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Witnesses to George Floyd's deadly arrest tell jury of their shock, horror

  • Published at 09:22 am March 31st, 2021
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Frazier’s footage, which prosecutors say shows excessive force, led to one of the largest protest movements seen in the United States in decades

Prosecution witnesses on Tuesday described in searing detail their horror in watching the final moments of George Floyd’s life as they testified against Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis policeman charged with Floyd’s murder.

Jurors listened with visible sympathy as they heard from the teenager who recorded a video viewed by millions worldwide that shows Chauvin, who is white, using his knee to pin the neck of Floyd, a Black man in handcuffs, to the ground.

Darnella Frazier, an 18-year-old student who told the court she suffers from social anxiety, broke down in tears as she described her feelings of guilt and anger after witnessing the arrest on May 25, 2020.

“He had this cold look, heartless,” Frazier said, as Chauvin listened alongside his lawyer at a nearby table, taking notes in a yellow legal pad.

Before her testimony, a professional mixed martial arts fighter spoke about his increasing agitation as he watched the prone Floyd struggle for breath. 

Later in the day, a uniformed firefighter who was at the scene while off duty described her distress at Chauvin and other officers stopping her from giving chest compressions to Floyd, who was by then unconscious.

“Mr Chauvin seemed very comfortable with the majority of his weight balanced on top of Mr Floyd,” Genevieve Hansen, who took the stand in her white Minneapolis Fire Department uniform with a badge and black tie, told jurors. “In my memory, he had his hand in his pocket.”

Frazier’s footage, which prosecutors say shows excessive force, led to one of the largest protest movements seen in the United States in decades, with daily marches against disproportionate rates of police violence against Black people.

Lawyers for Chauvin, 45, say he followed his police training and is not guilty of the charges brought by the Minnesota attorney general’s office of second-degree murder, third-degree murder or second-degree manslaughter.

‘I believe I witnessed a murder’

Donald Williams, the mixed martial arts fighter, can be heard in bystander videos screaming insults at Chauvin and demanding police check for Floyd’s pulse. He told jurors he believed that Chauvin was using his knee in a “blood choke” on Floyd, a wrestling move to knock an opponent unconscious, and a “shimmy” move to tighten pressure on Floyd’s neck.

A 911 call Williams made after the arrest was played. Williams dabbed his eyes with a tissue as his distressed voice filled the courtroom.

“I believe I witnessed a murder,” Williams, 33, told the jury. 

“So I felt I needed to call the police on the police.”

Chauvin’s lead lawyer, Eric Nelson, has sought to convince the jury that Chauvin may have felt threatened by bystanders, which prosecutors dispute.

In a sometimes tense cross-examination, Nelson read aloud the insults, some of them obscene, that Williams hurls at Chauvin in the video.

“You call him a ‘tough guy’?” Nelson asked, demanding only a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Williams looked away with a slight smile as each insult was read out.

“You call him a ‘bum’ at least 13 times?” Nelson continued.

“If that’s what you count in the video,” Williams replied, smiling again, “then that’s what you got: 13.”

Later on Tuesday, Hensen said she was rebuffed by another policeman when she sought aid for Floyd. She testified the other officer told her: “If you really are a Minneapolis firefighter, you would know better than to get involved.”

She can be heard on the video screaming at the police to check Floyd’s pulse. “I pled and was desperate,” she said. A water bottle shook in her hand as she sipped it to calm her tears.

“It’s what I would have done for anybody,” she said.

Child witnesses

Frazier was walking her 9-year-old cousin to buy some snacks at Cup Foods, where a worker had moments before accused Floyd of using a fake $20 bill, when she saw police arresting Floyd on the road outside.

She began to cry when prosecutors brought up a still from her video, showing the moment when Chauvin, his knee on Floyd’s neck, appears to look directly into Frazier’s camera lens.

She was asked by both sides how producing the most famous record of Floyd’s death had 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. “It could have been one of them.”

She said she would sometimes stay up late at night thinking of Floyd, apologizing to him for “not saving his life.”

Minutes later, Frazier’s young cousin, her hair in braids, took her place in the witness stand, saying in a small voice she recognized Chauvin as the man she saw kneeling on Floyd.

“I was sad,” the girl said, “and kind of mad.”

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