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Prosecutor and defense surrender blow for blow at Derek Floyd trial


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Courteney Ross, George Floyd’s ex-girlfriend, testifies at the trial of ex-police officer Derek Chauvin, April 1, 2021. – AP / SIPA / COURT TV

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What did George Floyd die of? This is, in the end, the most important question in this trial. Thursday, at the trial of ex-policeman Derek Chauvin, prosecutors called a half-dozen witnesses with two objectives: to humanize Floyd and his addiction to opiates, and to convince the jury that Chauvin made “excessive use.” Forcefully compressing his neck for over nine minutes. And both sides have arguably scored points at different times.

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While waiting for medical experts to discuss the amount of fentanyl in George Floyd’s body, prosecutors first summoned his ex-girlfriend, Courteney Ross. She and Floyd had an intermittent relationship between 2017 and her death. This 45-year-old mother of two has alternated between laughter and tears. She portrayed a “full of energy”, “gentle” man with whom life was “an adventure” before modestly discussing their drug use. “It’s a classic story of people who become addicted to opiates because of chronic pain. Me it was on the neck, him on the back… ”, she explained simply.

In the emergency room for a heroin overdose

Defense attorney Eric Nelson conducted a scathing cross-examination. Courteney Ross admitted that the couple, when they ran out of doctor-prescribed fentanyl, turned to the streets. In particular towards Morries Hall, present in the car alongside George Floyd during his arrest. Hall filed an appeal not to testify and indicated through his lawyer that he would plead the “fifth” not to incriminate himself if he was called. Those pills were presumably cut with an arousal, admitted Courteney Ross. On one occasion, she “couldn’t sleep all night” and “couldn’t keep still”.

In his autopsy report, the medical examiner concluded that there was a “homicide” and a death by “cardiopulmonary arrest”, listing as the main factor “immobilization by the police and compression of the neck”. However, he noted the presence of a significant amount of fentanyl (11 ng / mL) high enough to cause an overdose in some people. The prosecutors, them, assure that George Floyd had “a high tolerance”. His partner however confirmed that she had to take him to the emergency room in March, two months before his death, for a heroin overdose.

A rescuer criticizes the police

First rescuer on the spot, Derek Smith first sees that “the police are still on him”. He notices that George Floyd is handcuffed, “does not move”, “that his chest does not swell”, that he “has no pulse” and that “his pupils are dilated”. “To put it in simple terms, when I arrived, I thought he was dead,” summarizes the rescuer.

Once in the ambulance, a machine confirms that his heart rate was “flat”, added his colleague Zachary Bravinder. “It means that the heart was not pumping blood, it is not a good sign …” The two men try to resuscitate him. “He was a human being, I tried to give him a second chance,” says Derek Smith. Derek Chauvin’s lawyer notes that the police are not rescuers and have followed the instructions while waiting for help to arrive. The witness replied curtly: “I don’t know what their level of certification is. But there is no rule that prevents a police officer from starting heart compressions ”. Tuesday, a woman firefighter present among passers-by had testified to having offered her services, in vain.

Derek Chauvin disowned by his superior

The day ended with a witness full of authority. Recently retired Sergeant David Pleoger spent 27 years in blue. The superior of Derek Chauvin, whom the 911 operator warned, worried, while she was witnessing the intervention live via a CCTV camera, it is him. Bald head, graying shaved hair and piercing eyes, he is a man of few words.

Pleoger phones Chauvin after the intervention has just ended. “We just had to keep a guy on the ground because he rebelled like a madman and refused to go in the back of the patrol vehicle”, defends the officer, without offering details. The sergeant then went there to make an assessment around 8:45 p.m. It is his role to establish a report in the event of “excessive use of force”. Chauvin still does not mention that he stayed for more than 9 minutes with his knee on George Floyd’s neck. It is ultimately a colleague who provides details.

The sergeant goes to the hospital, where George Floyd is pronounced dead at 9:25 p.m. And in the event of death, the file is automatically sent to the internal affairs, the US version fonts, which manages the survey. David Pleoger therefore did not write a report. “Do you think the immobilization should have stopped at some point? », Asks Steven Schleicher, of the team of the prosecutor. Before David Pleoger can respond, the defense objects. A 45-minute legal battle follows.

During this trial, Covid-19 obliges, the lawyers do not approach to confer with the judge. Everything is done through headphones, and the sound of the camera is cut off. Justice Cahill decides to dismiss the jury so that the parties can present their arguments. He appears to be on the verge of ruling in favor of the defense when the prosecutor finds a backdoor: Sometimes the sergeant has to issue a preliminary opinion to decide whether to forward a case to the police. The judge then authorizes a “limited” question.

The prosecutor chooses his words carefully: “Based on your viewing of the bodycameras videos, do you have an opinion on when the immobilization of Mr. Floyd should have ended? “Yes”, replies the witness. “When he no longer resisted, the officers could have stopped supporting him. “

>> The trial to follow on the Twitter account of our correspondent @ptiberry


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