Derek Chauvin trial: George Floyd was ‘a person everybody loved’, brother says

Philonise Floyd takes stand to humanise brother ahead of defence witness testimony

Cardiologist Dr. Jonathan Rich has testified in the Derek Chauvin trial that, with a "high degree of medical certainty," George Floyd did not die from a primary heart event or drug overdose. Video: Reuters

 

The trial of Derek Chauvin, the former US police officer accused of murdering George Floyd, has heard that Mr Floyd was “a person that everybody loved around the community”.

Mr Floyd’s younger brother Philonise took the stand on Monday ahead of defence witness testimony expected to begin on Tuesday.

When shown a picture of his late mother and a young George Floyd, Philonise broke down in tears, saying: “I miss both of them.”

He testified as part of an effort by prosecutors to humanise his brother in front of the jury and make him more than a crime statistic. Minnesota is a rarity as a state in allowing what is known as “spark of life” testimony during the trial stage.

Earlier, a heart specialist said that Mr Floyd’s death was “absolutely preventable” and he would have lived if Mr Chauvin had not pinned him to the street.

Mr Chauvin, who is white, denies murdering Mr Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, last May, when he knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes during an arrest.

Jonathan Rich, cardiologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, took the stand as the last medical expert called by the prosecution. He told the jury he was certain Mr Floyd did not die of a heart attack, heart disease or a drug overdose.

The heart specialist said Mr Floyd died of cardiopulmonary arrest – when adequate heart function and breathing stop – caused by low oxygen levels.

When prosecutor Jerry Blackwell asked what caused the oxygen deficiency, Mr Rich said it was “induced by the prone restraint and positional asphyxiation that he was subjected to”.

It was the 11th day of testimony in the historic trial. The prosecution is close to resting its case before the defence calls its witnesses. It is expected that relatives of Mr Floyd will be allowed to address the court, to talk about his life and character.

Uprising

Mr Floyd’s death was caught on video and sparked the largest civil rights uprising in the United States since the 1960s.

Mr Chauvin led three other officers on May 25th in forcing Mr Floyd to the ground, face down and handcuffed behind his back, as they arrested him on suspicion of using a fake $20 bill to buy cigarettes in a corner store.

Mr Chauvin kneeled on Mr Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds, the court has heard, as Mr Floyd repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe and cried for help before passing out.

A mural of George Floyd in Dublin by artist Emmalene Blake. Mr Floyd’s death was caught on video and sparked the largest civil rights uprising in the United States since the 1960s. Photograph: Tom Honan
A mural of George Floyd in Dublin by artist Emmalene Blake. Mr Floyd’s death was caught on video and sparked the largest civil rights uprising in the United States since the 1960s. Photograph: Tom Honan

On Monday afternoon, Philonise Floyd was called to the stand.

Philonise and other relatives of George Floyd have been a constant presence inside and outside court, turning up every day to support their family member’s cause.

He spoke only for a short time and was not cross-examined by Mr Chauvin’s defence. But it was a powerful appearance that caught the attention of the jury, amid a lot of important but much drier expert testimony.

Growing up, Philonise told the jury, George Floyd “was so much of a leader to us in the household”.

“He would always make sure that we had our clothes for school,” Philonise said. “He made sure that we all were going to be to school on time. He just was like a person that everybody loved around the community. He just knew how to make people feel better.

“He was a big momma’s boy,” he said of Mr Floyd’s relationship with their mother.

When she died in May 2018, Philonise recalled, “He would just say ‘Mama, Mama’ over and over again.

“I didn’t know what to tell him because I was in pain too,” he said. “He was just holding her, just holding her. He didn’t want to leave the casket.”

Rounded view

The aim of the prosecution and the family was to give a more rounded view of Mr Floyd prior to the defence starting to call its witnesses, which is expected soon, and focusing on all the down sides of his life and health.

Illicit drugs were found in Mr Floyd’s system and he had underlying health conditions which the defence intends to argue killed him. The defence also intends to argue that Mr Chauvin’s actions were reasonable in dealing with a large, struggling suspect who was high on a mix of the opioid fentanyl and methamphetamine.

But Mr Rich, the cardiologist, said that in his opinion Mr Floyd had been restrained by Mr Chauvin “in a life-threatening manner” and was alert, awake, conversant and walking when the officers encountered him, the opposite signs and symptoms of someone who was overdosing.

“I believe that Mr George Floyd’s death was absolutely preventable,” he said.

The prosecutor asked if Mr Floyd would have lived had it not been for Mr Chauvin pressing down on his neck for more than nine minutes. “Yes I believe he would have lived,” Mr Rich said.

Earlier, the judge, Peter Cahill, denied a request by the defence to sequester the jury owing to the potential influence of the fatal shooting of 20-year-old black man Derek Chauvin by police in a suburb of Minneapolis on Sunday, which sparked protests.

Former police officer, law professor and expert on the use of force Seth Stoughton told the trial that ‘no reasonable officer’ would have used the level of force Mr Chauvin applied on Mr Floyd. Photograph: Court TV via AP/Pool
Former police officer, law professor and expert on the use of force Seth Stoughton told the trial that ‘no reasonable officer’ would have used the level of force Mr Chauvin applied on Mr Floyd. Photograph: Court TV via AP/Pool

The last testimony on Monday afternoon involved a former police officer, law professor and expert on the use of force telling the trial that “no reasonable officer” would have used the level of force Mr Chauvin applied on Mr Floyd because Mr Floyd was neither aggressive nor a threat. Seth Stoughton said that was particularly true during his last minutes under Mr Chauvin’s knee.

“Somebody who does not have a pulse does not present a threat in any way,” Mr Stoughton said. “No reasonable officer would have believed that was an acceptable, appropriate and reasonable use of force.”

The prosecution is close to resting its case and defence witness testimony is expected to begin on Tuesday. Mr Cahill indicated that he expects closing arguments could take place next Monday, following which the jury will be sequestered for its deliberations prior to delivering its verdict.

The trial continues. – Guardian, Associated Press