Created: April 01, 2021 06:45 PM
(KSTP)- On Thursday, the Derek Chauvin trial continued with a wide array of witnesses taking the stand in Minneapolis.
Those who testified in Hennepin County Courthouse included George Floyd's girlfriend Courteney Ross, two paramedics from Hennepin County EMS, a Minneapolis Fire Department captain and a former sergeant of the Minneapolis Police Department.
Floyd's girlfriend tearfully told a jury Thursday the story of how they met — at a Salvation Army shelter where he was a security guard with "this great, deep Southern voice, raspy" — and how they both struggled mightily with an addiction to opioids.
"Our story, it's a classic story of how many people get addicted to opioids. We both suffered from chronic pain. Mine was in my neck and his was in his back," 45-year-old Ross said on Day 16 (jury selection included) of Chauvin's murder trial. She added they "tried really hard to break that addiction many times."
Ross said she and Floyd first met in 2017 and struggled with addiction to painkillers throughout their relationship — testimony that could help prosecutors blunt the argument that drugs killed Floyd. Medical experts have said that while the level of fentanyl in his system could be fatal to some, people who use the drug regularly can develop a tolerance to it.
Ross said they both had prescriptions, and when those ran out, they took the prescriptions of others and also used illegal drugs.
"Addiction, in my opinion, is a lifelong struggle. ... It's not something that just kind of comes and goes. It's something I'll deal with forever," she said.
Prosecutors put Ross on the stand as part of an effort to humanize Floyd in front of the jury and portray him as more than a crime statistic, and also explain his drug use. The defense has argued that Chauvin did what he was trained to do when he knelt on Floyd's neck last May and that Floyd's death was caused by drugs, his underlying health conditions and his own adrenaline. An autopsy found fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system.
In March 2020, Ross drove Floyd to the emergency room because he was in extreme stomach pain, and she learned he had overdosed. In the months that followed, Ross said, she and Floyd spent a lot of time together during the coronavirus quarantine, and Floyd was clean. But she suspected he began using again about two weeks before his death because his behavior changed, saying there would be times when he would be up and bouncing around, and other times when he would be unintelligible.
Chauvin's attorney Eric Nelson drove hard at Floyd's drug use in cross-examining Ross, asking questions aimed at showing the danger of overdose and death. Under questioning from Nelson, Ross also disclosed that Floyd's pet name for her in his phone was "Mama" — testimony that called into question the widely reported account that Floyd was crying out for his mother as he lay pinned to the pavement.
Ross also stated in court she believed the drugs purchased by Floyd came from Morries Hall, who was a friend of Floyd and seen in many of the former officers' body cameras in the SUV, as well as inside Cup Foods when Floyd allegedly used a $20 counterfeit bill to buy cigarettes. She said she "didn't like" Hall. This is the second testimony that mentioned Hall in a negative light, as 19-year-old Christopher Martin said he was "more suspicious" of Hall than he was of Floyd while they were in the store that Martin was a worker at.
Wednesday evening, Hall filed a motion in Hennepin County Court that he would invoke his Fifth Amendment rights to refuse testimony.
In another testimony, David Pleoger, a now-retired Minneapolis police sergeant who was on duty the night Floyd died, said that based on his review of the body camera video, officers should have ended their restraint after Floyd stopped resisting. He added that officers are trained to roll people on their side to help with their breathing after they have been restrained in the prone position. Pleoger served as Chauvin and Thao's supervisor on May 25, 2020.
"When Mr. Floyd was no longer offering up any resistance to the officers, they could have ended the restraint," Pleoger said.
"And that was when he was handcuffed and on the ground and no longer resistant?" prosecutor Steve Schleicher asked.
"Yes," Pleoger replied.
Pleoger also said that he was not made aware that Floyd was put into the knee-to-neck restraint until he, former officer Tou Thao and Chauvin were at Hennepin County Medical Center. Floyd was pronounced dead just after he was provided that information.
Also Thursday, a paramedic who arrived on the scene that day testified that the first call was a Code 2, for someone with a mouth injury, but it was upgraded a minute and a half later to Code 3 — a life-threatening incident that led them to turn on the lights and sirens.
Seth Bravinder said he saw no signs that Floyd was breathing or moving and it appeared he was in cardiac arrest. A second paramedic, Derek Smith, testified that he checked for a pulse and couldn't detect one: "In layman's terms? I thought he was dead."
Bravinder said they loaded Floyd into the ambulance so he could get care "in an optimal environment," but also because bystanders "appeared very upset on the sidewalk," and there was some yelling. "In my mind at least, we wanted to get away from that," he said.
Smith likewise said there were "multiple people" with "multiple cellphones out," and "it didn't feel like a welcoming environment."
Chauvin's lawyer has argued that the police on the scene were distracted by what they perceived as a growing and increasingly hostile crowd. Video showed somewhere around 15 onlookers not far from where Floyd lay on the pavement.
Bravinder said after he drove the ambulance three blocks and jumped in the back to help his partner, a monitor showed that Floyd had flatlined — his heart had stopped. He said they were never able to restore a pulse.
On cross-examination, Chauvin's lawyer questioned why the ambulance did not go straight to the hospital, and he pressed Smith on Floyd's condition as he lay on the pavement, in an apparent attempt to plant doubt as to whether Chauvin was directly responsible for his death. The paramedic expressed himself in blunt terms that Floyd was "dead" or "deceased."
Minneapolis Fire Department Capt. Jeremy Norton told the court on Thursday that his department wasn't provided much information on what was happening. On May 25, 2020, Norton said they were given a "Code 2" notice, but was provided "very little information." He said it was later upgraded to a Code 3.
"I believe the only information we had on our screen initially was Code 2 for one with mouth injury and then it was updated," he said.
Norton mentioned he ran into the off-duty Minneapolis firefighter, Genevieve Hansen, who witnessed the scene play out and tried to intervene in helping Floyd. Hansen testified in court on Monday and Tuesday. She alerted Norton of what happened and he described her as "agitated and distraught" when he spoke to her. After Norton saw Floyd's condition once he arrived at the hospital, later on, he said he realized what Hansen was talking about at the original scene. He sent a crew back to the scene to check on her.
"Once we got into the ambulance and I saw the severity of Mr. Floyd's condition and the gravity ... I understood the justification for duress and so I set my crew back to check on her to make sure she was OK," he said.
Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill said that Friday's session will conclude around the noon hour, explaining that testimonies have gone "quicker than anticipated." The court will reconvene at 9:15 a.m. Friday. Among those who are expected to testify Friday, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo could take the witness stand, according to a pool reporter. If Arradondo doesn't testify Friday, he is still expected to testify at some point during the trial.
Chauvin faces second and third-degree murder charges, as well as a second-degree manslaughter charge in the death of Floyd.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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