MINNEAPOLIS — The woman who was in a relationship with George Floyd for three years took the witness stand Thursday morning, recounting their first kiss, first date and final phone call to jurors in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
Jurors listened to her personal, emotional testimony after sitting through hours of police body-camera videos Wednesday. The videos showed that, moments after Chauvin took his knee off of Floyd’s neck, he defended his actions to a bystander.
The bystander, Charles McMillian, 61, broke down sobbing on the witness stand as he recounted his memories of last Memorial Day. Videos shown to the jurors reveal McMillian confronted Chauvin as the ambulance carrying Floyd pulled away from the scene, sirens blaring. McMillian told Chauvin he didn’t respect what Chauvin had done.
“That’s one person’s opinion,” Chauvin said from inside his squad car to McMillian on the sidewalk, according to body-camera video. “We gotta control this guy ’cause he’s a sizable guy … and it looks like he’s probably on something.”
Floyd, a Black man, died in police custody on May 25, 2020, after Chauvin, who is white, pinned his knee against Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes. Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
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- Minneapolis native Courteney Ross, 45, who was in a relationship with George Floyd for about three years, took the witness stand Thursday morning.
- Jurors have heard from 12 witnesses to the death of George Floyd, and several have cried on the stand describing their attempts to intervene on his behalf.
- Witnesses have included, an off-duty firefighter, 911 dispatcher, a cashier working across the street, the teenager who recorded the now viral video of Floyd’s death and her 9-year-old cousin.
- The prosecution on Wednesday played videos from the body-cams of former officers Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao, as well as part of Chauvin’s video.
- Rodney Floyd, George Floyd’s brother, sat in court Wednesday as the videos played.
Courteney Ross, who dated Floyd, recounts meeting: ‘We had our first kiss in the lobby’
Minneapolis native Courteney Ross, 45, who was in a relationship with George Floyd for about three years, took the witness stand Thursday morning. She said she met Floyd in August 2017. “It’s one of my favorite stories,” she said, getting emotional and stifling tears.
The day they met, Ross said she had gotten off work at the coffee shop where she has worked part-time for 22 years. She went to see her son’s father who was staying at a shelter and was waiting in the lobby for him to talk about their son’s birthday. Floyd worked there as a security guard.
Ross recounted: “Floyd came up to me. Floyd had this great deep Southern voice, raspy. ‘You OK, Sis,’ he said. I wasn’t OK. He said, ‘Can I pray with you?’ We’d been through so much, my sons and I. And this kind person asks if he can pray with me. It was so sweet. …We had our first kiss in the lobby.”
Ross said that during early 2020, they had separated for a while. But from March to early May, they were together every day. She stifled tears again after being shown a photo of Floyd.
Ross said Floyd was “devastated” after his mother died in May 2018. “Floyd is what I would call a mama’s boy. I could tell, from the minute I met him. When he came back (from mother’s funeral) he seemed like a shell of himself, like he was broken.”
“He didn’t have the same kind of bounce that’d he’ had. He was devastated. He loved his mom so much, and I knew that. He talked about his mom all the time.”
Ross said drug use was part of their relationship. “Floyd and I both suffered from opiate addiction,” she said. “We both suffered from chronic pain. Mine was in my neck. His was in his back. We both had prescriptions. After prescriptions were filled, we got addicted, and we both tried, very hard, to break the addictions, many times,” she said.
Ross said addiction is “a lifelong struggle.” Floyd used oxycontin, in pill form, Ross said.
The last time she spoke to Floyd was by phone the day before he died. “He said he was going to be staying at Sylvia’s. She was a friend of ours.”
On cross-examination by lead defense attorney Eric Nelson, Ross agreed that she and Floyd went through periods in which one of them used pain pills.
Nelson asked Ross about a time in March when Floyd had to be hospitalized. Ross she went to pick Floyd up from his house but “his stomach really hurt” and he was “doubled over in pain.” She took Floyd to the hospital and later learned he had overdosed. She said she didn’t know at that time that Floyd had taken heroin or any drugs other than opiates.
