Feelings of horror and fear were recalled in a Minneapolis court Tuesday when a number of onlookers testified what it was like to see George Floyd die slowly under the knee of ex-cop Derek Chauvin last May.
Six bystanders testified on the second day of Chauvin’s criminal trial: a 9-year-old girl, three high school students, a fighter with mixed martial arts, and a Minneapolis firefighter. Everyone arrived at the scene, hoping to buy snacks from a corner shop or get some fresh air – just to see a man’s last breaths.
“I was sad and kind of crazy,” said the 9-year-old. “Because it felt like he was stopping breathing and it was like hurting him.”
MMA fighter Donald Wynn Williams II testified that he was so disturbed by what he saw that he called 911 to report it. “I called the police at the police station,” he said. “I thought I saw a murder.”
Minneapolis firefighter and certified EMT Genevieve Hansen, who was walking on her day off, testified she wanted to help Floyd and repeatedly asked police to take a pulse. They refused.
“I tried to argue calmly, I tried to be assertive, I accepted and was desperate,” she testified. “I really wanted to help.”
She also called 911 afterwards to report what the police had done. Her call was the third such report; In addition to Williams, a Minneapolis 911 dispatcher who saw the arrest on a live video feed said on Monday that she had alerted a police sergeant.
“You can trust your eyes that it is a murder,” said prosecutor Jerry Blackwell on Monday. “You can believe your eyes.”
Defense attorney Eric Nelson argued that the case was more complicated than just this video. He said Chauvin followed police use of violence training, arguing that Floyd’s cause of death was a combination of drug use and pre-existing health problems.
He also said the bystanders turned into a threatening crowd that distracted the officers. In controversial cross-interrogations of Williams and Hansen on Tuesday, he tried to get them to admit that she and the crowd were angry.
The 45-year-old chauvin pleaded not guilty of accidental second degree murder, third degree murder and second degree manslaughter. His trial comes 10 months after Floyd’s death sparked a summer of protest, riot, and social reckoning with America’s past and present against racism and aggressive policing.
The off duty firefighter was “totally desperate”
Hansen, the off-duty firefighter, testified in her work clothes on Tuesday. She said she was worried about Floyd’s health last May when she arrived at the crime scene on a walk. “He didn’t move and he was handcuffed and three grown men putting all their weight on someone is too much,” she said.
She identified herself as a Minneapolis firefighter and moved to help, but former officer Tou Thao denied her access to Floyd’s treatment. His rejection made her “totally desperate,” frustrated and helpless, she testified.
She eventually filmed part of Floyd’s arrest on her cell phone and later called 911 to report it.
“As things settled down, I realized I wanted them to know what was going on. I basically wanted to report it,” she said.
When cross-examined, she repeatedly questioned Nelson’s questioning and answered one question with Snark once. “I don’t know if you’ve ever seen anyone die before you, but it’s very annoying,” she said.
After Judge Peter Cahill dismissed the jury for the day, he admonished Hansen, telling them to answer the questions asked and not argue with Nelson anymore. Your testimony will continue on Wednesday.
“I’m looking at this and I’m looking at how one of them could have been,” she said tearfully. “There were nights when I apologized to George Floyd for not doing more, and not interacting physically, and not saving his life. But it’s not what I should have done, it’s what he should have done should do.”
The third student said she saw Chauvin dig his knee into Floyd’s neck. She said at one point Chauvin took out his mace and started shaking it when bystanders asked officers to leave Floyd.
“I was scared of chauvin,” she said.
The witness says Chauvin used “blood thrush”
Drawing on his own MMA experience, Williams said that Chauvin performed a “blood throttling” on Floyd and adjusted his position several times to keep pressure on Floyd’s neck. He said he wanted to dissuade Chauvin from Floyd but did not intervene physically because officer Thao told him to stay away.
“I was just really trying to maintain my professionalism and make sure I speak up for Floyd’s life because I felt he was in great danger,” he said.
In a controversial cross-examination, Williams admitted that he repeatedly called and yelled at Chauvin and Thao names, even after Floyd was taken away in an ambulance. However, he declined to describe defense attorney Eric Nelson that he was “angry” on the spot.
“I got professional. I stayed in my body. You can’t picture me being angry,” he said.
The second degree murder charge states that Chauvin deliberately attacked Floyd with his knee, which inadvertently caused Floyd to die. The third degree murder charge states that Chauvin acted with a “depraved mind without regard to human life” and the second degree manslaughter charge states that Chauvin’s “culpable negligence” caused Floyd’s death.
Chauvin could be convicted of all, some, or none of the charges. Minnesota’s sentencing guidelines recommend approximately 12.5 years in prison for murder charges and approximately four years in prison for manslaughter charges.
Testimony at the trial is expected to take about four weeks, followed by deliberations by the jury.
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