What to Watch For on Day 4 of Derek Chauvin’s Trial
George Floyd’s final hours are being reconstructed with the help of new video footage from inside Cup Foods and testimony from those who watched the police detain him.,
Mr. Floyd’s final hours are being reconstructed with the help of new video footage from inside Cup Foods and testimony from those who watched the police detain him.
Jurors will enter the fourth day of proceedings in the Derek Chauvin trial on Thursday with a newfound understanding of what happened on the day George Floyd died, thanks to camera footage and witness testimony that laid out his actions moment by moment.
Before Wednesday’s testimony, the jury had not heard such a thorough retelling, from inside the corner store where Mr. Floyd bought cigarettes to his time pinned on the pavement to when he was carried away on a stretcher. For the first time, jurors saw footage from the body camera of Mr. Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with killing Mr. Floyd.
Altogether, the videos from within Cup Foods and officers’ body cameras provided a fuller picture of Mr. Floyd in his final hours. In the store, he chatted and laughed with other customers. After he bought cigarettes — with what the cashier thought was a fake $20 bill — he left without incident.
But when the first officers arrived, things escalated almost immediately. What may have been a petty crime turned into a life-or-death situation. Jurors watched as an officer approached Mr. Floyd with his pistol raised, and as he reacted with dread. “Please, don’t shoot me,” he said.
Throughout the arrest, Mr. Floyd appeared to be terrified — of the pistol, of the claustrophobic sensation of being shoved in a police cruiser, of Mr. Chauvin’s restrictive kneehold.
Remembering the events of May 25, Charles McMillian began to sob during his testimony. “I can’t help but feel helpless,” said Mr. McMillian, who saw Mr. Floyd being arrested and spoke with Mr. Chauvin afterward.
It is unclear how the jarring testimonies this week will affect the jurors. But the scope of Mr. Floyd’s death is clear: Nearly everyone who watched him struggle seems to have been shaken to their core, from sheer trauma or from feelings of guilt and powerlessness.
The prosecution has so far focused on the shared suffering of witnesses, reinforced by graphic videos from many angles. During the testimony of the store clerk who accepted Mr. Floyd’s $20 bill, one of the jurors fell ill. The proceedings were halted for 20 minutes, with the judge calling her illness a “stress-related reaction.”
The juror, a white woman in her 50s, said of Mr. Floyd during the jury selection, “He didn’t deserve to die.”
The grief and guilt of witnesses have been center stage throughout the first three days of the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer accused of killing George Floyd. On Wednesday, the judge temporarily halted the proceedings after a 61-year-old witness broke down in sobs as he recounted his memory of Mr. Floyd’s arrest.
The witness, Charles McMillian, was among several who have spoken through tears on the witness stand. Jurors also heard on Wednesday from Christopher Martin, the 19-year-old Cup Foods employee who first confronted Mr. Floyd about the apparently fake $20 bill that he used to buy cigarettes. Here are Wednesday’s highlights.
If there were any doubts that witnesses of Mr. Floyd’s arrest have been traumatized by what they saw, those suspicions were dispelled on Wednesday. A major focal point of the trial so far has been the scars that the events of May 25 have left on those who were there. The prosecution has used their stories — and the raw emotion that has come with them — to underscore the case they are building against Mr. Chauvin through videos of Mr. Floyd’s arrest. Witnesses have repeatedly said that they believed that Mr. Floyd was in grave danger. And they have shared feelings of helplessness. It is almost always a crime to interfere with officers as they make an arrest, and several witnesses testified that they have struggled with being stuck just feet away from a man who they knew was dying, with no way to help.
The testimony of Mr. Martin, the Cup Foods cashier, gave jurors, for the first time, a clearer understanding of what happened in the store before Mr. Floyd’s arrest. Video footage from the store showed Mr. Floyd walking around and chatting with other shoppers before buying cigarettes. Mr. Martin said he quickly recognized that Mr. Floyd’s $20 bill appeared to be fake. At the urging of his boss, Mr. Martin went outside and asked Mr. Floyd to pay or to come in and talk to the manager. Mr. Floyd refused, and eventually a manager asked another employee to call the police.
Mr. Martin told the court that he felt “disbelief and guilt” when he saw Mr. Chauvin kneeling on Mr. Floyd. He had initially planned to replace the fake $20 bill with a real one of his own, but then changed his mind and told the manager what happened. Had he not taken the bill from Mr. Floyd in the first place, “this could have been avoided,” he said.
Jurors also watched the arrest from the perspective of the police officers’ body cameras. The footage showed officers confronting Mr. Floyd with their weapons drawn as he sat in a car. “Please don’t shoot me,” Mr. Floyd said, crying. Later, officers struggled to put a distressed Mr. Floyd in the back of a police vehicle. Mr. Floyd told them repeatedly that he was claustrophobic and scared, and officers continued to try to force him into the cruiser. Though Mr. Floyd was clearly distraught, he never appeared to pose a threat to the officers. As they pinned him to the ground next to the vehicle, the body cameras captured the words that reverberated around the world last summer: “I can’t breathe.” After a few minutes, Mr. Floyd went silent. “I think he’s passed out,” one officer said. When another officer told Mr. Chauvin that he couldn’t find Mr. Floyd’s pulse, Mr. Chauvin appeared unmoved.
With the body camera footage, the jurors are seeing the arrest of Mr. Floyd from every possible angle. Videos from the viewpoint of the officers are particularly jarring. From the beginning of the interaction, Mr. Floyd appeared not as a threat, but as someone who was scared and helpless. It also shows that officers took no action to address Mr. Floyd’s medical condition as he went limp.
The trial of Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd is unusual for many reasons: It is being livestreamed from Minneapolis, attendance is severely limited because of the coronavirus, and the public’s interest in the case may make this one of the highest-profile trials in recent memory.
The trial can be watched on nytimes.com, via a livestream provided by Court TV, which is also airing the trial in full. Witness testimony and lawyers’ presentation of evidence should last several weeks before the jury begins to deliberate over the verdict.
Among the people allowed in the courtroom, on the 18th floor of the Hennepin County Government Center, are the judge, jurors, witnesses, court staff, lawyers, Mr. Chauvin, and only a handful of spectators. The judge, Peter A. Cahill, wrote in an order on March 1 that only one member of Mr. Floyd’s family and one member of Mr. Chauvin’s family would be allowed in the room at any time. Two seats are reserved for reporters, and various journalists, including from The New York Times, are rotating throughout the trial.
The lawyers, spectators, jurors and witnesses are required to wear masks when they are not speaking. Spectators are prohibited from having any visible images, logos, letters or numbers on their masks or clothing, according to Judge Cahill’s order.