Onlookers grew increasingly angry as they begged Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin to take his knee off George Floyd’s neck, but Chauvin would not let up, and another officer forced back members of the crowd who tried to intervene, witnesses testified Tuesday at Chauvin’s murder trial.
Witness after witness described how Chauvin was unmoved by their pleas, with the teenager who shot the harrowing video of the arrest that set off nationwide protests testifying that the officer gave the crowd a “cold” and “heartless” stare.
“He didn’t care. It seemed as if he didn’t care what we were saying,” said 18-year-old Darnella Frazier, one of several witnesses who testified through tears.
Frazier said Chauvin continued to kneel on Floyd while fellow Officer Tou Thao held the crowd of about 15 back, even when one of the onlookers identified herself as a firefighter and pleaded repeatedly to check Floyd’s pulse.
“They definitely put their hands on the Mace, and we all pulled back,” Frazier told the jury.
The prosecution asked multiple witnesses to describe their horror at what they saw, buttressing the testimony with multiple videos, some of which had never been seen before. Many testified about feelings of helplessness as Floyd gasped for air, pleaded for his life and finally fell limp and silent, his eyes rolling back in his head.
The testimony was apparently aimed at showing that Chauvin had multiple opportunities to think about what he doing and change course.
But Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson also sought to bring out evidence of anger in the crowd, in an apparent attempt to show that Chauvin and his fellow officers found themselves in an increasingly tense and distracting situation, with the onlookers becoming more and more agitated.
Earlier Tuesday, Donald Williams, one of the onlookers, testified that he called 911 after paramedics took Floyd away, “because I believed I witnessed a murder.” In a recording of the emergency call, Williams could be overheard yelling at the officers: “Y’all is murderers, bro!”
During cross-examination, Chauvin’s lawyer pointed out that Williams seemed to grow increasingly angry at the police, taunting Chauvin with “tough guy,” “bum” and other names, then calling Chauvin expletives, which the defense lawyer repeated in court.
Williams initially admitted he was getting angrier, but then backtracked and said he was controlled and professional and was pleading for Floyd’s life but wasn’t being heard.
Williams said he was stepping on and off the curb, and at one point, Thao, who was controlling the crowd, put his hand on Williams’ chest. Williams admitted under questioning that he told Thao he would beat the officers if Thao touched him again.
But witnesses also testified that no bystanders actually interfered with police.
When Frazier was asked by a prosecutor whether she saw violence anywhere on the scene, she replied: “Yes, from the cops. From Chauvin, and from officer Thao.”
Chauvin, 45, is charged with murder and manslaughter, accused of killing Floyd by pinning the 46-year-old handcuffed Black man to the pavement for what prosecutors said was 9 minutes and 29 seconds. Floyd was arrested after being accused of trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill at the convenience store.
The most serious charge against the now-fired white officer carries up to 40 years in prison.
The defense has argued that Chauvin did what his training told him to do and that Floyd’s death was not caused by the officer but by a combination of illegal drug use, heart disease, high blood pressure and the adrenaline flowing through his body.
Floyd’s death last May, along with the bystander video of him pleading that he couldn’t breathe and onlookers angrily yelling at the officer to get off him, triggered sometimes-violent protests around the world and a reckoning over racism and police brutality across the U.S.
On Tuesday, prosecutors played cellphone video recorded by yet another bystander, 18-year-old Alyssa Funari, that showed onlookers shouting and screaming at Chauvin after Floyd stopped moving.
The video, which had not been released before, also showed the woman who said she was a Minneapolis firefighter calmly walk up to Thao and offer to help, before he ordered her to get back on the curb.
“I felt like there wasn’t really anything I could do as a bystander,” a tearful Funari said, adding that she felt she was failing Floyd. “Technically I could’ve did something, but I couldn’t really do anything physically … because the highest power was there at the time,” she said, explaining that an officer held the crowd back.
Frazier testified that she looks at her father and other Black men in her life and thinks of “how that could have been one of them.”
“I stay up at night apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more … not saving his life,” she said, adding of Chauvin: “It’s not what I should have done; it’s what he should have done.”