By Lovepreet Dhinsa
MINNEAPOLIS, MN – On Day 2 of the murder trial of ex-police officer Derek Chauvin Tuesday, four minors—including one then nine-year-old and a Minneapolis firefighter—testified to the horror of watching Chauvin in 2020 kill George Floyd right in front of them, and being powerless to help.
The prosecution started with a motion for minors to be exempt from the video coverage due to privacy reasons. Four of the witnesses were children at the time of the incident.
The state said that these children “didn’t choose to be a part of this process, but they witnessed a man dying in front of them.” The judge approved the motion and extended the exemption for all four witnesses, because they were all minors at the time of the incident.
The judge also ruled that these four witnesses be referred to by their first name only in court and will be identified as such.
The first witness today was Donald Williams, which was a continuation from yesterday’s proceedings. Williams had a history of wrestling throughout high school, and had worked as a security guard for various workplaces. He had also previously worked alongside the Minneapolis Police Department at times.
Williams, who was standing there watching at the curbside, provided testimony that he saw George Floyd “going through tremendous pain, seeing his eyes rolling back, his mouth wide open, slob forming, gasping for air to be able to breathe, and [Floyd] trying to move his face side to side to gasp for more air.”
Williams stated that he was trying to remain professional, but felt that he had to speak out for George Floyd’s life as he felt he was in danger and “seeing a man like me like that…I was scared and felt threatened.”
Williams also testified that Officer Tao had placed his hands on him in an effort to push him back, after which Williams stepped back and put his hand up, careful to not make any sudden movements.
When questioned about whether he had spoken to any bystanders, Williams testified that, once the situation got more intense, he told one of the gentlemen standing next to him not to approach the officers. This gentleman allegedly began tearing up as he was escorted back into a building, when Williams stated that “now was not the time or the place.”
Williams testified that he was also using strong language throughout this incident, because he had a fear of everything occurring around him and he felt a need to speak up, as he worked in the industry.
According to Williams, when he observed Officer Chauvin, he appeared not to be feeling much of anything, no remorse, and was not responding to anything being said to him.
Williams also testified that Officer Chauvin ceased to remove his knee from George Floyd’s neck. When the ambulance arrived, Williams stated that the paramedics attempted to check his pulse at Floyd’s neck, whilst Chauvin’s knee remained on him. Only after one of the paramedics signaled at Chauvin to remove his knee, did he remove his knee from his neck for the first time.
George Floyd was then loaded into the ambulance, when Williams saw the rest of the officers that were kneeling at the feet of Floyd.
Williams had made a 911 call as he saw the officers drive away from the scene. When questioned why Williams didn’t speak to the police officers that were present, Williams stated that “we spoke but we didn’t have any connection of a human being relationship” and confirmed he thought those officers were definitely involved in the crime.
In the recording of the 911 call, referred to as Exhibit 10 in the Court, Williams stated the following: “Officer 987 killed someone in front of the Cup Foods Store. He had his knee on his head the entire time. He was already in handcuffs…they pretty much killed the dude. The officer who murdered the kid in front of everyone just left. He wasn’t resisting arrest or anything. An off-duty firefighter was also here telling them to take his pulse and they didn’t do anything. You all are murderers.”
The defense attorneys questioned Williams about a specific chokehold, namely the blood chokehold, which according to Williams was a technique used to render someone unconscious in a few seconds, where one hand was used to choke.
The defense attorneys, on the other hand, claimed that this chokehold used two hands, in which the person who did the chokehold had to use their arm around the neck in a way to protect the trachea and not kill them. Williams denied any such claims, based on his previous knowledge and experience.
The defense team also alleged that Williams was not aware of what was happening prior to his arrival to the scene, such as the ambulance allegedly being called 3 minutes prior, the ambulance allegedly working in a Code 3 to hurry, and officers allegedly dealing with Floyd 15 minutes prior to his arrival.
Williams, obviously, was not present at that moment and confirmed that he was not aware of anything of the sort happening.
The defense team also alleged that Williams made an assumption about the blood coming from Floyd’s face being caused from being pushed into the concrete; however, the defense claimed the ambulance was called in response to this.