Nelson turned his questioning to Maurice Hall, who was in the SUV with Floyd when officers first approach his car last Memorial Day. Ross said she “didn’t like Maurice very much.” She acknowledged that she told the FBI that Floyd had bought narcotics from Hall, but said she “did not see it with my own eyes.”
“Do you recall telling the FBI (that Floyd’s hospital stay for an overdose) was from heroin?” Nelson asked.
“I was speculating,” Ross said.
During intense testimony Wednesday afternoon, prosecutors introduced body-camera footage showing George Floyd pleading for his life. Taken together with the store and street surveillance videos, the videos provide a compelling 360-degree view of the encounter, as well as what happened before and after the actual struggle with police.
First to be shown was the body-cam video from officer Thomas Lane, who can be seen on video walking over to Floyd’s SUV. Lane quickly drew his firearm and yelled at Floyd through Floyd’s closed car window to raise his hands. The video became more intense as Floyd appeared to only raise one hand to the steering wheel, seemingly angering Lane, who had been on the job only four days by the May 25 incident.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Floyd cried.
“Let me see your hands,” Lane said. “Put your f*** hands on the wheel.”
Soon, Floyd pleads, “Officer, please don’t shoot me.”
Officers then take Floyd over to sit on the sidewalk, according to the video from officer J. Alexander Keung, showing a different angle of the same moments. The incident grew more tense as the officers try to force Floyd into the squad car as Floyd pleads with the officers, saying he’s claustrophobic and has anxiety.
Body-cam video from officer Tou Thao gives a view of Floyd sliding across the back seat of the patrol car and out the other side. Then, Floyd is forced to the ground, with nearby bystanders heard warning officers Floyd is going to have a heart attack.
Lane can be seen with what looks like the equipment for a hobble restraint, which is part of the “maximal restraint technique” for a resisting person.
“He’s got to be on something,” one of the officers said, at times guessing if it was PCP because Floyd’s eyes were shifting back and forth.
As Floyd shouts that he can’t breathe, Lane says, “You’re talking fine, man. Deep breaths.”
“I’m through, I’m through,” Floyd says. “You’re doing a lot of talking … it takes an awful lot of oxygen,” an officer says.
Rodney Floyd, George Floyd’s brother, shook his head from side to side, and at one point glared briefly at Chauvin. When prosecutors played the first video, Floyd looked stoic and sad, hugging his midsection lightly and swiveling in his chair. He sat through the second, third, fourth videos of the incident, all from different angles.
According to the videos, Lane is the first person who gets off of Floyd. Chauvin continues to keep his knee on Floyd while a paramedic checks his neck for a pulse. He appears to slightly ease up pressure, but does not take his knee off until the paramedics are ready to load Floyd onto the gurney.
Watching George Floyd die had a ‘profound’ impact on witnesses
On Wednesday, Judge Peter Cahill had to call a 10-minute recess when Charles McMillian, 61, began to sob as he watched the video showing Floyd struggling with police and calling out for his mother. “I feel helpless,” McMillian said, struggling to regain his composure in court. “My mom died June 25th.”
Almost everyone who has testified in Chauvin’s trial became choked up on the witness stand Tuesday and Wednesday as they described watching Floyd go unconscious and lose his pulse. Many expressed regret that they couldn’t help Floyd.
Sometimes survivors of traumatic events hold a “false belief” about their role – for example, that they could’ve saved Floyd from dying, said Nadine Kaslow, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory School of Medicine.
Witnessing a severely traumatic event – such as Floyd’s death – in person can have “profound” psychological effects, both short and long term, she said.
“It will impact them for the rest of their lives,” Kaslow said. “When people are telling the story, it’s almost like they are reliving a lot of memories.” Read more.
Contributing: Trevor Hughes