'My instincts were telling me that something is wrong,' police dispatcher testifies at Chauvin murder trial
Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin faces 2 murder charges and charge of manslaughter
For nine minutes and 29 seconds, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, crushed his knee into the neck and back of George Floyd, an application of unreasonable force that led to the death of the 46-year-old Black man in May last year.
Or, the 19-year veteran police officer did exactly as he had been trained to do, and Floyd's death was the result of a combination of underlying medical conditions and toxic drugs in his system.
These were the competing narratives laid out by the prosecution and defence, respectively, in their opening statements at the Chauvin's murder trial in Hennepin County District Court in Minneapolis Monday.
Floyd's death on May 25, 2020, sparked a series of protests around the world against police brutality and racial injustice.
Chauvin, 45, faces two murder charges: second-degree unintentional murder and third-degree murder. Chauvin is also charged with the lesser offence of second-degree manslaughter.
WATCH | Prosecution lays out case against Derek Chauvin:
Prosecution focuses on use of force
Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell wasted little time showing jurors the graphic bystander video footage of Chauvin, with his knee pressed into Floyd's neck and back while Floyd shouted that he was in pain and could not breathe, until he eventually went motionless.
"He put his knees upon his neck and his back, grinding and crushing him, until the very breath — no, ladies and gentlemen — until the very life, was squeezed out of him," Blackwell said.
Blackwell went through the nine minutes and 29 seconds that he said Chauvin had Floyd pinned to the ground, pointing out the former officer's actions.
Chauvin "didn't let up," he told the court. "He didn't get up," even after Floyd, who was handcuffed on the ground, said 27 times that he couldn't breathe, Blackwell said.
Indeed, for half of that time, while Floyd was either breathless or unconscious, Chauvin continued to apply pressure to Floyd, the prosecutor said.
Nor did Chauvin release Floyd, Blackwell said, when a paramedic arrived on the scene and checked Floyd's pulse.
It was only when paramedics wanted to "move the lifeless body of George Floyd onto the gurney" that Chauvin released his hold on Floyd, Blackwell said. Floyd was pronounced dead in hospital later that night.
'Check his pulse'
Blackwell said witnesses will also include bystanders who "called the police on police." The prosecutor drew the jury's attention to part of the video showing angry bystanders yelling at the officers.
One of those people was Donald Williams. He was one of three witnesses to testify Monday at the trial. Williams can be heard on the video yelling, "Check his pulse, check his pulse" to another officer at the scene.
Williams told the court he was trained in mixed martial arts, including choke holds and testified that Chauvin appeared to increase the pressure on Floyd's neck several times with a shimmying motion.
Williams recalled that Floyd's voice grew thicker as his breathing became more laboured, and he eventually stopped moving. He said he saw Floyd's eyes roll back in his head, likening the sight to fish he had caught earlier that day.
Williams said he saw Floyd "slowly fade away ... like the fish in the bag."
Dispatcher called sergeant about arrest
The trial also heard from Minneapolis police dispatcher Jena Scurry, who testified that she saw part of Floyd's arrest unfolding via a city surveillance camera and was so disturbed that she called a duty sergeant.
Scurry said she grew concerned because the officers hadn't moved after several minutes.
"You can call me a snitch if you want to," Scurry said in her call to the sergeant, which was played in court.
She told the court Monday that she wouldn't normally call the sergeant about the use of force because it was beyond the scope of her duties, but "my instincts were telling me that something is wrong."
In his opening statement, Blackwell said that among the other witnesses scheduled, court will hear from one bystander and a fire department employee trained in first aid who wanted to check Floyd's pulse but was warned off by Chauvin, who reached for his mace and pointed it in her direction.
In the coming days of the trial, Blackwell said the jury will also hear from use of force experts, including one who will testify Chauvin's use of force was "capable of killing a human or putting his or her life in danger."
WATCH | Chauvin's lawyer gives overview of defence:
Defence cites Floyd's strength, health conditions
But Eric J. Nelson, Chauvin's lead defence counsel, told the jury that the "evidence is far greater than nine minutes and 29 seconds."
Floyd was resisting arrest, and Chauvin arrived to assist other officers who were struggling to get Floyd into a squad car, Nelson said.
Three officers couldn't overcome the strength of Floyd, he said.
"You will learn that Derek Chauvin did exactly what he had been trained to do over the course of his 19-year career," Nelson said.
"The use of force is not attractive, but it is a necessary component of policing."
Nelson said it was Floyd's underlying health conditions, including a "compromised heart," in combination with the fentanyl and methamphetamine he had ingested and the adrenaline flowing through his body that caused his death.
Floyd's friends, family gather outside court
Before opening statements began, Floyd's friends and family gathered outside the courthouse entrance, kneeling for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time that it had initially been reported Chauvin had forced his knee into Floyd.
"If we can't get justice for a Black man here in America, we will get justice everywhere else in America," said Philonise Floyd, George Floyd's brother. "This is the starting point. This is not a finishing point."
WATCH | Murder trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin gets underway:
Floyd family attorney Ben Crump said for all those people who continue to say that the murder trial is a difficult one, "we refute that."
"We know that if George Floyd was a white American citizen, and he suffered this painful, tortuous death with a police officer's knee on his neck, nobody, nobody, would be saying this is a hard case," Crump said.
With files from The Associated Press