The murder of George Floyd

Chauvin trial: 'Blood choke' used on Floyd, prosecution witness says

Monday's court proceedings have ended for the day

People sit in a courtroom.
Defense attorney Eric Nelson (left) and defendant former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin (right) listen to the judge ahead of opening statements on Monday.
Screenshot of Court TV video

MPR News will stream live coverage of the trial Tuesday morning. Some images or material discussed during the trial will be disturbing to many viewers. Watch the Monday morning proceedings here. Find the afternoon proceedings here.

3 things to know:

  • “My instincts were telling me something’s wrong,” 911 dispatcher testifies

  • Prosecutor: Chauvin’s conduct “an assault” that contributed to Floyd’s death

  • Defense: Floyd died of a cardiac arrhythmia; heart compromised by drugs

Updated: 5 p.m.

An eyewitness in the trial of Derek Chauvin testified Monday that his mixed martial arts training convinced him that the position of Chauvin’s knee on the neck of George Floyd, and the certain way Chauvin was moving his knee, was deliberate and dangerous.

Donald Williams, 33, became one of the most vocal bystanders on the street last May 25 as officers restrained Floyd while arresting him. He can be heard on bystander video imploring Chauvin to get off Floyd's neck and admonishing the officer doing crowd control by Cup Foods at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue.

Called by the prosecution, Williams testified that he was heading into Cup Foods but instead of going in walked over near where a few people had gathered on the sidewalk by the squad car to see what was going on.

He said that Floyd was "speaking in a distressed way," telling the officers that everything hurt, calling for his mother and saying he was "sorry for what he did."

Williams said that his mixed martial arts training made it clear to him that Floyd's breathing was becoming a life-or-death issue. "His breathing was getting tremendously heavy. You could see him struggling to actually gasp for air."

He described Chauvin's knee positioned on Floyd's neck as a "blood choke," a technique he said he recognized from his MMA training and that the officer was shimmying his knee for greater effect.

Williams said when he called out to Chauvin that the officer was using a "blood choke," Chauvin looked up at him. "It’s the only time time he looked at me, when I said it was a blood choke,” Williams recalled. “We looked at each other dead in our eyes. When I said it, he acknowledged it.”

He and others at the scene pleaded with the officers to check Floyd for a pulse. Williams added that he was incensed when officer Tou Thao, who was keeping the crowd at bay, told bystanders, "This is what drugs to you. It pissed me off more because that wasn't the case."

Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer, is accused of murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s killing. Chauvin and other officers came on the south Minneapolis scene after a Cup Foods clerk called to say a man had passed a phony $20 bill to buy cigarettes.

The case is expected to hinge on who or what is responsible for Floyd’s death. Prosecutors allege Chauvin’s use of force killed Floyd, while the defense argues that drugs in Floyd’s system together with his prior medical problems are to blame.

Monday’s proceedings ended in the afternoon after the livestream feed of the trial cut off abruptly.

‘He does not let up and does not get up’

Chauvin’s trial began Monday with a prosecutor telling the jury that Chauvin’s use of force to restrain Floyd while the man was in police custody was excessive and led to Floyd’s death.

“Mr. Floyd was in handcuffs. He was completely in the control of the police. He was defenseless,” prosecutor Jerry Blackwell told the jury. He described Chauvin’s conduct as “an assault that contributed to taking (Floyd’s) life.”

In his opening statement, Blackwell played bystander video showing Floyd repeatedly pleading with Chauvin that he can’t breathe as people on the sidewalk beg for the officers to help Floyd and check for a pulse.

Chauvin kept his knee pressed against a prone Floyd for about nine minutes. Several bystanders were so distressed they “called the police on the police,” Blackwell said.

“You will hear Mr. Floyd ... cry out for his mother,” Blackwell told jurors. “You will hear him say, 'Tell my kids I love ‘em.' You will hear him say, 'I’ll probably die this way … they're gonna kill me, man.' While he's crying out, Mr. Chauvin never moves. The knee remains on his neck. Sunglasses remain undisturbed on his head, and it just goes on.”

Expert testimony, he said, will show that Chauvin’s use of force was dangerous and violated the Minneapolis Police Department’s policies.

Blackwell showed the jury a still image from the bystander video showing an ambulance on scene in the background, with Chauvin in the foreground, his knee still pressed on Floyd's neck.

Blackwell said a paramedic comes over and checks Floyd for a pulse, while Chauvin remains in the same position. The paramedics tell Chauvin twice that they can't find a pulse.

"Mr. Floyd at some point is completely passed out. Mr. Chauvin continues on as he had, knee on the neck, knee on the back," Blackwell said. "You will see he does not let up and does not get up."

Blackwell also worked to counter the idea that Floyd died of an opioid overdose. He said they are tranquilizers, which cause a person to slump over, fall asleep and not wake up. “They’re not screaming for their lives,” he said. “They’re not calling on their mothers.”

