FIRST TRIAL DAY: Jurors Hear Opening Arguments, Witnesses in Chauvin Trial for Killing George Floyd

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Image of Derek Chauvin with his knee to George Floyd’s neck

By Roselyn Poommai and William McCurry

MINNEAPOLIS, MN – After more than two weeks of jury selection, the true trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd commenced, as  Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill began by excusing the 15th juror because there’s only room for 14 jurors.

Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell was the first to make his opening statement to the jury, explaining to the jury what it means to be a Minneapolis Police Officer and what it means to wear that badge. He state that they have responsibility and accountability to the public they serve.

“Sanctity of life and protection of the public shall be the cornerstones of the Minneapolis Police Department’s use of force,” said Blackwell. He added that officers take an oath that includes “never employing unnecessary force or violence.”

“You will learn that on May 25, 2020, Mr. Derek Chauvin betrayed this badge when he used excessive and unreasonable force upon the body of Mr. George Floyd,” declared Blackwell.

Blackwell said the most important numbers that the jurors will hear in this case are “9-2-9,” representing the nine minutes and 29 seconds Chauvin had his knee on Floyd’s neck “squeezing the life out of him.

“We plan to prove to you, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Mr. Chauvin was anything other than innocent on May 25, 2020,” said Blackwell. The prosecution’s second objective is to bring in the evidence that supports their reasoning to prove Chauvin guilty of murder and manslaughter.

The sad and disturbing video of Chauvin holding his knee on Floyd’s neck as his life was squeezed out of him was the first day highlight.

But before that, Blackwell provided an outrageous statistic from the video: In the approximate four and a half minutes, Floyd was conscious, with Chauvin on his neck, and he told Chauvin he couldn’t breathe 27 times.

As Floyd begins to lose his life breath by breath, his last words were, “I can’t breathe.” Blackwell provides that for roughly 53 seconds, Floyd was completely silent and almost motionless. Floyd has sporadic movements while he was no longer breathing. Blackwell plans to bring in many different medical professionals to explain the involuntary movements he was making.

To provide how long the actual nine minutes and 29 seconds were, Blackwell provides how many events occurred through the duration of Chauvin’s knee being on Floyd’s neck. Throughout this time, Chauvin was told they could not find Floyd’s pulse twice, but he remained on his neck.

Medical personnel had not arrived on the scene for some time, and Chauvin was still on Floyd’s neck as he was lying there lifeless. Chauvin did not rise off Floyd’s neck until the EMTs had their gurney on the floor next to him, ready to put him in the back of their ambulance. When Chauvin moved Floyd onto the gurney, he yanked his lifeless body like he was a rag doll.

To close his statement, Blackwell asked the jury to find Chauvin guilty after his team provides all the evidence, witnesses, and expert witnesses to show that he is not an innocent man.

Defense Attorney Eric Nelson, representing Chauvin, began by defining the phrase “a reasonable doubt.” “A reasonable doubt is a doubt that is based on reason and common sense. At the end of this case, we’re going to spend a lot of time talking about doubt,” states Nelson.

As Nelson refers to the word “reasonable,” he states that it will be a recurring term throughout this trial. This term will be used in the sense of “what would a reasonable police officer do? Or What is a reasonable use of force?” claims Nelson.

“There is no political or social cause in this courtroom,” Nelson explains about the evidence that will be presented. He also explained to the jury that the evidence is far greater than nine minutes and 29 seconds.

Nelson claimed that the evidence, in this case, was collected broadly and expansively.

“Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension employed nearly 50 case agents, analysts, and technicians to investigate this case. The Federal Bureau of Investigation included at least 20 additional agents in their investigation. These agents combined have engaged in an extensive and far-reaching investigation.

“They have interviewed over 50 members of the Minneapolis Police Department, they interviewed officers on the command staff, they interviewed officers who oversee training and policy-making decisions, they have interviewed nearly 200 civilian witnesses in this case,” Nelson added.

The witness list, in this case, includes nearly 400 people, which Nelson provides. Each witness that testifies, Nelson claims, will come from one of four primary locations: Cup Foods, Mercedes-Benz, Squad 320, and Hennepin County Medical Center.

The defense plans on bringing witnesses from Cup Foods, including Floyd’s ex-girlfriend and a store clerk. From Floyd’s body language, the store clerk concluded that he was “under the influence of something,” which Nelson provides.

The clerk from Cup Foods realized that Floyd purchased a pack of cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. Along with one of his coworkers, he approached Floyd outside the store and told him that he needed to pay for them or return them. He claims that Floyd refused.

At 8:01 p.m. on March 25, 2020, another clerk from Cup Foods called the police on Floyd and described him as drunk, and said, “he’s not acting right.” Squad car 320, containing Thomas Lane and Alexander Kueng, arrived at the store at 8:08 p.m. and were directed to the Mercedes-Benz.

