George Floyd: Paramedic testifies in 3 cops' federal trial

A courtroom sketch of the three former MPD officers and their lawyers.
In this courtroom sketch, three former Minneapolis officers, Tou Thao, J. Kueng and Thomas Lane, charged in the death of George Floyd appear in federal court on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022, in St. Paul.
Cedric Hohnstadt for MPR News

Updated 5:50 p.m.

A third day of testimony concluded Wednesday in the federal trial of three ex-Minneapolis police officers charged with violating George Floyd's constitutional rights, with prosecutors calling to the stand the paramedic who arrived on the scene and believed Floyd was already dead.

Hennepin County paramedic Derek Smith told the court he wanted to move Floyd into the ambulance and off the street corner to “respect the dignity of this patient.”

Floyd’s dire condition wasn’t initially conveyed to the paramedics, he added. Smith testified that he did not recall officer Thomas Lane telling him the police on scene had not been able to find a pulse for several minutes and that Floyd had been unresponsive for some time.

Lane, he said, helped him by performing CPR on Floyd in the ambulance, although there was no pulse.

On cross-examination, Lane’s attorney Earl Gray asked to play a clip of body camera video showing officers loading Floyd's body on a stretcher and into an ambulance, after which Lane tells Smith that Floyd kept resisting so they had to restrain him until paramedics arrived.

Robert Paule, attorney for ex-officer Tou Thao, read back Smith's testimony to the FBI in which Smith described the scene as hectic and unsafe. Smith acknowledged again he felt the scene was unsafe.

He asked the paramedic about the differences in qualifications among officers, EMTs and paramedics in providing medical care, describing police as "the lowest.”

Thomas Plunkett, lawyer for ex-cop J. Alexander Kueng, focused his cross-examination on what was said at the scene when Smith arrived.

Smith said he only interacted with officers to tell them to get out of the way, and when Floyd was loaded into the ambulance. He testified he did not tell the officers he believed Floyd was dead after checking him, but told his partner.

The paramedic said later he did not have adequate information upon arriving on the scene and was focused on trying to gather information to help better serve Floyd.

Jeremy Norton, a Minneapolis Fire Department captain, testified the call involving Floyd was originally dispatched as a non-emergency response but was later upgraded. Norton believed paramedics were responding to someone with a mouth injury.

Norton testified that when he arrived at the scene outside of Cup Foods, he did not see a patient or other paramedics and later learned Smith had decided to move the ambulance blocks away amid concerns about the crowd. Norton said the officer he interacted with, Thao, did not seem worried about the crowd.

While on site, he said off-duty firefighter Genevieve Hansen came up to him in an emotional state and told him what she’d seen. Hansen stumbled upon the scene and begged the officers to get off Floyd and let her try to administer aid.

Norton said he told his superiors there’d been a death in police custody and that he was concerned about the off-duty firefighter who had witnessed it..

The off-duty firefighter, Hansen, took the stand Wednesday afternoon and described begging the officers to take Floyd's pulse and to let her try to render medical help to Floyd. The Minneapolis firefighter happened upon the scene while she was out for a walk.

Hansen testified she thinks she could have made a difference for Floyd, had the officers not kept pinning him down. The defense objected to Hansen's answer, however.

During the trial, Hansen wore her uniform, but Judge Paul Magnuson granted a defense motion for the trial that Hansen not be able to testify in uniform since she was off-duty at the time of the incident. Hansen wore a black turtleneck on Wednesday.

Floyd, 46, died that day in May 2020 after officer Derek Chauvin, who was convicted of murder in state court and pleaded guilty to federal charges, kept his knee pressed on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes as the man lay handcuffed and pinned face down on the street, pleading that he couldn’t breathe.

The three other officers on the scene — Lane, Thao and Kueng — are on trial now, facing federal charges of violating Floyd’s civil rights.

