they feel guilty for letting Floyd down.
Cup Foods cashier Christopher Martin, who is now 19, testified on Wednesday morning that he noticed that the $20 bill Floyd gave him was likely fake, but decided to accept it anyway — though his own pay would be docked — because Floyd seemed high. “I thought that George didn’t really know that it was a fake bill, so I thought I’d be doing him a favor,” he said.
He said his manager then told him and another employee to go out to Floyd’s car to “ask him to come inside to discuss what just happened.” When Floyd refused, a co-worker called 911.
Martin was asked what he was thinking later, as he watched Chauvin and other officers holding Floyd to the ground. “Disbelief and guilt,” he said. “If I had just not taken the bill, this wouldn’t have happened.”
Another witness, 61-year-old Charles McMillian, said he saw officers take Floyd out of his car, handcuff him, and walk him toward their patrol car. “I was telling Floyd, ‘Comply with them, just get in the car, you can’t win,’” McMillian said. He said he was trying to make the situation easier on Floyd “because I have had interactions with the cops myself, and I understand once you get in the cuffs, you can’t win.”
As video of Floyd struggling with police was played in court, McMillian broke down sobbing. “I feel helpless,” McMillian said. “I understand him.”
What Happened on Day Two
Witness Donald Williams, a trained MMA fighter, testified on Tuesday that he warned Chauvin during the incident that he was holding Floyd in a “blood choke.” Williams confirmed that he decided to call 911 after Floyd had been taken away in an ambulance.
“I did call the police on the police,” he said. “I believe I had witnessed a murder.”
In audio of the 911 call played in the courtroom, Williams could be heard saying, “He just pretty much had killed this guy that wasn’t resisting arrest.”
“The man stopped breathing. He wasn’t resisting arrest or nothing. He was already in handcuffs. They pretty much just killed that dude — I don’t even know if he’s dead for sure, but he was not responsive when the ambulance just came and got him,” Williams said on the call.
Williams wiped tears from his eyes as the call was played.
Chauvin’s defense attorney, Eric Nelson, noted that in bystander video of the arrest, Williams called officers “bums” and used other obscenities toward them.
Williams confirmed that he made the comments, sometimes looking in Chauvin’s direction as he did so, but pushed back on Nelson’s characterization of his emotional state at the time.
“I stayed in my body. You can’t paint me out to be angry,” Williams said.
The court also heard testimony from Darnella Frazier, who was 17 when she recorded the cell-phone video of Floyd’s arrest that ultimately went viral.
“I heard George Floyd saying, ‘I can’t breathe. Please, get off of me. I can’t breathe.’ He cried for his mom. He was in pain,” Frazier said. “It seemed like he knew, it seemed like he knew it was over for him. He was terrified. He was suffering. This was a cry for help, definitely.”
Frazier was emotional at times, her voice cracking as she spoke. When asked by the prosecutor how witnessing Floyd’s death affected her life, Frazier mentioned her family.
“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,” Frazier said. “I have a Black father, I have a Black brother, I have Black friends. And I look at that and I look at how that could’ve been one of them.”
She continued, “It’s been nights I stayed up apologizing and apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more and not basically interacting and not saving his life. But it’s like, it’s not what I should’ve done. It’s what he should’ve done.”
What Happened on Day One
Just before the start of Chauvin’s trial, members of George Floyd’s family, their lawyer Benjamin Crump, and the Reverend Al Sharpton took a knee outside the Hennepin County Government Center for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the estimated amount of time that Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck, which has come to symbolize Floyd’s death.
During opening arguments, prosecutor Jerry Blackwell played a bystander video showing Chauvin restraining and kneeling on Floyd. “You can believe your eyes that it’s a homicide, that it’s murder,” Blackwell told the jury, “On May 25 of 2020, Mr. Derek Chauvin betrayed this badge when he used excessive and unreasonable force upon the body of Mr. George Floyd.”
Eric Nelson, Chauvin’s defense attorney, pushed back on the idea that Chauvin’s physical actions are what caused Floyd’s death. “The evidence will show that Mr. Floyd died of a cardiac arrhythmia that occurred as a result of hypertension, his coronary disease, the ingestion of methamphetamine and fentanyl and the adrenaline blowing through his body, all of which acted to further compromise an already compromised heart,” Nelson said.
Nelson also told the jury that they will “learn that Derek Chauvin did exactly what he was trained to do during his 19-year career.” He added, “The use of force is not attractive, but it is a necessary component of policing.”
Jena Lee Scurry, a 911 dispatcher, testified in court that she watched officers restrain Floyd on surveillance footage and they held him down for so long that she asked someone else “if the screens were frozen.”
Scurry recounted having an instinct that something “wasn’t right.”
“I took that instinct and I called the sergeant,” Scurry said.
On May 25, Chauvin and several other officers responded to a call from a convenience-store clerk alleging that Floyd attempted to use a counterfeit $20 bill.
As other officers pinned Floyd to the ground, Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck, as seen in footage recorded by bystanders. Initial reports stated that Chauvin knelt on Floyd for eight minutes and 46 seconds, but the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office updated the official record to seven minutes and 46 seconds. Subsequent analysis of police body-camera footage suggests that Chauvin might have had his knee on Floyd’s neck for as long as nine minutes and 30 seconds.
Floyd told the officers he couldn’t breathe, and he became unresponsive as Chauvin kept his knee in place. He was later pronounced dead at the hospital.
Chauvin faces three charges: second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. He has pleaded not guilty on all counts. The other three officers involved, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, and Tou Thao, face charges of “aiding and abetting both second-degree unintentional murder and second-degree manslaughter,” the Star-Tribune reports.
The third-degree murder charge had previously been dropped but was reinstated after a conviction on the same charge against another former Minneapolis officer, Mohamed Noor, was upheld, establishing a precedent.
The Evidence Against Chauvin
Autopsies from the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office and an independent examiner hired by Floyd’s family both declared his death a homicide.
The county examiner’s report listed the cause of death as “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression,” as reported by NPR.
The independent report determined the cause to be “asphyxiation from sustained pressure.”
Chauvin’s Defense Strategy
Chauvin’s defense team will attempt to prove that there was another cause for Floyd’s death.
As Vox laid out, “The defense will argue that Chauvin did not cause Floyd’s death, that it was a combination of excessive drug use and preexisting conditions that killed him. They will call on the county medical examiner who said Floyd’s toxicology report showed high traces of drugs during the incident — but the examiner also noted that it’s hard to say whether Floyd would have died of other causes, like Chauvin’s knee on his neck.”
The jury in the Chauvin case is made up of 12 jurors and three alternates. Though the trial is being recorded and broadcast, the jurors’ faces will not be revealed on-camera nor will they be referred to by name, for their safety.
According to the Star-Tribune, the jury includes “a multi-race woman in her 20s, a multi-race woman in her 40s, two Black men in their 30s, a Black man in his 40s, a Black woman in her 60s, four white women in their 50s, a white woman in her 40s, a white woman in her 20s, a white man in his 30s and two white men in their 20s.”
How to Watch
This post has been updated.