The brother of George Floyd testified in court Monday how the two of them were close growing up in Texas, and he then gave in to tears when a photo of their mother holding George as a baby was shown to the jury.
At the start of the third and what appears will be the final week of testimony before jury deliberations in the Derek Chauvin murder trial, Philonise Floyd spoke of his brother’s devotion to their mother, saying, “He loved her so dearly.”
Philonise Floyd described in Hennepin County District Court the image to jurors, saying, “That’s my mother, she’s no longer with us, but that’s my oldest brother George. I miss both of them.”
He added that his wedding anniversary is in May, but his brother and mother both died in the month of May. “It’s a bittersweet moment because I’m supposed to be happy when that month comes,” he said.
George Floyd was able to speak to their mother on phone while she was in hospice care but didn’t see her before she died on May 30, 2018, Philonise said. George repeatedly called out “Momma” to her at her funeral and wouldn’t leave the casket, the brother said.
Philonise said his brother’s relationship with his mother “was one of a kind. George, he would always be up on our mom. He was a big mama’s boy. … Every mother loves all of her kids, but it’s so unique how they were. He would lay up on her like in the fetus position, like he was in the womb.”
In the family’s community, Philonise Floyd said, George “was one of those people in the community, when they had church outside, people would attend church just because he was there. Nobody would go out there until they seen him. He was a person everybody loved around the community. He just knew how to make people feel better.”
Although about seven years apart, the brothers spent a lot of time together growing up in Houston and “playing video games all the time” such as “Double Dribble” and “Tecmo Bowl.”
He also recalled his older brother “used to make the best banana mayonnaise sandwiches. … George couldn’t cook. He couldn’t boil water.”
Marks on a wall in the family home tracked George Floyd’s growth, Philonise Floyd said. “He wanted to be taller all the time because he loved sports,” the brother said. “He wanted to be the best.”
Judge Peter Cahill ended the day by telling jurors they should expect to hear the defense’s case starting Tuesday and closing arguments from the attorneys next Monday before sequestration for deliberations on the charges.
Cahill said it appeared the jurors could start deliberating as soon as Friday, but he wanted to make sure they would not be sequestered over the coming weekend.
“So, pack a bag” and bring it to court on Monday, the judge told the jurors.
Chauvin is charged with second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the killing of Floyd. Three other fired officers who assisted in Floyd’s 2020 arrest — J. Alexander Kueng, Lane and Tou Thao — are scheduled to be tried in August on charges of aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.
The first witness called Monday was Dr. Jonathan Rich, a medical expert in cardiology from Northwestern Memorial Hospital in the Chicago area, who the prosecution hoped to counter defense contentions that Floyd died from health problems and illicit drug use.
“I believe that Mr. George Floyd’s death was absolutely preventable,” Rich testified.
Rich testified that he believes Floyd’s cause of death was cardiopulmonary arrest caused by low oxygen levels. Those levels, he said as have others before him, “were induced by the prone restraint and positional asphyxia that he was subjected to.”
Further, the doctor said, “I can state with a high degree of medical certainty that George Floyd did not die from a cardiac event and he did not die from an overdose.”
Rich said he has watched bystander and other video from the scene and saw no evidence in Floyd’s behavior or appearance that he was having difficulty with his heart until being pinned on the pavement by Chauvin and two other officers.
Had he been stricken in connection from ongoing heart condition, he would immediately fall unconscious, Rich said.
In Floyd’s case, the doctor said, low oxygen sent him into cardiopulmonary arrest “much more gradually and slowly. … His speech [was] starting to become less forceful … until his speech became absent and his muscle movements were absent.”
The doctor added that his review of autopsy records also led him to conclude that Floyd did not suffer a heart attack on May 25 or at any other time in his life.
Rich went to say that despite seeing coronary artery blockage in Floyd’s heart, the doctor said he saw nothing in the medical records to suggest that played a role in the death.
Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell turned his questioning to Floyd’s illicit drug use, and Rich echoed what many earlier witnesses told the jury: “I see no evidence to suggest that a fentanyl overdose caused Mr. Floyd’s death,” said Rich who treats patients who have used fentanyl.
The doctor dismissed just as firmly any impact methamphetamine had on Floyd’s fate, saying the drug had “no substantive role” given that where was “a very relative low level of methamphetamine in his system.”
Prevention measures that would have helped included “not subjecting him to that prone restraint” in the first place, relieving Floyd from that position and administering CPR once another officer said no pulse was detected.
Blackwell wrapped up by asking Rich whether Floyd would have survived his encounter with police if not for his 9 minutes and 29 seconds on restraint on the pavement. “Yes, I believe he would have lived.”
Defense attorney Eric Nelson asked on cross examination whether Floyd would have survived if he had followed police orders and gotten into the squad car upon arrest.
Rich replied “yes, I would agree with you” that any number of scenarios before being pinned to the pavement, including complying with the officers, would have spared Floyd’s life.
The doctor did agree that Floyd had a significant presence of heart disease but tried to fend off Nelson’s questions about the dangers of a 90% narrowing of a coronary artery being especially life-threatening, saying the heart finds way to create new paths for blood to circulate under those conditions.
