NewsAmerica in Crisis

Actions

Chauvin trial: Eyewitnesses describe feeling 'failure', 'distressed' watching George Floyd die

Chauvin trial day 1
Posted at 5:36 AM, Mar 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-30 17:50:06-04

An emotional day Tuesday in a Minneapolis courtroom where six eyewitnesses gave their account of what they saw, and in many cases, recorded, on May 25, 2020 when George Floyd died. The testimony came in the trial of former officer Derek Chauvin who is facing second-and third-degree murder and manslaughter charges in connection with Floyd’s death.

The witnesses, four of them 18 or younger, told the court that they saw Chauvin with his knee on Floyd’s back and neck, and described how they felt and responded as other officers told them to stay away.

Many admitted they became frustrated and angry at the scene, a feeling of “failure” one witness described at not being able to help Floyd and watching him die.

Several of the witnesses teared up and became emotional on the stand recounting the details as they realized Floyd had died.

Testimony included statements from a nine-year-old girl who described feeling “sad” and “mad” at what she was seeing.

Also, the court heard from an EMT and CIty of Minneapolis firefighter who lived in the neighborhood of where the May 25, 2020 incident happened. She says she felt “totally distressed” when she came upon the scene and officers would not let her help Floyd.

Below is a live blog from Tuesday's proceedings with more quotes and details from each witness.

Court TV will be the only network with cameras in the courtroom and will provide live, gavel-to-gavel coverage.
The entire trial will be on live TV as well as available online at CourtTV.com, and the Court TV app for Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Android and Apple devices.

In addition to in-depth reporting and expert analysis from veteran legal journalists - most of whom are lawyers - Court TV’s extensive coverage will include new virtual recreations, and insights and discussions from attorneys, investigators and forensic experts.

UPDATE, 4:15 p.m. ET: A 27-year-old woman who has been a firefighter for the City of Minneapolis for the last two years is called for the prosecution. Genevieve Hansen says she took EMT program as part of her training, and described for the court what those classes included, "more information that you needed about the human anatomy."

She is a certified EMT and firefighter, and did training for both.

Before Hansen took the stand, cell phone video she took showing Floyd being loaded into an ambulance and the 911 call she made from the scene was played for the court. In the 911 call, she told the dispatcher she did not see the officers take a pulse and did not "help the man."

Hansen told the court she works in a part of the city where there are a lot of overdoses, and sometimes she responds to five calls on a shift where someone does not have a pulse.

She was at the Cup Foods on May 25, 2020 because she lives in the area and went for a walk. She heard a woman screaming "they're killing him" and she walked over after asking the woman what was going on.

"I was concerned to see handcuffed man who was not moving with officers with their whole body weight on his back and a crowd who was stressed out," Hansen said, telling the court what she saw when she approached the scene.

Hansen says when she saw what was going on, she thought about how she could get access to the man on the ground, how she could move the officers off him.

"I knew he had an altered state of consciousness, what I needed to know is if he had a pulse," Hansen said, explaining that she knew he was not completely conscious because he had not responded to the "painful stimuli" of pressure on his neck.

Hansen said she identified herself as an EMT when she got to the scene, and told Officer Thao who she was.

"He responded, 'if you really are a City of Minneapolis firefighter then you would know better not to get involved,'" Hansen told the court. She then described what she would have done if she had been given access to Floyd, including chest compressions, "trying to get a pulse back" and checking him for consciousness.

Hansen told the court she stayed on the scene after Floyd was taken away because she was worried about the Black and people of color in the crowd, worried what might happen to them by the remaining officers.

Defense attorney Eric Nelson questioned Hansen about protocol for when paramedics might be called to a scene, and whether she was wearing her uniform when she walked to the area where George Floyd was.

He also questioned what the protocol is about calling paramedics "code 3" to a scene, and how quickly they would respond. He asked if it was reasonable to assume medics had already been called based on what she saw when she got to the scene.

Watch Tuesday afternoon's proceedings below and scroll down for a live blog of Tuesday's proceedings.

UPDATE, 3:20 p.m., ET: Prosecutors call a new witness, their fourth juvenile witness of the day. The woman is now 17 years old and attends high school. She says she has "anxiety" about "what happened" and "wants the truth to come out."

She described the scene when her and her friend, the previous witness, came to the Cup Foods on May 25, 2020. She says the officers on scene seemed "hostile" and says one of the officers, Officer Thao, "pushed one of the witnesses onto the sidewalk," referring to the crowd of bystanders.

The 17-year-old said the bystanders were not being aggressive, "they were just using their voice," she told the court.

UPDATE, 2:15 p.m., ET: Court resumes after lunch with prosecutors calling a new witness, an 18-year-old woman who is a senior in high school.

The woman says she had gone to Cup Foods on May 25, 2020, at the time she was 17 years old. Because she is a minor, her last name is being withheld.

She said she went to the store to get a charging cord. She described seeing four officers at the store at the time, and a Black man on the ground, and that something seemed wrong.

"A lot of people looked in distress on the sidewalk and George was in distress," she told the court. She described to the court that she didn't see any officer check Floyd's pulse or make any move to get off of him. She also described what she considered to be actions Chauvin was taking to "move his knee down more" and "put more pressure on his (George Floyd's) neck."