Thao and Kueng are also charged with failing to intervene with Chauvin’s use of force and all three former officers are charged with failing to provide medical aid to Floyd.

Magnuson has told jurors the trial could last four weeks. The three ex-cops will also face a separate state trial in June on charges they aided and abetted both murder and manslaughter.

CORRECTION George Floyd Officers Civil Rights
In this courtroom sketch, Samantha Trepel, who works for the Justice Department's civil rights division, makes opening arguments during the trial for three former Minneapolis police officers charged with violating George Floyd's civil rights before U.S. District Judge Magnuson on Monday.
Cedric Hohnstadt | AP

‘You can’t win’

In court Tuesday, the 12 jurors and six alternate jurors watched police body camera footage that began with Lane and Kueng responding to the initial call about an alleged counterfeit $20 bill passed at a south Minneapolis store.

Christopher Martin, 20, the cashier who accepted the $20 bill from Floyd at Cup Foods on the day he was killed, told the court that Floyd seemed “high” when he came into Cup Foods that day, and that they talked about sports that Floyd had played.

Martin said he recognized that the bill was fake right away, but that he didn’t think Floyd knew that the bill was fake “because he was high.”

J. Alexander Kueng, from left, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao
This combination of photos provided by the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office in Minnesota on June 3, 2020, shows J. Alexander Kueng, from left, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao.
Hennepin County Sheriff's Office via AP

Under questioning by prosecutor Samantha Trepel, Martin said it was store policy at Cup Foods that employees had to cover counterfeit bills they accepted. He said his manager told him two separate times to go to Floyd’s vehicle and tell him to come inside.

Floyd and his companions remained in the vehicle. Martin said his manager told an employee to call police.

Martin testified that he noticed a crowd of six or seven people outside after police arrived. He saw bystanders yelling at Thao to “check his pulse” and Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck. He said Floyd looked “dead.” 

He recorded a video on his phone but stopped when he saw Thao push one of his co-workers. Martin said he later erased the video because he “didn’t want to be asked to show other people, because I didn’t want to watch it myself anymore.”

Jena Scurry, a 911 dispatcher with the city of Minneapolis, testified that she saw Chauvin kneeling on Floyd over a surveillance camera and thought maybe the cameras were frozen. She was so concerned about the situation that she called the Minneapolis police sergeant on duty.

Charles McMillian was the first witness on scene as police restrained Floyd. He testified that he saw Floyd taken out of the truck, handcuffed and walked down the sidewalk by the officers.

“I was telling him to make it easy on himself,” and to get into the squad,” McMillian said. “I was telling him, ‘You can’t win.’”

McMillian said Floyd responded, “I’m not trying to win.”

As Chauvin continued to restrain Floyd on the ground, McMillian said he begged the officers to “leave him breathe,” because a friend of his died in the back of a squad car, “and I didn’t want that to happen to George Floyd.”

The judge told the jury to disregard that answer, and warned prosecutor Allen Slaughter to avoid leading questions.

Prosecutors were frustrated that the court has limited their ability to question McMillian.

Magnuson told prosecutors that he was “very concerned about duplicate, repetitive information coming forward in the evidentiary side of this.”

‘Tragic tale’

In opening arguments Monday, Trepel told jurors the three officers could have saved Floyd's life at the scene that day, but they chose not to. Officers are trained to help people in need, but the three didn't intervene as Floyd slowly died as Chauvin pressed his knee into the man’s neck.

Defense attorneys described Floyd's death as a tragedy, but not a crime by their clients.

“This case is about a tragic tale, about a rookie officer, less than three shifts into his career as a Minneapolis police officer, that was confronted with a complex rapidly unfolding set of circumstances,” Thomas Plunkett, Kueng’s attorney, told the court.

Plunkett described what happened as an institutional failure of the Minneapolis Police Department — inadequate training, Chauvin’s role as a superior on the scene and confidence in Chauvin, who was Kueng’s field training officer — along with a "confrontational" crowd.

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