World

Police could have ended George Floyd's restraint after he was handcuffed, former sergeant testifies

A former Minneapolis police supervisor, on duty the night George Floyd died, testifies that officers could have stopped restraining him after he was handcuffed and no longer resisting.

Jurors also hear testimony from Floyd's former girlfriend and 2 paramedics

David Pleoger, a retired Minneapolis police sergeant, testifies at the trial of former officer Derek Chauvin on Thursday. (Court TV/The Associated Press)

A former Minneapolis police supervisor, on duty the night George Floyd died, says officers could have stopped restraining him after he was handcuffed and no longer resisting.

That testimony from David Pleoger, now retired, was a key part of the prosecution's case on the fourth day of the murder trial of former officer Derek Chauvin. It included a snippet of a call between Pleoger and Chauvin — in which Chauvin says he was going to call Pleoger and request that he come to the scene where Chauvin and three other officers had had their encounter with Floyd.

Jurors also heard the emotional testimony of Floyd's former girlfriend along with evidence from two paramedics who attended to Floyd that day, one of whom said that when he arrived, he thought Floyd was dead.

Chauvin, 45, who is white, faces two murder charges — second-degree unintentional murder and third-degree murder — in the death of Floyd on May 25, 2020. The 46-year-old Black man died after Chauvin pressed a knee on the back of Floyd's neck for around nine minutes as two other officers held him down. Video captured by a bystander showed the handcuffed Floyd repeatedly say he couldn't breathe. 

Floyd had been detained outside a convenience store after being suspected of paying with a counterfeit bill. All four officers were later fired. The footage of the arrest prompted widespread outrage, setting off protests across the U.S. and around the world.

For the prosecution, Pleoger, who had worked with Chauvin for eight years, and whose duties as a sergeant included reviewing police use-of-force incidents, may have offered the most important evidence.

Courteney Ross, the former girlfriend of George Floyd, offers emotional testimony at the trial into his death. (Court TV/The Associated Press)

Indeed, his opinion on the officers' use of force against Floyd became a point of contention between the prosecution and Eric Nelson, defence counsel for Chauvin. 

Prosecutor Steve Schleicher asked Pleoger, based upon his review of this incident, if he believed the restraint on Floyd should have ended at some point.

That prompted Nelson to object, who argued that Pleoger, because of the "criticality" of the incident, had hiked the review of it up the chain of command, and that he had only reviewed the police officers' body camera video.

But Judge Peter Cahill allowed Schleicher to ask one question about Pleoger's view of the incident.

"Do you have an opinion as to when the restraint of Mr. Floyd should have ended in this encounter?" Schleicher asked.

Pleoger answered: "When Mr. Floyd was no longer offering up any resistance to the officers, they could have ended the restraint."

Paramedic Derek Smith testified that he couldn't find Floyd's pulse upon arriving on the scene. 'In layman's terms? I thought he was dead,' he told court. (Court TV/The Associated Press)

Schleicher followed up: "And that was when he was handcuffed and on the ground and no longer resistant?" 

Yes, Pleoger replied.

Pleoger had gone to the scene after he was contacted by a dispatcher, who was concerned about what she had seen of the arrest on a city surveillance camera.

He testified that, after hearing from the dispatcher, the first person he called was Chauvin.

Chauvin told Pleoger: "I was just going to call you and have you come out to our scene here," according to a clip of their conversation played in the Hennepin County District Court in downtown Minneapolis on Thursday.

"We just had to hold a guy down. He was going crazy. He wouldn't go in the back of the squad," Chauvin said, as the recording cut off. 

WATCH | George Floyd's former girlfriend testifies at Derek Chauvin murder trial:

Parademics, George Floyd’s girlfriend testify at Derek Chauvin’s murder trial

The National

1 month ago
1:58
Paramedics testified at Derek Chauvin’s murder trial about George Floyd's condition when they arrived, while his girlfriend described their relationship and their mutual opioid addiction. 1:58

Pleoger described the rest of the conversation, saying that he believed Chauvin told him they had tried to put Floyd in the back of the squad car but that he became combative and injured his nose or mouth. He said Chauvin told him that, after struggling with Floyd, Floyd had suffered a medical emergency and the ambulance was called.

Nelson then questioned Pleoger, asking if in his 27 years as a police officer he'd ever encountered a crowd that had started to film him or become volatile toward him. Pleoger said he had and admitted it had caused him concern.

Court also heard from Seth Bravinder, a paramedic, who said when he arrived, 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 couldn't find a pulse: "In layman's terms? I thought he was dead."

But the most emotional testimony came from Floyd's former girlfriend Courteney Ross who chronicled some of their struggles with opioid addiction.

Ross wept through much of her testimony as she told the court about how she met Floyd, their relationship, and their battle with addiction to painkillers.

Floyd's drug use is a central argument in Chauvin's defence. The prosecution believes Chauvin's knee pressing into Floyd's neck as he lay handcuffed on to the pavement was the cause of his death. But the defence argues it was a combination of Floyd's underlying medical conditions, drug use and adrenaline flowing through his system that ultimately killed him.

Under cross-examination, Nelson asked Ross about some incidents of Floyd's drug use, including an overdose he suffered in March 2020. 

"You did not know that he had taken heroin at that time?" Nelson asked.

She said she didn't.

Nelson also focused on pills they had purchased that same month that were different than other painkillers purchased in the past.

Ross testified that instead of relaxing her, they made her jittery, and she couldn't sleep at night.

Ross also testified that in May, she used similar pills and that she experienced the same effects. Nelson reminded her that she had previously told FBI agents that the pill made her feel like she was going to die, although she said she didn't recall saying that to the agents.

She said she noticed a change in Floyd's behaviour about two weeks before his death. Court also heard that she had told FBI agents that the pills made Floyd bounce around and be unintelligible at times.

However, prosecutor Matthew Frank tried to downplay the potential toxicity of those pills, getting Ross to agree that, obviously, neither she or Floyd had died from ingesting them in March or May.

She said Floyd "had a lot of energy" after using them.

Court also heard that Floyd's pet name for Ross 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.

In some of the video, Floyd can be heard calling out, "Mama!" repeatedly and saying, "Mama, I love you! … Tell my kids I love them."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gollom

Reporter

Mark Gollom is a Toronto-based reporter with CBC News. He covers Canadian and U.S. politics and current affairs.

With files from The Associated Press

now