She says she feels like she "failed" and was "powerless" to stop what was going on.

The prosecutor plays video of the scene on May 25, 2020, and pauses every few minutes to ask the witness what she saw and felt at the time.

Under questioning from the defense attorney, the witness says she told investigators last year she did see officers on scene check Floyd's pulse multiple times. In court Tuesday, she said she did not see them take his pulse.

UPDATE, 1 p.m. ET: The state's next witness is another minor, the 9-year-old cousin of the previous witness.

The young girl recounted what she saw that evening — police kneeling on the neck of George Floyd.

"I was sad and kind of mad," the girl said when asked how the events of May 25, 2020 made her feel. "It kind of seemed it like it was stopping his breathing."

Watch Tuesday morning's proceedings in the player below.

UPDATE, 12:09 p.m. ET: Prosecutors question their next witness, a minor who filmed one of the most widely-seen videos of the incident. The witness grew emotional as she recounted the actions she saw police take against Floyd on May 25, 2020.

When asked if any bystanders in the crowd that gathered grew "violent" while observing the arrest, the witness said she only saw violence "from police," particularly Officers Derek Chauvin and Tou Thao.

She also said that when one bystander offered to check Floyd's pulse, Chauvin and Thao "placed their hands on" their cans of mace spray.

"I felt like I was in danger when they did that. It rubbed me the wrong way," the witness said. "I don't understand why the mace was needed at all."

On cross-examination, lawyers questioned the witness's previous assessment of the neighborhood where the incident took place. While she had testified that she felt safe in the neighborhood, she had previously stated that the area tended to get more dangerous at night. On re-direct, prosecutors clarified that the incident took place while the sun was still out.

In closing, the girl said she grew emotional that she did not do more to "physically interact with police to prevent Floyd's death.

"When I look at George Floyd, I see my father, I see my brother, I see my cousins," she noted.

UPDATE, 11:15 a.m. ET: Prosecutors continued the questioning of eyewitness Donald Williams on Tuesday, a day after Williams' testimony was cut short by technical difficulties in the courtroom.

Williams, was on the scene as officers held George Floyd on the ground on May 25, 2020. He told prosecutors that he was "totally scared" for his safety and the safety of those around him as he watched police continue to hold Floyd down.

Williams later called 911 after Floyd was taken away in an ambulance.

"I believed I had just witnessed a murder," Williams said when asked why he made that call.

Prosecutors then played audio of that call. Williams teared up on the stand as he listened to the audio, dabbing at his eye with a tissue.

Williams' testimony later grew testy under cross-examination, as lawyers asked him about the explicit language he used toward police in bystander video.

Chauvin's attorney Eric Nelson repeatedly pushed Williams to explain the aggressive language he used toward police. Multiple times, Williams was prompted to answer questions directly after answering questions about his language by saying "you saw the video" or "if that's what you saw."

Williams added that he was growing more urgent in his actions because he was afraid for Floyd's life.

ORIGINAL STORY: The trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin will continue Tuesday, a day after jurors heard opening arguments and testimony from three state-called witnesses who watched Chauvin’s arrest of George Floyd.

Floyd died in police custody on May 25, 2020. Chauvin now faces second- and third-degree murder charges, as well as a manslaughter charge.

On Monday, the state called its first three witnesses — 911 dispatcher Jena Scurry, eyewitness Alisha Oyler and eyewitness Donald Williams.

Scurry dispatched officers to the scene where Floyd was arrested, and later watched the proceedings of his arrest live on a monitor thanks to security cameras station in the Minneapolis neighborhood where Floyd was killed. While she confirmed to the defense that she was multi-tasking at the time, she testified that she noticed several officers kneeling on Floyd for so long, that she thought her monitor had frozen.

She later called the police sergeant on duty — something she had never done before in her career — to report a use of force incident. She told the sergeant that the officers "sat on this man" and she didn't know "if they needed to or not."

Monday’s second witness was Oyler, a former employee at a gas station across the street from the crime scene. She shot some of the bystander videos of Floyd’s arrest, and later told the defense that she stopped filming several times because she was at work.

The state’s final witness of the day was Williams, who was at the convenience store where Floyd was arrested at the time of the incident. He recalled some of Floyd’s cries, particularly for his mother and his final gasps for air.

Williams also described his interactions with Officer Thou Thao, one of the three officers who responded to the scene with Chauvin. Williams described Thao as a “dictator” who was “controlling what went on from the curb.”

Williams also testified that he had trained alongside police officers in mixed martial arts training and went into detail about the holds police had Floyd in.

The three witness testimonies came after both the state and the defense ran through their opening arguments in the case. During its opening arguments, prosecutor Jerry Blackwell played the entirety of a bystander video of Floyd’s arrest, noting that the nine minutes and 29 seconds of that video is the most important time frame of the case.

“Mr. Derek Chauvin betrayed his badge when he used excessive and unreasonable force upon the body of Mr. George Floyd,” Blackwell said.

In the state’s opening arguments, lawyers argued that there was “much more” to the case beyond the nine minutes and 29 seconds of bystander video, pointing to autopsys and toxicology reports they claim justify Chauvin’s actions.

Court proceedings in the trial of Derek Chauvin continue Tuesday at 10 a.m. ET.