Also, while Rich said during prosecution questioning that he reviewed all of the 46-year-old Floyd’s medical records, the doctor acknowledged to the defense attorney that those records went back only three years.
Also testifying was Seth W. Stoughton, of the University of South Carolina Law School, a former police officer who is an academic bringing a national perspective to the case about law enforcement tactics concerning use of force.
Stoughton went through various points in the arrest as video clips were shown and said Floyd never should have been put stomach-down on the pavement in the first place.
He said Floyd told officers “thank you” for being removed from the squad car while handcuffed and put on his knees.
Citing there being five officers in total at the scene, Stoughton concluded, “It’s clear from the number of officers here, the fact that he’s handcuffed and has been searched, he doesn’t present a threat. … Given the range of other alternatives available to the officers, it’s just not appropriate to prone someone who is at that point cooperative.”
On the whole, Stoughton said, “No reasonable officer would have believed that [the restraint used on Floyd] was appropriate, acceptable or reasonable force.”
Nelson has raised previously and in Monday’s questioning of Stoughton that Chauvin’s use of force is affected by many factors at the scene. Also, Nelson said, Stoughton had the luxury of reviewing arrest video in slow motion and repeatedly.
Nelson noted for Stoughton various elements of the situation that Chauvin likely knew soon after arriving at the scene: two of the officers were in their first days as Minneapolis officers, that Floyd was resisting arrest, an agitated crowd was close by, Floyd was suspected us of illicit drugs, and paramedics were on their way to the scene.
The defense also suggested that Stoughton rushed to judgment in the early days after Floyd’s death by condemning the actions of Chauvin and the other officers in a Washington Post opinion article he wrote on May 29.
“Floyd’s death was a foreseeable consequence of the officers’ actions,” Stoughton wrote with two peers. “They knew they were being observed and recorded, but continued to engage in obvious misconduct.”
Nelson questioned how Stoughton could come to such a conclusion with only being aware of part of the evidence. He replied that the additional evidence he scrutinized only confirmed what he and the others wrote.
Once the prosecution rests, the defense gets its turn to prove several elements it has raised starting with Nelson’s opening statement and consistently continuing throughout the cross examination of the stream of witnesses so far. Those points include that Floyd’s health problems and drug use caused his death.
Also before testimony resumed Monday, defense attorney Nelson asked Judge Cahill to immediately sequester the jurors and question them regarding what they might have learned about the civil unrest following the fatal shooting of a man Sunday in Brooklyn Center.
Nelson pointed said that he has concerns that jurors could avoid finding Chauvin not guilty out because they are worried about the potential for violence in response.
“I understand that it’s not this case, I understand it’s not the same parties, but the problem is the ultimate response sets the stage for the jury to say ‘I’m not going to vote not guilty because I’m concerned about the outcome,’ ” Nelson said.
Nelson also wanted Cahill to order the jurors to avoid all news media, an expansion of the judge’s ruling that they only avoid coverage of this trial.
Prosecutor Steve Schleicher opposed both defense requests. While acknowledging that the incident in Brooklyn Center also involved a citizen’s death during an encounter with police, “We don’t know the real events of what happened.”
Schleicher said, “We can’t have every single world event that might affect somebody’s attitude or emotional state be grounds to come back and [re-examine] the jurors,” he said. “This is a totally different case, and I realize there is civil unrest and maybe some of the jurors did hear about that.”
He noted that “all of the jurors were sworn to be fair and impartial, [and] the law presumes that jurors will follow the court’s instructions. … It’s very difficult to avoid all media. Media comes at us in all different forms.”
Cahill swiftly declined both requests of the defense, so sequestration will only begin upon deliberations, which the judge said he anticipates will start next Monday. He also declined to tighten his order on juror caution about avoiding news media.
“It’s a totally different case,” he said of the Brooklyn Center killing. “It’s not a big surprise that there is civil unrest in this case.”
One matter still to be settled from last week was whether a man in Floyd’s SUV the night of his arrest should be compelled to testify.
Morries L. Hall has told the court that he intended to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination should he be called as a witness. Through his attorney, Hall has told the court that testifying could expose him to potential charges of third-degree murder and other felony allegations.
Autopsy results have shown that Floyd had illicit drugs — specifically fentanyl and methamphetamine — in his body at the time. Floyd’s girlfriend has testified that Hall provided Floyd with drugs during the month of his death.
The judge told defense attorney Eric Nelson to make a list of questions he would like to ask Hall and present them to the court. Should Cahill decide that Hall can be called as a witness, he might limit the breadth of questioning.
The prosecution and defense made their opposing pitches again Monday. Nelson also brought up statements made by Hall that he made under questioning by law enforcement in Texas and said he wants his answers to be presented as evidence. Among other things, the defense attorney said, Hall admit to having counterfeit money in the car, throwing something fro the car, giving false identification to police at 38th and Chicago, etc. He denied giving Floyd drugs, Nelson said.
In a setback to the defense, Cahill ruled after the midday break that Hall’s statements in Texas are inadmissible, at one point questioning Hall’s credibility. Now, should Hall be called to testify, he could well invoke his right to avoid self-incrimination with each question posed.
Star Tribune staff writers Rochelle Olson and Chao Xiong contributed to this report.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482