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Testimony continues in civil rights trial of 3 former Minneapolis officers, video shown

On day two of the trial, FBI forensic media examiner Kimberly Meline resumed her testimony that started Monday afternoon, which allows prosecutors to show videos that will be central to the case.

Trial of three Minneapolis ex-police officers charged with violating George Floyd's civil rights
In a courtroom sketch Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, witness Kimberly Meline testifies during the trial in St. Paul of three former Minneapolis officers charged with violating George Floyd's civil rights during his 2020 arrest.
Cedric Hohnstadt illustration via Reuters
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ST. PAUL -- A second day of testimony wrapped up Tuesday in the federal trial of three ex-Minneapolis police officers charged with violating George Floyd's constitutional rights, with jurors watching police body camera footage of the officers confronting and then subduing Floyd.

Floyd died on May 25, 2020, after officer Derek Chauvin, who was convicted of murder in state court and pleaded guilty to federal charges, kept his knee pressed on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes as the man lay handcuffed and pinned face down on the street, pleading that he couldn’t breathe.

Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng are federally charged for violating Floyd’s civil rights. Thao and Kueng are also charged with failing to intervene with Chauvin’s use of force and all three former officers are charged with failing to provide medical aid to Floyd.

090321.N.MPR.FLOYDTRIAL2.jpg
From left, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao.
Courtesy photos / Hennepin County Sheriff's Office

Judge Paul Magnuson told jurors the trial could last four weeks. The three ex-cops will also face a separate state trial in June on charges they aided and abetted both murder and manslaughter.

Magnuson also ordered that Floyd’s girlfriend Courteney Ross would not be allowed in the courtroom after defense attorney Earl Gray told him that she’d held a recent press conference. She’s also on the witness list for the prosecution.

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‘You can’t win’

In court Tuesday, the 12 jurors and six alternate jurors watched police body camera footage that began with Lane and Kueng responding to the initial call about an alleged counterfeit $20 bill passed at a south Minneapolis store.

Christopher Martin, 20, the cashier who accepted the $20 bill from Floyd at Cup Foods on the day he was killed, told the court that Floyd seemed “high” when he came into Cup Foods that day, and that they talked about sports that Floyd had played.

Martin said he recognized that the bill was fake right away, but that he didn’t think Floyd knew that the bill was fake “because he was high.”

Under questioning by prosecutor Samantha Trepel, Martin said it was store policy at Cup Foods that employees had to cover counterfeit bills they accepted. He said his manager told him two separate times to go to Floyd’s vehicle and tell him to come inside.

Floyd and his companions remained in the vehicle. Martin said his manager told an employee to call police.

Martin testified that he noticed a crowd of six or seven people outside after police arrived. He saw bystanders yelling at Thao to “check his pulse” and Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck. He said Floyd looked “dead.”

He recorded a video on his phone but stopped when he saw Thao push one of his co-workers. Martin said he later erased the video because he “didn’t want to be asked to show other people, because I didn’t want to watch it myself anymore.”

Jena Scurry, a 911 dispatcher with the city of Minneapolis, testified that she saw Chauvin kneeling on Floyd over a surveillance camera and thought maybe the cameras were frozen. She was so concerned about the situation that she called the Minneapolis police sergeant on duty.

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Charles McMillian was the first witness on scene as police restrained Floyd. He testified that he saw Floyd taken out of the truck, handcuffed and walked down the sidewalk by the officers.

“I was telling him to make it easy on himself,” and to get into the squad,” McMillian said. “I was telling him, ‘You can’t win.’”

McMillian said Floyd responded, “I’m not trying to win.”

As Chauvin continued to restrain Floyd on the ground, McMillian said he begged the officers to “leave him breathe,” because a friend of his died in the back of a squad car, “and I didn’t want that to happen to George Floyd.”

The judge told the jury to disregard that answer, and warned prosecutor Allen Slaughter to avoid leading questions.

Prosecutors were frustrated that the court has limited their ability to question McMillian.

Magnuson told prosecutors that he was “very concerned about duplicate, repetitive information coming forward in the evidentiary side of this.”

‘Tragic tale’

In opening arguments Monday, prosecutor Samantha Trepel said the three officers could have saved Floyd's life at the scene that day, but they chose not to. Officers are trained to help people in need, but the three didn't intervene as Floyd slowly died as Chauvin pressed his knee into the man’s neck.

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"You’ll hear that the medical aid that would have saved George Floyd’s life was as simple as that, turning George Floyd on his side so his heart kept beating,” she told jurors.

Defense attorneys described Floyd's death as a tragedy, but not a crime by their clients.

“This case is about a tragic tale, about a rookie officer, less than three shifts into his career as a Minneapolis police officer, that was confronted with a complex rapidly unfolding set of circumstances,” Thomas Plunkett, Kueng’s attorney, told the court.

Plunkett described what happened as an institutional failure of the Minneapolis Police Department — inadequate training, Chauvin’s role as a superior on the scene and confidence in Chauvin, who was Kueng’s field training officer — along with a "confrontational" crowd.

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