At the Mercedes-Benz, 20-30 minutes before the officers arrived, Nelson claims that Floyd consumed two Percocet and fell asleep. He also claims that his friends tried waking him up but couldn’t. At 8:09 p.m., the officers approached the vehicle, and officer Lane drew his service weapon because Floyd won’t show him his hands. Nelson told the jury, “You will learn that this is an acceptable police practice.”

Nelson stated that, in an effort to conceal them from the police, Floyd put drugs in his mouth when the officers confronted him. He also claimed that the jury will see the body-worn cameras from each officer, including their interactions with Floyd and his friends. The officers found two pills, which contained methamphetamine and Fentanyl, commonly known as a “Speed Ball.”

After they escorted Floyd to the squad car, they struggled to get him into it, where then-officers Chauvin and Tou Thao assisted.

He then poineds out how large the “angry” crowd got.

“There are people behind them, there are people across the street, there are cars stopping, people yelling, there is a growing crowd, and what officers perceive to be a threat. They’re called names you heard them this morning, ‘a f**king bum,’ they’re screaming at them, causing the officers to divert their attention from the care of Mr. Floyd to the threat that was growing in front of them,” said Nelson.

At 8:20 p.m., officers called and made a “Code 2” medical assistance call, meaning they did not use lights and sirens to arrive at the scene. Nelson then provided that at 8:21 p.m., they amplified the call to “Code 3” meaning arrive as soon as possible. Paramedics arrived at 8:27 p.m., 19 minutes after the officers arrived.

At the hospital that Floyd was taken to, he was pronounced dead shortly after arriving. The autopsy report from the hospital, Nelson claims, will show signs of death other than asphyxiation. There were no bruises on the skin and no evidence that the airflow was restricted.

Floyd’s blood was drawn upon arrival at the hospital and the toxicology report showed Fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system.

To conclude his statement, Nelson claimed that after the jury reviews the actual evidence and hears the law, and applies reason and common sense, “there will only be one just act and that will be to find Mr. Chauvin not guilty.”

Prosecutor for Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, Matthew Frank, called Jena Scurry, a 9-1-1 dispatcher for approximately seven years. Scurry explained to Frank that there is extensive training that goes into dispatching calls, approximately two years of training. As a dispatcher, she takes calls as they come in priority and she sends them out to officers or firefighters.

On May 25, 2020, she was working 2:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. when she saw the encounter between Floyd and the officers on the scene. She informed Frank that at any one given time, she has multiple computer monitors in front of her to work. On the night of Floyd’s death, she had a computer screen with the street camera on it and she could see the whole encounter perfectly.

Frank showed her Exhibit 10 which was the 9-1-1 call that was dispatched about the counterfeit bill and she explained this to the court. Exhibit 11 was the camera footage that she could see at her desk, it was a street view right in front of “Cup Foods.”

Exhibit 12 was special to the prosecution. This exhibit is the call the dispatcher made to the sergeant on duty at the time of the incident. Frank described it as “calling the police on the police.”

Scurry told Frank that she made this call because she was “concerned.” She asserted that she was concerned because of the use of force, she saw everyone on top of Floyd. “We don’t see incidents, my job is mainly all listening,” Scurry voiceed her concerns.

Scurry described the dispatch center as having a total of nine screens, “six on the walls, two large ones on the ends, and then there’s one in fire.”

However, she clarified that Minneapolis’ surveillance cameras are not constantly displayed on the screen.

“We have other information that we put on those screens that we can have constantly running as reminders,” Scurry explained.

Nelson noted, “You testified that it’s very rare that you actually see the incident that you dispatched on these city cameras. How rare would you say it is?”

“I can’t be specific, but it might be—in the whole time that I’ve been a dispatcher—maybe three to four calls that I’ve seen on our TVs,” she answered.

Scurry testified that the dispatch was initially in response to a male who had provided a counterfeit bill to a nearby business. He was last seen sitting on top of a blue SUV and appeared to be under the influence.

“You said you’re familiar with the 38th and Chicago interaction? Does it get a fair number of police officers to that area?”

The witness answered, “That I don’t have the statistics for, and I wouldn’t be able to rattle off of a yes or a no.”

Defense Attorney Nelson then identified the officers in the three responding squad cars that day, including Officers Chauvin and Tao, who drove squad car 330.

He was attempting to gather the events that led to Scurry’s decision to call for backup.

Scurry explained that dispatchers cannot tune into an officer’s whereabouts at any given moment unless the officer personally turns on their microphone and notifies them over the radio.

However, she consistently detected commotion in the radio’s background when it was active and felt the need to dispatch additional squad cars to the scene.

Defense Attorney Nelson walked through the dispatch time stamps.

The first car, driven by squad 320, was initially called to the incident at 8:03 p.m.

Shortly after, Scurry dispatched squad car 330 to the scene at 8:05 p.m., followed by squad car 830 three minutes later.

DA Nelson asked the witness to recall why she felt the need to send back-up in the first place.

“Initially, I believe I heard a loud—something in the background,” she replied but could not recollect the exact noise.

