July 24, 2021

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Young witnesses to George Floyd’s death testify they felt helpless as they watched him die and feared Derek Chauvin – The Washington Post

6 min read

Frazier told the jury of looking at her father, her brother, her cousins and friends and the anguish she felt knowing it “could have been one of them” on the ground and how it had added to her guilt. “It’s been nights I stayed up apologizing and apologizing to George for not doing more and not physically interacting and not saving his life,” Frazier tearfully said.

But, Frazier added, referring to Chauvin, who sat a few feet away in the courtroom, “It’s not what I should have done. It’s what he should have done.”

Frazier was one of several eyewitnesses called to the stand Tuesday, including four girls who were under 18 when they saw Floyd being held to the ground by Chauvin and two other officers during a May 25 police investigation into an alleged counterfeit $20 bill. The jury also heard from firefighter Genevieve Hansen, who was off-duty and came across the scene while on a walk. Hansen burst into tears as she recounted begging officers to check Floyd’s pulse but being rebuffed.

In hours of testimony, during which some jurors looked uncomfortable and shocked, the teenagers testified about their feelings of helplessness and, in some cases, fear as they confronted the Minneapolis officers detaining Floyd while he moaned and begged for his life and ultimately became unresponsive.

“It wasn’t right,” Frazier told prosecutor Jerry Blackwell. “We all knew it wasn’t right.”

The teens testified in open court, but their images were not shown on the courtroom live stream because they are minors. Prosecutors had expressed concern about further traumatizing the girls, all of whom testified in nervous, childlike voices about seeing the Black man die before their eyes — a horror that came as they were out buying snacks or running errands on a late-spring evening.

One of the witnesses — Alyssa Funari, 18 — described how she had driven to Cup Foods, the store where the incident happened, to buy a charging cord for her phone and found Floyd moaning under the pressure of Chauvin’s knee. Like Frazier, she began filming — and watched as Floyd’s eyes rolled back in his head and he stopped moving.

“It was difficult because I felt like there wasn’t really anything I could do,” Funari said tearfully, pausing several times to regain her composure. “I knew time was running out or that it had already … that he was going to die.”

Kaylynn Ashley Gilbert, 17, said she drove up to the scene with a friend, who had testified earlier, and eventually got out of the car.

She saw Floyd “unconscious,” she said, Chauvin kneeling on his neck — “kind of digging in his knee” and “putting a lot of pressure on his neck that wasn’t needed.”

Floyd “wasn’t talking anymore, and when we pulled up, he was talking,” Gilbert said. “His eyes were closed. He wasn’t moving.”

She recalled asking officers: “Why are you guys still on top of him? He’s not doing anything wrong.”

For a second straight day, the jury was presented with bystander video of Floyd’s death — including cellphone footage shot by Frazier, Funari and Hansen — with Floyd’s moans punctuating the quiet downtown Minneapolis courtroom. The former officer, who is charged with second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, often averted his eyes, but he showed no emotion as the footage was played on courtroom screens.

Frazier testified that she began filming the scene because she sensed that what was happening to Floyd “wasn’t right.” She described Floyd as “terrified, scared, begging for his life.”

“It seemed like he knew it was over for him,” Frazier said. “He was suffering.”

The girls described how as Floyd stopped moving, the small group of bystanders that had formed began yelling for Chauvin to get off Floyd and for Chauvin or one of the other officers at the scene — J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas K. Lane and Tou Thao — to check his pulse.

“(Chauvin) just stared at us, looked at us. He had like this cold look, heartless. He didn’t care. It seemed as if he didn’t care what we were saying,” Frazier testified.

As the crowd became more emotional and yelled louder for the officers to check on Floyd, Chauvin reached for his mace, and two of the girls recalled feeling “scared” at what the officer might do. “I felt like I was in danger when he did that,” Frazier told the jurors, as several looked toward her sympathetically. “I felt threatened.”

A few seconds later, prosecutors asked her to identify Chauvin, who stood and removed his mask so that Frazier could see him. The former officer, who looked uncomfortable, briefly glanced her way before taking his seat again. Frazier, in a choked voice barely above a whisper, described him at one point as “the officer that was kneeling on George Floyd’s neck.”

Later, Hansen described how she became concerned when she saw Floyd unresponsive with three officers atop him. Floyd’s face looked “puffy and swollen, which would happen if you are putting a grown man’s weight on someone’s neck,” she said. She also recalled seeing what looked like fluid coming from his body and how it reminded her of patients who “release their bladder when they die.”

She recalled trying to intervene and being pushed back by Thao, who expressed skepticism that she was really a firefighter. She said Chauvin ignored her pleas and kept his knee on Floyd’s neck. “In my memory, he had his hand in his pocket,” she said. “He looked so comfortable.”

Chauvin’s defense successfully argued to limit Hansen from saying she could have saved Floyd’s life. But the firefighter came close, describing what she would have done if officers had “granted” her access to the scene.

“I would have checked his airway. I would have been worried about a spinal cord injury because he had so much weight on his neck,” she said. “I would have checked for a pulse. And when I didn’t find a pulse, if that was the case, I would have started compressions.”

Hansen testified that she was mystified at why emergency workers didn’t respond to the scene more quickly, pointing out there was a fire station three blocks away. She said she later called 911 to report the officers. “I should have called 911 immediately, but I didn’t,” she said.

Under defense cross examination, she sparred with attorney Eric Nelson, who pressed her on whether it was proper for someone to interfere with the police and how she, as a firefighter, would react to someone telling her how to do her job. “I know my job, and I would be confident in doing my job, and there’s nothing anybody could do to distract me,” she shot back.

Nelson pointed out that she became “angry” at the scene — which Hansen didn’t dispute, adding that she also felt “desperate” to save Floyd’s life. “I don’t know if you’ve seen anybody be killed, but it’s upsetting,” Hansen said.

The tense back-and-forth led Hennepin County Judge Peter A. Cahill to dismiss the jury and admonish Hansen to not argue with Nelson.

“You will not argue with the court,” Cahill said. “You’ll not argue with counsel. They have the right to ask questions. Your job is to answer.”

Hansen’s testimony will continue Wednesday.

Proceedings resumed Tuesday with the continued testimony of Donald Williams II, a former wrestler turned mixed martial arts fighter, who testified that he tried to intervene because he believed Chauvin was holding Floyd using a move called a “blood choke,” which cuts circulation to a person’s neck and can be dangerous if held too long.

Nelson questioned him extensively on martial arts moves, including whether he had ever seen someone choked unconscious and then awaken ready to fight — an implication that the officers had reason to restrain the handcuffed Floyd even after he stopped moving.

Nelson, who has argued that Chauvin and the other officers felt threatened by the bystanders around them, asked Williams about his increasing anger at the scene and accused him of threatening the officers. “You can’t paint me out as angry,” Williams responded, adding that he was in control and displaying “professionalism.” At one point, he winked at Nelson as the men verbally sparred.

Williams explained he was increasingly upset because Chauvin and the other officers “were not listening to anything I was telling them” and that someone had to “speak out for Floyd.” He later called 911 to report Chauvin, giving the operator the officer’s badge number. “I believed I witnessed a murder,” he testified.

Hannah Knowles and Paulina Villegas contributed to this report.

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