Williams also testified that he had not heard any sort of communication between any of the officers. Although Williams did call Officer Chauvin several names, including a bum, a tough guy, and bogus, he maintained that he was trying to remain professional.
The defense claimed that Williams was becoming angrier as the incident progressed; however, Williams concluded that this was due in large part to George “growing more and more pleading for his life.”
Williams also testified that he raised his voice so that he could be heard by the officers and cease the injustice happening. Williams described George Floyd as “a fish in a bag,” in which he thought his life was in grave danger.
Williams, a mixed martial arts fighter, also noted there was a big difference between MMA fights and what happened to Floyd—that, MMA couldn’t be three against one and he wasn’t forced in MMA to fight with his hands handcuffed.
The second witness today was Darnella, who was the first person to arrive at the scene. Darnella was walking to Cup Foods to purchase snacks with her younger cousin. At the time of the incident, Darnella was only 17 years old.
According to Darnella, the neighborhood was fairly safe and she did not have a concern walking to the store. Darnella testified that once she thought something was wrong, she ushered her cousin to enter the store and then walked back outside to investigate.
Darnella stated that she did not want her cousin to witness a “man terrified, begging for his life.” The pain, suffering, and anguish of George Floyd pushed to the ground caused Darnella to come back to investigate.
Darnella began recording the incident, in which George Floyd is heard saying the following: “I can’t breathe…please get off of me. I can’t breathe…please.” Darnella described Floyd as pleading for his life, crying for his mom, and suffering in pain.
When questioned whether the bystander crowd she was standing in was unruly or physically getting violent, Darnella stated that “everyone was reacting multiple ways from what we were seeing, and we knew it was wrong.”
Darnella confirmed that the crowd remained speaking to the officers but did not at any point become physically aggressive toward them. She also described Chauvin as perhaps “feeding off our [the crowd’s] energy” and he appeared to be “cold and heartless, like he did not care.”
Darnella also testified that Floyd was restrained on the ground, and he could not move much besides his head. Floyd remained handcuffed, complaining about pain in his neck, back, and stomach. Floyd repeatedly stated: “I can’t breathe. I would get up if I could.”
Darnella confirmed that she heard an officer saying “if he could talk, he could breathe.”
According to Darnella’s recorded video, the ambulance arrived about nine minutes after she arrived at the scene. Darnella testified that she did not see Chauvin remove his knee off Floyd until after a pulse was checked by a paramedic who signaled Chauvin to remove his knee.
“When I look at George Floyd, I look at my dad, my brothers, my cousins, my uncles-because they are all Black. I have a Black father, brother, and Black friends. I look at that and how that could have been one of them. I stayed up, apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more and not physically interacting and not saving his life. It’s not what I should have done. It’s not what he [Chauvin] should’ve done,” said Darnella.
The third witness was Darnella’s younger cousin, Judaya, who was nine years old. According to the child, Chauvin “was stopping his [Floyd’s] breathing and kind of hurting him.”
The fourth witness was Alyssa, who was 18 years old, and had driven to the corner store with her friend, Kailin. When they arrived at the store, they realized something was wrong, so that prompted Alyssa to start recording the incident.
Alyssa and Kailin both described Floyd as being very vocal and begging for his life initially, but as the events occurred, Floyd began to get less vocal, talking with smaller breaths, and tried to move his head to get more comfortable. Both witnesses testified to becoming concerned over time for Floyd’s life, as they could see Floyd’s eyes rolling backwards and slowly closing.
The next witness, 27-year-old Genevieve Hansen, was a certified EMT and registered firefighter. Hansen claimed she thought Floyd’s life was in danger and had repeatedly advised the officers to check for Floyd’s pulse. She also offered medical aid.
But police wouldn’t let her help. She later called 911—the third bystander to do that—to report the police to the police.
Trial will resume on Thursday.
Lovepreet Dhinsa is a junior undergraduate student at the University of San Francisco, pursuing her bachelor’s degree in Politics with a minor in Legal Studies. She has a passion for criminal defense law, and strives to go to law school to fight for indigent clients. As such, she is also involved in her university’s mock trial program and student government.
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