Justice for George – Derek Chauvin Trial, Day 4

It was another intensely emotional day in the trial of Derek Chauvin.

First to take the stand was Courteney Ross, Floyd’s girlfriend at the time of his death. Ross began sobbing almost immediately as she took the stand, and remained tearful throughout the majority of her testimony. Ross described how she met Floyd in August of 2017, and described their three-year-long relationship. She also testified that they both struggled with an opioid addiction, and talked about how they both tried to beat the addiction over the course of their relationship.

On cross-examination, Ross was questioned about a time in March of 2020 when Floyd was hospitalized for a drug overdose. She testified that the substance that led to the overdose was likely not an opioid, because it had a “different effect” on them. When asked if the substance was heroin, she said that she had speculated that it was at the time, but that she didn’t know for sure. She was also asked by Eric Nelson what she was saved in Floyd’s phone as, to which she answered “Mama,” perhaps trying to show that Floyd was calling out to her at the time of his death, and not his mother.

Also testifying on day 4 were paramedics Seth Bravinder and Derek Smith. They were the first paramedics on the scene to treat Floyd. Both men testified that when they arrived on the scene, it did not appear that Floyd was not moving or breathing. Smith recounted, “I walked up to the individual, and noticed he wasn’t moving. I didn’t see any chest rise or fall on this individual. In lay terms, I thought he was dead.” Smith also testified that upon checking Floyd, his pupils were “large” and “dilated,” and that he did not detect a pulse. Asked about Floyd’s condition, Smith stated “in a living person, there should be a pulse. I did not feel one. I suspected this patient to be dead.” When asked about continuing to give Floyd aid even though he had no pulse, Smith replied “He’s a human being. I was trying to give him a second chance at life.”

Both paramedics testified that they wanted to move Floyd into the ambulance to treat him, both because their supplies were there, and because of the crowd situation. Smith testified that their various results to revive Floyd did not change his condition. Smith stated, “I showed up and he was deceased. I dropped him off at the hospital and he was still in cardiac arrest.” Smith also testified that he had to ask the officers to get off of Floyd so he could treat him, and that he was the one who removed the handcuffs before starting lifesaving measures.

We also heard testimony from Fire Captain Jeremy Norton, who was dispatched to Cup Foods on a “code 2,” which is a nonemergency. It was then elevated to a “code 3.” Norton testified that the call was confusing, because they didn’t know what the situation was, and didn’t have a description of a patient. He stated they had received a call from an off-duty firefighter who was “agitated to distraught.” That turned out to be Genevieve Hansen. Norton testified that when he arrived on the scene and entered the ambulance, he saw “an unresponsive body on a cot.” Norton testified that after following the ambulance to the hospital, he filed a report over what had happened that day, because it appeared a person had died while in police custody.

The 5th witness of the day was Sgt. David Pleoger, who took the call from dispatcher Jena Scurry. He took the report from her of Chauvin’s use of force on Floyd. Pleoger was questioned about types of “use of force” and when that use of force should be reported to a supervisor. He stated that “any type of force on a handcuffed prisoner” should be reported immediately to a supervisor.

There is a requirement under policy for the officers to call an ambulance and to render aid while waiting for an ambulance, Pleoger confirmed. The supervisor has to respond to the scene if a “hobble” or maximal restraint technique is used, as well. The hobble is a “prone position,” Pleoger said. Then the officer is required to put them in the “side position” to help them breathe better.

 Pleoger was then asked to explain the danger of “positional asphyxia.” “If you restrain somebody or leave them on their chest or stomach for too long then their breathing can become compromised,” he said. Pleoger confirmed that’s why the policy requires the side recovery position. When asked, “The danger is there without anyone pressing down on them?” Pleoger responded, “Yes.”

Pleoger then described how he called officer Chauvin to find out what was happening. We heard part of this call, in which Chauvin is recorded saying, “Yeah I was just gonna call you and have you come out to our scene here. Not really, but we just had to hold the guy down, he was going crazy … wouldn’t go in the back of the squad.” Chauvin turned his bodycam off for the remainder of the call, which Pleoger stated was within policy.

Chauvin did not advise Pleoger at that time of his use of force. Pleoger found out later, at the hospital, right before finding out Floyd had died. At that time Chauvin did not divulge how long he had used that force on Floyd. When asked by the prosecution how long would be reasonable to keep a knee on a suspect’s neck, Pleoger replied, “Until they are controlled. Handcuffed and not fighting with you anymore.”

There was then some disagreement between the lawyers as to whether or not Pleoger should be allowed to offer his opinion on Chauvin’s use of force. The judge took a short break to allow the defense and the prosecution to argue this. The judge agreed to allow one specific question.

“Based on your review of the body-worn camera footage, do you have an opinion as to when the restraint of Mr. Floyd should have ended in this encounter?” Schleicher asked when the jury returned.

“When Mr. Floyd was no longer offering up any kind of resistance to the officers they could have ended the restraint,” Pleoger replied.

My take: Courteney Ross’s testimony I think ultimately looks good for the prosecution. She was extremely vulnerable, therefore sympathetic, and was very candid about her and Floyd’s substance abuse. The defense definitely tried to go very deep into that, and it seemed like he was trying to show that they may have received a bad batch of drugs, which was what Floyd had in his system at the time. That seemed to fall flat. Nelson’s question of what Ross was saved as in Floyd’s phone seemed to me irrelevant and petty. Regardless if his use of “mama” was for his mother or his girlfriend has no bearing on the fact that he was in distress. I do not think that scored him any points with the jury.

The paramedics’ testimony, particularly Derek Smith, was pivotal. They both proved that Floyd was already dead by the time they arrived, and none of their efforts at recusitation were successful. Smith appeared particularly annoyed under cross-examination. You could tell he did not care for Eric Nelson’s line of questioning. When asked about Floyd’s condition when they arrived at the hospital, Smith replied “still deceased.” Nelson objected to the answer, but was ultimately overruled. This is important in showing that Floyd was indeed dead before any medical intervention was applied.

Another important and somewhat testy exchange was when Smith was asked about why he needed all hands on deck, and having officer Lane ride along in the ambulance to help with lifesaving measures. Smith replied “Any layperson can do chest compressions. There’s no reason Minneapolis PD couldn’t have started chest compressions.” Nelson quickly tried to interrupt, but the damage was done.

Sgt. Pleoger gave the most damning testimony of the day. As a supervisor, he clearly established that Chauvin broke protocol, both with his use of excessive force, and with his failure to report his use of that force. He also validated the testimony of Genevieve Hansen, by remarking that once he understood the situation, he realized her level of distress was justified. Pleoger also established that even the position Floyd was held in was against protocol, describing the “hobble” and “prone position,” meaning Floyd should have been on his side in order to protect his airway.

One more day of testimony this week. Once the prosecution gets through the eyewitness an officer testimony, they’ll most likely move on to the medical experts and showing what caused Floyd’s death.

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