MINNEAPOLIS (NewsNation Now) — The trial of a former Minneapolis police officer charged in the death of George Floyd continues Friday after a week of countless surveillance videos and emotional testimony from witnesses to his arrest and Floyd’s longtime girlfriend.
Courtney Ross took the stand Thursday and described her relationship with Floyd, from a first kiss to date nights at restaurants, but also spoke about how an addiction to painkillers took hold of their life together.
“It’s a classic story of how many people get addicted to opioids,” Ross said. “We both suffered from chronic pain: mine was in my neck, his was in his back.”
She said they “tried really hard to break that addiction many times.”
Chauvin’s lawyers argue that Floyd’s death, which the county medical examiner ruled a homicide at the hands of police, was really an overdose from the fentanyl found in his blood at an autopsy.
Prosecutors have said Eric Nelson, Chauvin’s lead attorney, has sought to raise the drug use in an effort to muddy Floyd’s character and that the theory would be contradicted by medical evidence.
Nelson seemed to acknowledge the sensitivity when he stood up to cross-examine Ross: “I’m sorry to hear about your struggles with opioid addiction,” he began. “Thank you for sharing that with the jury.”
Lawyers for Floyd’s family, Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci, criticized Chauvin’s defense in a joint statement: “Tens of thousands of Americans struggle with self-medication and opioid abuse and are treated with dignity, respect and support, not brutality,” their statement said.
Prosecutors used a legal doctrine called “spark of life” to call Ross to testify about Floyd’s life, and are expected to call a Floyd family member to the witness stand later. Minnesota is a rarity in explicitly permitting such “spark of life” testimony ahead of a verdict. Defense attorneys often complain that such testimony allows prosecutors to play on jurors’ emotions.
Paramedics who arrived at the scene testified Thursday they had to move police off Floyd, who by then had stopped breathing, had no pulse and whose pupils were dilated.
A paramedic who arrived on the scene that day testified that the first call was a Code 2, for someone with a mouth injury, but it was upgraded a minute and a half later to Code 3 -– a life-threatening incident that led them to turn on the lights and siren.
Paramedic Seth Bravinder said 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 checked for a pulse and couldn’t detect one.
“In lay terms,” Smith told the jury, “I thought he was dead.”
Chauvin told retired Minneapolis Police Sergeant David Pleoger in a brief phone conversation that Floyd was combative during the deadly incident, according to a recording of the call played at the trial.
“We just had to hold a guy down who was going crazy on the back of the passenger floor,” Chauvin was heard telling Pleoger. Testifying on Thursday, Pleoger said Chauvin later acknowledged having knelt on Floyd or his neck.
Pleoger noted that officers are trained to roll people on their side to help with their breathing after they have been restrained in the prone position.
“When Mr. Floyd was no longer offering up any resistance to the officers, they could have ended the restraint,” Pleoger said.
Chauvin, 45, who is white, is charged with murder and manslaughter, accused of killing the 46-year-old Black man by kneeling on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes, 29 seconds, as he lay face-down in handcuffs. The most serious charge against the now-fired officer carries up to 40 years in prison.