Day 3 of testimony in the Derek Chauvin trial brought some of the most damning testimony against the defendant so far, in the form of officer bodycam footage. For the first time, we get to see what events led up to George Floyd being restrained, face down on the pavement, by Chauvin.
Prosecutors showed the footage of the bodycams worm by officers J. Alexander Keung, Thomas Lane, and Tou Thao, the other 3 officers on the scene at the time of Floyd’s arrest, and subsequent death. The footage begins with the officers’ arrival at Cup Foods. After they arrive and assess the situation, we see officer Thomas Lane approach the driver’s side of the SUV where Floyd was sitting, gun drawn. Floyd is immediately distressed and terrified. He can be heard on the video saying to the officers as he is crying, “Are you gonna shoot me? Please don’t shoot me.” He says this multiple times.
The footage was shown during the testimony of Lt. Jeff Rugel, a Minneapolis police officer who manages the department’s technology unit. His testimony focused on the technical aspect of bodycams, how they are worn, and the validity and reliability of the footage. He was not askd to comment on the content of what was shown.
Mr. Floyd appears to be under the influence, and his cries throughout the incident range from fearful to outright manic. He can be heard as saying “I’m not a bad guy” and “I’m scared as f**k man” several times, as well as repeatedly telling the officers that he was claustrophobic.
The footage shows the officers struggling to get Floyd to both walk to the squad car, and to get him in the back seat. He doesn’t resist in a combative way, but more in a “deadweight” way. Chauvin’s bodycam falls off during the struggle to get Floyd in the car. During this exchange is when the officers decide to pull him out of the car and put him on the ground, where he is handcuffed, laid face down, and Chauvin then assumes the kneeling position on Mr. Floyd’s neck.
The footage also shows some of the officers interactions with the crowd more clearly. In one clip, you can hear multiple bystanders tell the officers that Floyd can’t breathe, to which officer Thao responds, “He’s talking, so he’s fine.”
With this new footage, we also get the first publicly heard defense of his actions, from Chauvin himself. He can be heard on the video saying to a bystander that “We got to control this guy, because he’s a sizeable guy, and it looks like he is probably on something.”
That bystander was Charles McMillian, a passerby who stopped to observe the encounter when he saw the officers stopped by Floyd’s vehicle. In the video, McMillian can be heard telling Floyd to just comply, to just get in the car. He said to Floyd “You can’t win, man” When asked what he meant, McMillian told the court “Once the cops on you, you can’t win. Just cooperate, get in the car, go with them, and you can win.”
McMillian broke down sobbing on the stand as he watched the video and recounted his memory of what happened. The judge ordered a 10 minute break to allow McMillian to compose himself.
The interaction with Chauvin came after Floyd was taken away by ambulance. McMillian said to Chauvin that he took issue with what he (Chauvin) had done to Floyd. Chauvin’s reply was the aforementioned statement, with the preface “That’s one person’s opinion.” “We got to control this guy, because he’s a sizeable guy, and it looks like he is probably on something.”
Another key testimony on day 3 was that of Christopher Martin, the Cup Foods clerk who took the supposed counterfeit $20 from George Floyd. 19-year-old Martin testified about his initial interactions with Floyd. He stated that Floyd seemed very friendly and personable, that he struck up a conversation about sports, but that he was definitely slow to speak and “seemed high.” Shortly after, Floyd purchased a pack of cigarettes with what Martin believed to be a counterfeit $20 bill. After discussing the situation with his manager, Martin went out to Floyd’s vehicle to approach him about the transaction. He testified that Floyd did not want to go back into the store. After going back inside and advising his manager, the manager asked Martin to go back out a second time and try to get Floyd to come inside, to which he refused. It was at that time that the police were called.
Martin also testified that the store had the policy that if you took a counterfeit bill, it would come out of your own paycheck. Martin initially thought about not saying anything and just putting the $20 on his own “tab,” but ultimately decided to tell the manager about it instead. Martin’s testimony became somewhat emotional as he recounted the guilt he feels over the whole situation. “If I would have just not taken the bill, all of this could have been avoided.” Martin also went on to testify that he quit his job at Cup Foods shortly after, saying “I no longer felt safe.”
My take: Today was another extremely emotional day of testimony. The ongoing guilt and grief of the witnesses has been center stage so far. And rightfully so. George Floyd was not the only victim of Chauvin’s crime. And the prosecution is doing a great job of highlighting that fact.
The bodycam footage, in my opinion, is extremely damning to the defense. The footage essentially puts the jurors in the officers’ shoes, really giving them a birds eye view of what was happening, and helping them determine if their actions were justified. For the most part, the footage will work against Chauvin, though there is a little room for defense
The footage clearly shows Floyd refusing to get into the back of the police car, which led them to take him down to the pavement. Reasonable actions by the officers? Yes and no. It’s my belief that 3 grown officers should have been able to get him into the back of that car without much struggle. While Floyd was refusing to get in, it was a passive resistance. He was not fighting, he was not aggressive or threatening towards the officers. He was upset and was not willingly going into the back of the vehicle. So, the defense will argue that he resisted, so the officer’s actions were justified. But…did that resistance warrant 9 and 1/2 minutes of Chauvin’s knee on his neck? Absolutely not. So that is going to cause a problem for the defense.
Christopher Martin’s testimony was also bad for the defense. He was able to show the court that Floyd, while appearing under the influence, was friendly and approachable throughout their interaction. Even upon being confronted about the money, while refusing to go inside and deal with it, was not aggressive or threatening either.
Thus far, the prosecution has a pretty tight case. They are doing well at laying the groundwork that Floyd’s behavior, while somewhat erratic, did not warrant Chauvin’s use of force.