Chauvin trial: Witnesses tell of anger, helplessness watching Floyd die

Tuesday's proceedings have ended for the day

A woman stands at a podium to speak.
Genevieve Hansen, a 27-year-old firefighter from Minneapolis, takes a moment to catch her breath while being questioned in the trial of ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. She took video at scene where she repeatedly asked if officers had found a pulse. She also called 911.
Screenshot of Court TV video

MPR News is streaming live coverage of the trial. Some images or material discussed during the trial will be disturbing to many viewers. Watch the morning court proceedings here. Watch the afternoon proceedings here.

3 things to know:

  • Prosecution witnesses speak of feeling angry, helpless watching Floyd die

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

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

Updated 5:05 p.m.

Bystanders who witnessed George Floyd die in police custody last May delivered sometimes emotional testimony Tuesday in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the ex-Minneapolis police officer facing murder and manslaughter charges in his killing.

Several spoke of feeling angry and powerless as they watched Chauvin press his knee into Floyd's neck to subdue him as the man lay face down and handcuffed on the street.

Off-duty Minneapolis firefighter Genevieve Hansen repeatedly urged the officers to let her provide medical attention to Floyd after coming upon the scene in south Minneapolis as she walked home.

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She told the court she felt helpless because "there is a man being killed” and in other circumstances in her job, “I would’ve been able to provide medical attention to the best of my abilities, and this human was denied that right.”

Chauvin defense attorney Eric Nelson pressed Hansen on whether she’d be able to do her job as a firefighter if people were yelling at or threatening her. She responded that she “would be confident in doing her job” and wouldn’t be distracted.  

The cross-examination became tense at times, with Nelson asking Hansen why she used profanity and whether people at the scene were angry: “I don’t know if you’ve seen anyone be killed but it’s upsetting,” Hansen responded.

Later, after Cahill dismissed the jury, he told Hansen to only answer the questions as asked. “Do not argue with the court, do not argue with counsel, answer the questions you’ve been asked, do not volunteer additional information.”

Screenshot from body camera.
Body-camera video from former Minneapolis police officer Tou Thao shows bystanders repeatedly plead with officers to get off George Floyd on May 25, 2020.
Courtesy of Hennepin County District Court file

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. Chauvin kept his knee pressed against a prone Floyd for about 9 minutes as the man pleaded that he couldn’t breathe.

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.

‘Like he knew it was over for him’

Other witnesses included three teens and a 9-year-old whose identities were shielded by Judge Peter Cahill given their youth and the intensity of the high-profile case. None appeared on camera.

Among them was Darnella Frazier, whose riveting video showed Derek Chauvin pressing his knee into Floyd's neck as the man lay face down and handcuffed on the street. She had previously received a public award for the video.

"I heard George Floyd say, 'I can't breathe, please get off of me. I can't breathe.’ He cried for his mom. He was in pain, and it was like he knew it was over for him,” she told the court. “He was terrified, he was suffering. This was a cry for help."

Another teen who took video told the court that she felt like she’d failed Floyd because she couldn’t intervene. “I felt like there wasn’t anything I could as a bystander.”

“You could see in his face that he was not being able to breathe, his eyes were rolling back,” the 17-year-old said, but an officer was “pushing the crowd back, making sure that everyone was on the sidewalk and didn’t get close.”

The prosecution played clips of the video and asked her questions about what happened. At one point she said she wanted to leave the scene but felt compelled to stay and document what the police were doing.

“I knew that it was wrong, and I couldn’t just walk away, even though I couldn’t do anything about it,” she said.

Nelson, the defense attorney, pressed the witness on comments she made to investigators that she saw officers check Floyd’s pulse “multiple times.”

She said she didn’t remember that, but believes they did check for his pulse.

Nelson, who has argued that officers faced a hostile crowd, asked her if she’d been angry at the time. She said yes, but later told prosecutors that she and others didn’t physically intervene.

‘He didn’t care’

Frazier, 18, said she was walking to a convenience store with her younger cousin when she came upon the officers, and sent the girl into the store because she didn’t want her to see “a man terrified, scared, begging for his life.”

