The prosecution wrapped its case against three ex-cops in Minneapolis, Minnesota, who are accused of violating George Floyd’s civil rights with testimony on Monday from the woman who recorded the deadly encounter. Darnella Frazier was 17 years old when she took viral video of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for what turned out to be more than nine minutes on May 25, 2020 outside of the Cup Foods store in Minneapolis. When Frazier took the stand in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson, she started crying as the first question was being asked, NBC-affiliated KARE 11 reported.
“I can’t do this. I’m sorry,” Frazier said. “It’s too much pressure.”
Updates will be added as the trial continues. Jump below the fold for more information on the trial to date.
Magnuson released the jury for a brief recess, and Frazier resumed her testimony when she returned. “I asked the officer, ‘How long do you have to hold him down if someone is saying they can’t breathe?’” Frazier said in proceedings The Washington Post covered. “I didn’t understand why the officers had to hold him down so long.” Frazier testified that she started recording Chauvin after sensing something was “wrong.” She said she watched Floyd’s condition deteriorate and that he went from seeming “uncomfortable” to “weaker” before he “stopped making sounds overall,” the Post reported.
Frazier’s federal court testimony followed her powerful testimony last March during Chauvin’s state trial. “When I look at George Floyd, I look at my dad,” she said. “I look at my brothers. I look at my cousins, my uncles because they are all Black.
“I have a Black father. I have a Black brother. I have Black friends. And I look at that, and I look at how that could have been one of them.”
Chauvin was convicted of murder and sentenced to 22.5 years in prison in the state case against him. He pleaded guilty to federal charges in a plea deal that caps any additional time in prison at two and a half years.
Former officers Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng pleaded not guilty to failing to intervene in Chauvin’s use of unreasonable force, and ex-officers Thomas Lane, Thao, and Kueng pleaded not guilty to willfully failing to aid Floyd. Lane and Kueng held the Black father down, and Thao blocked bystanders from providing him aid.
When Magnuson asked, Kueng and Thao suggested they would testify during the trial while Lane’s attorney Earl Gray said he needed more time to discuss testifying with his client, The Washington Post reported. All three defense attorneys attempted to have charges against their clients dismissed, and all three attorneys’ requests were denied. Magnuson did say he would consider written briefs on the matter, the Post reported.
The prosecution has called 21 witnesses since attorneys began proving their case on Jan. 24. Jurors heard from off-duty firefighter Genevieve Hansen as well as medical experts and law enforcement officers, the Post reported.
With livestreaming restricted in federal courtrooms, reporters and other members of the general public are left to view the trial on a closed-circuit television feed at the U.S. District Court of Minnesota in St. Paul.
“You are accountable for what you do — and if you don’t do anything at all,” Minneapolis Police Inspector Katie Blackwell testified in proceedings The Washington Post covered. Officer and medical support coordinator for the Minneapolis Police Department Nicole Mackenzie testified that Lane, who was the first to call an ambulance to the scene, did everything he was trained to do “to a certain degree.” But she also added there is a difference between “suggesting aid and actually rendering aid.”
Defense attorneys argued during cross-examinations that officers were given inconsistent use of force training, including a video showing a cadet with his knee on someone’s neck, which an instructor did not correct. Kueng’s attorney Thomas Plunkett argued that training on intervention policies amounted to “little more than a PowerPoint” while Lane and Kueng were shown policing video set against audio of actor Al Pacino speaking of a willingness to “fight and die” in the film Any Given Sunday.
Timothy Longo, the University of Virginia police chief, called the training video “deeply disturbing” in testimony covered by The Washington Post. But he also said he can’t “judge the entire training curriculum based on this single four-minute … video.”
Officer training has presented a type of recurring theme in both the state and federal trial, and the theme replayed once again as a defense for officers when Thao took the stand on Tuesday.
He testified that because officers are trained to perform CPR when a suspect can’t breathe, when he saw no officers giving Floyd CPR, Thao assumed Floyd was “still breathing and fine,” KARE reported.
Thao said he didn’t try to help Floyd “because at that point, I have a different role to do … crowd control to allow them to attend to Mr. Floyd.”
When he was asked about dismissing the help of the off-duty firefighter, he said he didn’t believe she was really a firefighter because she snuck up on him, KARE reported.
Thao’s testimony included elements that seemed to highlight militaristic elements of policing like being trained to say “yes sir, no sir,” “yes ma’am, no ma’am,” and elements intended to humanize him. He testified that he grew up poor, only eating one meal a day and sharing clothing between six children.
He said his “strict” father beat him and his brother with an extension cord when they fought and threatened him with a pistol in an incident that led him to run to his aunt’s home, where she called police. “It was the two most peaceful days of my childhood,” Thao said, answering a question about how that experience made him want to become a police officer.
When he actually became an officer, he ended up partnered with Chauvin to address what he called a forgery call, KARE reported. Floyd was accused of using a counterfeit $20 bill. Thao testified that he and Chauvin were initially called out on a level one, indicating a need to arrive quickly, but the call was downgraded by Lane and Kueng. Thao testified that they continued to the Cup Foods store with sirens off because the store “is hostile to police,” KARE reported. Thao said he arrived to find Lane and Kueng struggling to get Floyd in their patrol car.
“I’ve never seen this much of a struggle,” Thao testified. He said it was “obvious” that Floyd was “under the influence of some kind of drugs” and that he appeared to be in a state of “excited delirium.”
The National Institutes of Health wrote in its research of the condition that it is typically associated with drug use and puts the victim in danger of suffering cardiopulmonary arrest.
Thao said in testimony KARE covered that he looked for a type of restraint known as a hobble but decided not to use it after learning emergency management services were on the way. Thao said helping Floyd would take longer for first responders if they “had him tied up like a Christmas present.”
Thao said it wasn’t uncommon for him to see someone with a knee on a suspect’s neck but that he doesn’t apply that strategy because his height would cause him to lose balance.
When prosecutors took over questioning, Thao admitted that excessive force is a crime, that using force on someone who is unconscious is unnecessary, and that a police officer committing a crime is no different than a regular citizen doing so, KSTP reporter Callan Gray tweeted.
When asked if force is needed once a subject is handcuffed and isn’t resisting, Thao responded: “It depends … if they had just got done fighting with you, you may want to stay there and keep them in restraints.”
Lane and Kueng have also said through their attorneys that they plan to testify.
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