Defense: Floyd died from drugs, ‘compromised heart’

Defense attorney Eric Nelson said Floyd’s health problems and the drugs in his system are what killed him, and that Chauvin followed his training in restraining Floyd that day.

“The evidence will show that Mr. Floyd died of a cardiac arrhythmia that occurred as a result of hypertension, coronary disease, the ingestion of methamphetamine and fentanyl and the adrenaline flowing through his body,” Nelson said. “All of which acted to further compromise an already compromised heart.” 

Nelson said jurors will hear from witnesses who were with Floyd before the police arrived who’ll say they observed him take two pills and fall asleep while in the car outside of Cup Foods. 

Nelson said one witness will testify that she called for a ride home because she and another man in the car couldn’t wake Floyd up.

He said the state is including additional medical experts because they weren’t satisfied with the findings from Hennepin County Medical Examiner Andrew Baker. He said Baker did not find evidence of asphyxia, which would have been the result of Chauvin’s use of force. 

Nelson also indicated to jurors that the rising tensions at the scene between the officers and the growing crowd of onlookers worsened the situation.

“They're screaming at 'em, causing the officers to divert their attention from the care of Mr. Floyd to the threat that was growing in front of them,” Nelson said.

‘Instincts were telling me something’s wrong’

Morning testimony included Minneapolis 911 dispatcher Jena Scurry, who said that she became concerned about what was happening as she viewed the scene at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue from a public safety camera at the corner.

Glancing at the live video on and off while doing her job, she told prosecutors she was surprised given the length of time that the scene hadn't changed at the Floyd arrest and at first thought the video had frozen. It had not.

"My instincts were telling me that something’s wrong," she told the court. "It was an extended period of time ... they hadn't told me if they needed more resources."

She said her instinct led her to call the sergeant in charge of the officers, something she'd never done for an incident like this.

Defense attorney Eric Nelson walked Scurry through a timeline of the night and pressed her on whether she was expert on Minneapolis police use of force policy (she was not) and on details of the call she made to the sergeant.

Trial basics

A man speaks from behind a desk.
A view of the courtroom during pretrial motions in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on March 18.
Screenshot of Court TV video

Who’s who: A look at the key players in the trial.

Need to know: Key questions about the trial, answered.

What we know about the jurors: The 12 jurors and two alternates picked to review the case include a chemist, a youth volunteer, a cardiac nurse and an IT professional.

Chauvin's lawyer is outnumbered, but has help: No fewer than four attorneys have appeared for the prosecution so far, compared to a single attorney to defend Derek Chauvin.

MPR News on its coverage: Nancy Lebens, the newsroom’s deputy managing editor, answered audience questions about our reporting plans.

George Floyd and his legacy

Community activists hold pictures of two men.
Community activists hold pictures of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery outside outside the governor's residence during a protest in St. Paul on March 6.
Kerem Yucel | AFP via Getty Images file

Remembering George Floyd, the man: Before he became a symbol in the fight for racial justice, friends say Floyd was a “gentle giant” who sought a fresh start.

Making George Floyd Square: Here’s how the site of Floyd’s killing — 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis — is being reshaped.

Rescuing the plywood — and memorializing a movement: Two Black women are leading the effort to preserve the murals painted on storefront boards in the Twin Cities.

Calls for change: Here’s what some Floyd activists tell MPR News about their experiences with race in Minnesota, why they march and what they hope for the future.

Read more

People hold signs behind a banner.
People gather behind a banner and prepare to march through downtown Minneapolis to call for justice for George Floyd March 8.
Evan Frost | MPR News file

Minneapolis considered hiring DJ, soccer coach in 'influencer' plan: The city had planned to pay six "trusted messengers” up to $2,000 apiece to share city updates and dispel misinformation during the trial. The plan was scrapped after news coverage and backlash online. (Axios)

Jurors will consider Floyd's death — not the issue of race — in Chauvin trial: The proceedings set to begin with opening statements Monday are unlikely to address those themes directly, even as the case has become a flashpoint for racial justice in America. (Star Tribune)

Televised Chauvin trial due to pandemic yields wide access — and concern: For the first time, the world will be able to see every twist and turn of the case from a Minnesota courtroom, thanks to an unprecedented decision by Judge Peter Cahill.

Where is the line drawn on impartiality? The jury selection process has provided a window into an imperfect system that legal observers say highlights larger philosophical questions about impartiality and fairness.

Diverse jury raises activists' hopes for Chauvin trial: The jury that will decide the fate of a white former Minneapolis police officer charged in George Floyd's death is unusually diverse by local standards, and that's boosting activists' hopes for a rare conviction. (The Associated Press)

NPR’s live blog: The latest from the murder trial of Derek Chauvin.

Questions about the Chauvin trial? Ask us