The attorney questioned, “When you spoke with [FBI] Agent Peterson, do you recall telling him that you heard lots of yelling and things of that nature at one point when squad 320 said they were taking one out?”

Scurry could not recall the specific words spoken but clarified that she did not wait for the officers’ usual assistance call before sending backup because of her instincts.

The situation seemingly de-escalated minutes later as squad cars 320 and 830 reported that they were clearing the case.

However, at 8:21 p.m., a Code 2 calling for EMS responders rang to Scurry’s dispatch center.

“Code two meaning: just come in a matter of due course, no need to rush. Routine,” Nelson defined.

A minute and 24 seconds later, Chauvin’s squad car called for a Code 3, indicating a scenario escalation.

“Code three means get here as quickly as you possibly can, right? Lights and sirens,” stated Nelson.

The EMS did not arrive until 8:28 p.m. but oddly left the scene to a different intersection for which they were not initially dispatched. The miscommunication made it challenging to locate the EMS ambulance.

Nelson further attempted to establish that Scurry was not giving her full attention to the security footage since she was unaware of the instants leading up to the moment the officers detained Floyd.

At that point, she witnessed the squad vehicle shaking as the officers struggled to place Floyd in the car and called the supervising sergeant to report the possible use of force.

Defense Attorney Nelson questioned, “You, not being a Minneapolis police officer, are not familiar with the use of force requirements, correct?” to which Scurry agreed.

Nelson continued to press, “When you ultimately called Sergeant [name], you said, ‘I don’t know if this is a use of force or not,’ right? And Sergeant [name] told you that it could just be a takedown and takedown wouldn’t require a supervisor.”

Scurry admitted that she had not received a call from the dispatched officers before consulting the sergeant to review the incident, which is generally the required step.

After a brief re-direct examination by Prosecutor Frank to clarify recurring details, Prosecutor Steve Schleicher brought forth the second witness, Alisha Oyler.

Oyler, a shift lead at the Speedway store located across from Cup Foods at the time, first noticed the police on the corner of Cup Foods.

She had recorded seven separate video clips on her cellphone in which her commentary can be heard in the background.

“Please tell the jury in your own words what you saw that caught your attention,” asked Prosecutor Frank.

“Just them messin’ with someone,” Oyler answered as she described the motion with her hands.

She then witnessed Floyd being put in handcuffs but could not recall the following events before he was placed in one of the police vehicles across the street.

Prosecutor Frank then asked Oyler to “explain to the jury what you saw after you saw police officers putting Mr. Floyd into the car.”

“I don’t remember. I can’t think right now,” Oyler replied.

Oyler continued to have trouble recalling the event’s details throughout the testimony but distinctly remembered the car shaking back and forth.

“Why did you continue to record what you were seeing?” asked Frank after presenting her recorded clip in front of the jury.

“I always see the police there messing with people, and it’s wrong, it’s not right,” she answered.

Oyler later added that she heard yelling disputes between the bystanders and officers before the ambulance arrived. She also testified that she was unaware whether Floyd resisted the officers at the scene.

Her final recording depicted the moment George Floyd was loaded into the ambulance on a stretcher.

Prosecutor Frank called a third witness, Donald Williams.

Williams was initially headed inside Cup Foods when he noticed an unusual situation right outside the entrance.

He heard the concerns of other current bystanders directed at the officers and recognized Floyd calling out for help.

“I’m sorry,” “I want my mom,” and “I can’t breathe” were a few of many phrases vocalized by Floyd that stuck with Williams that day.

Williams then mentioned observing an officer, whom he recognized as Officer Tao, next to the situation.

“He was a dictator. He controlled the people. He controlled me. He’s the guy that let it go on,” described Williams after Tao had verbally pushed back against the bystanders.

As a highly experienced wrestler and MMA fighter, Williams recognized the fatality of Officer Chauvin’s knee as it was positioned on George Floyd’s neck.

“The more his knee was blocking the circulation on his [Floyd’s] neck, the more you see Floyd slowly fade away. Like a fish in a bag, you see his eyes slowly pale out and slowly roll to the back of his head.”

Williams added that he witnessed blood emerging from Floyd’s nose while he was breathing “tremendously heavy. From there on, he was lifeless. He didn’t move. He didn’t speak.”

The witness claimed that he and a responding paramedic had asked the officers multiple times to check Floyd’s pulse, but no one responded.

Prosecutor Frank presented the clip that showed Floyd being held on the ground by Chauvin and asked Williams to explain the motions of Chauvin’s knee.

Williams confirmed that Chauvin was utilizing the weight of his shoulders and knees to restrict the oxygen flow in Floyd’s neck.

“Every time his shoulder’s moving, he’s pushing that pressure down on his [Floyd’s] neck—from the shoulders to the knees all the way to his ankle. You will see his shoulder shift, and you will see the bottom of his knee shift and his foot come off. He’s driving off his far foot.”

As the first day of trial came to a close, the court adjourned after a major technical issue and resumes Tuesday.


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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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