Frazier grew emotional at times, breathing heavily and crying as she viewed pictures of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd last May. Frazier said of Chauvin: “He just stared at us, looked at us. He had like this cold look, heartless. He didn’t care. It seemed as if he didn’t care what we were saying.”

Nelson, Chauvin’s attorney, sought to show that Chauvin and his fellow officers found themselves in an increasingly tense and distracting situation, with the growing crowd of onlookers becoming agitated and menacing over Floyd’s treatment.

But when Frazier was asked by a prosecutor whether she saw violence anywhere on the scene, she replied: “Yes, from the cops.”

When asked to identify the officer, Chauvin stood up in the courtroom and took off his mask, appearing somber as he looked down and away before putting his mask on.

Frazier said through tears that the incident changed her life.

"When I look at George Floyd, I look at my dad, I look at my brothers, I look at my cousins, my uncles. Because they are all Black," she said. "I look at how that could have been one of them. It's been nights, I stayed up apologizing and apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more, and not physically interacting, and not saving his life."

‘I believe I witnessed a murder’

Earlier, a prosecution witness who was at the scene testified that he called 911 to report Chauvin’s behavior in Floyd’s arrest, convinced that Chauvin had killed the man in his custody.

“I believe I witnessed a murder. I felt the need to call the police on the police,” Donald Williams told the court.

Williams, 33 was one of the most vocal bystanders on the sidewalk during Floyd’s arrest outside Cup Foods in south Minneapolis. He can be heard on bystander video loudly admonishing Chauvin for keeping his knee pressed against Floyd’s neck as Floyd pleads that he can’t breathe.

Williams testified neither he nor anyone else in the crowd threatened any of the officers, that he stepped back onto the curb at the direction of officer Thao, who was running crowd control. Nelson, the defense attorney, had suggested on Monday that the officers were forced to “divert their attention from the care of Mr. Floyd" because the crowd was becoming a threat.

A man behind a desk speaks.
Donald Williams is questioned by prosecutor Matthew Frank on Tuesday in the trial of ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Williams became one of the most vocal bystanders on the street last May 25 outside Cup Foods in south Minneapolis as officers restrained Floyd while arresting him.
Screenshot of Court TV video

As he watched the scene unfold, Williams said he felt like Floyd was “very much in danger.” Williams, who is Black, continued that thought, saying he saw in Floyd “another man like me, controlled in a way …,” before the judge cut him off.

Williams became emotional, wiping away tears as he heard his voice when the prosecution played audio of the 911 call. “He just pretty much just killed this guy that wasn’t resisting arrest,” he says on the audio, referring to “officer 987,” Chauvin’s badge number.

During his cross-examination, Nelson asked Williams if he became angrier and angrier as Floyd lay prone on the ground under the weight of Chauvin and two other officers.

“That’s for you to perceive,” Williams said. Then he added, “I grew in control and professionalism.”

Nelson persisted and read from a transcript from an interview Williams gave to the FBI last year. “In that that statement you said, ‘like I really wanted to beat the s—- out of the police officers,’” Nelson said.

“Yeah, I did. That’s what I felt,” Williams said.

“You were angry,” Nelson said.

“No, you can’t paint me out as angry,” Williams said calmly. “I was in a position where I had to be controlled. Controlled professionalism. I wasn’t angry.”

Williams told the court on Monday 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 in a particular way as a technique he said he recognized from his martial arts work and that the officer was occasionally moving his knee for greater effect, which he described as a “blood choke.”

Two men sit behind a desk.
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

Opening statements show trial’s path

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.”

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.”

A man stands behind a podium and speaks.
Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell delivers opening statements in the trial of ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on Monday.
Screenshot of Court TV video

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. 

A man stands behind a podium.
Defense attorney Eric Nelson delivers opening statements in the trial of Derek Chauvin on Monday.
Screenshot of Court TV video

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

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

What we learned from Day 1 of testimony in the Chauvin trial: Civil rights lawyer Charles Coleman Jr. discusses the early takeaways.

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