MINNEAPOLIS >> A Minneapolis police supervisory sergeant who was on duty the night George Floyd died testified that he believes the officers who restrained Floyd could have ended it after he stopped resisting.
David Pleoger testified today at the trial of since-fired officer Derek Chauvin, who is charged with murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death. He noted that officers are trained to roll people on their side to help with their breathing after they have been restrained in the prone position.
“When Mr. Floyd was no longer offering up any resistance to the officers, they could have ended the restraint,” Pleoger said.
“And that was after he was handcuffed and on the ground and no longer resistant?” prosecutor Steve Schleicher asked.
“Correct,” replied Ploeger, now retired.
Chauvin, 45 and white, is accused of killing Floyd by pinning his knee on the 46-year-old Black man’s neck for 9 minutes, 29 seconds, as he lay face-down in handcuffs. Floyd had been accused of passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a neighborhood market.
His death triggered large protests around the U.S., scattered violence and widespread soul-searching over racism and police brutality. The most serious charge against Chauvin carries up to 40 years in prison.
Today’s testimony began with Floyd’s girlfriend tearfully telling the jury how they met in 2017 — at a Salvation Army shelter where he was a security guard with “this great, deep Southern voice, raspy” — and how they both struggled with an addiction to painkillers.
“Our story, it’s a classic story of how many people get addicted to opioids. We both suffered from chronic pain. Mine was in my neck and his was in his back,” 45-year-old Courteney Ross said.
She said they “tried really hard to break that addiction many times.”
Prosecutors put Ross on the stand in an effort to humanize Floyd in front of the jury and portray him as more than a crime statistic, and also explain his drug use.
The defense has argued that Chauvin did what he was trained to do when he encountered Floyd last May and that Floyd’s death was caused by drugs, his underlying health conditions and his own adrenaline. An autopsy found fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system.
Ross said she and Floyd struggled with addiction throughout their relationship — testimony that could help prosecutors blunt the argument that drugs killed Floyd. Medical experts have said that while the level of fentanyl in his system could be fatal, people who use the drug regularly can develop a tolerance.
Ross said they both had prescriptions, and when those ran out, they took the prescriptions of others and used illegal drugs.
“Addiction, in my opinion, is a lifelong struggle. … It’s not something that just kind of comes and goes. It’s something I’ll deal with forever,” she said.
In March 2020, Ross drove Floyd to the emergency room because he was in extreme stomach pain, and she learned he had overdosed. In the months that followed, Ross said, she and Floyd spent a lot of time together during the coronavirus quarantine, and Floyd was clean.
But she suspected he began using again about two weeks before his death because his behavior changed: She said there would be times when he would be up and bouncing around, and other times when he would be unintelligible.
Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson drove hard at Floyd’s drug use in cross-examining Ross, asking questions aimed at showing the danger of overdose and death.
Under questioning from Nelson, Ross also disclosed that Floyd’s pet name for her in his phone was “Mama” — testimony that called into question the widely reported account that Floyd was crying out for his mother as he lay pinned to the pavement.
Also today, a paramedic who arrived on the scene that day testified that the first call was a Code 2, for someone with a mouth injury, but it was upgraded a minute and a half later to Code 3 — a life-threatening incident that led them to turn on the lights and siren.
Seth Bravinder said he saw no signs that Floyd was breathing or moving, and it appeared he was in cardiac arrest. A second paramedic, Derek Smith, testified that he checked for a pulse and couldn’t detect one: “In layman’s terms? I thought he was dead.”
Bravinder said they loaded Floyd into the ambulance so he could get care “in an optimum environment,” but also because bystanders “appeared very upset on the sidewalk,” and there was some yelling. “In my mind at least, we wanted to get away from that,” he said.
Chauvin’s lawyer has argued that the police on the scene were distracted by what they perceived as a growing and increasingly hostile crowd. Video showed around 15 onlookers near where Floyd lay.
Bravinder said after he drove the ambulance three blocks and jumped in back to help his partner, a monitor showed Floyd’s heart was not beating. He said they were never able to restore a pulse.
On cross-examination, Chauvin’s lawyer questioned why the ambulance did not go straight to the hospital, and he pressed Smith on Floyd’s condition as he lay on the pavement. The paramedic expressed himself in blunt terms, saying Floyd was “dead” or “deceased.”
Ross began her testimony by telling how she and Floyd met at a shelter where Floyd was a security guard.
“May I tell the story?” she asked. “It’s one of my favorite stories to tell.”
She said she had gone to the shelter because her sons’ father was staying there. But she got upset that day because the father was not coming to the lobby to discuss their son’s birthday. Floyd came over to check on her.
”Floyd has this great, deep Southern voice, raspy,” Ross recalled. “And he’s like, ‘Sis, you OK, sis?’ And I wasn’t OK. I was like, ‘No, I’m just waiting for my sons’ father.’ He said, ‘Can I pray with you?’”
“This kind person, just to come up to me and say, ‘Can I pray with you?’ when I felt alone in this lobby, it was so sweet,” she said.
Minnesota is a rarity in explicitly permitting such “spark of life” testimony about a crime victim at trial. Defense attorneys often contend such testimony allows prosecutors to play on jurors’ emotions.