David Pleoger, a retired Minneapolis Police Department sergeant, testified Thursday, April 1, that ex-cop Derek Chauvin should have ended his restraint of George Floyd once Floyd was handcuffed, on the ground, and no longer fighting back.
"(It should have ended) when Mr. Floyd was no longer offering up any resistance," said Pleoger, who was Chauvin's supervisor the night of May 25, 2020, when Floyd died after Chauvin held his knee on his neck for more than 9 minutes.
Video shows that Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd's neck for several more minutes after Floyd stopped resisting and was unconscious.
The bombshell testimony came near the end of the fourth day of trial of Chauvin, who faces murder and manslaughter charges in Floyd's death. Because of its significance, the testimony became a source of legal wrangling between prosecution and defense attorneys.
Chauvin's attorney, Eric Nelson, argued that once Floyd died and his death was classified as a "critical incident," the matter became an internal affairs matter and that Pleoger was not involved in gathering statements from witnesses and officers.
But prosecutor Steve Schleicher said the jury was entitled to Pleoger's opinion because he had reviewed footage of the body cameras worn by the police officers involved.
Judge Peter Cahill agreed.
Earlier, Pleoger told the jury it was appropriate for an officer to place a knee on a suspect's neck or back to restrain an out-of-control person, but the technique should end once the suspect is on the ground, handcuffed and no longer combative. But he was speaking more generally then.
Floyd's girlfriend recounts couple's addictions
Also on Thursday, Floyd's girlfriend, Courteney Ross, said she and Floyd both struggled with bouts of opioid addiction during their three-year relationship.
Ross said both of their addictions stemmed from efforts to treat chronic pain and both tried, sometimes successfully, to break their addictions. But there were relapses, too.
"It was something that we dealt with every day," Ross said, describing their drug struggles as a "classic story" of how people become addicted.
Under cross-examination by Nelson, Ross described taking Floyd to the hospital in March 2020 for a drug overdose. Floyd was "doubled over in pain" and "his stomach really hurt." Nelson also asked whether she noticed a "foam building, a dry white substance" around his mouth.
Ross said that she believed that Floyd was using drugs again after several months of being clean following the overdose episode and two weeks before his death.
"I saw some changes in his behavior," Ross said.
As part of his effort at creating reasonable doubt, Nelson is asking questions that suggest that drugs impaired Floyd's health and played a factor in his death. The Hennepin County Medical Examiner's report states Floyd's manner of death was homicide. The prosecution argues that Floyd died of oxygen deficiency, caused by Chauvin holding his knee to Floyd's neck for 9 minutes.
Nelson also argues that a person who overdoses can become violent or aggressive once they wake up and that possibility explains why Chauvin and two other officers stayed on top of Floyd so long.
Ross said that the opioids she and Floyd took came from prescriptions, from friends who had prescriptions and from the "street."
Ross said she would be speculating whether Morries Hall and Shawanda Hill, two individuals who were in the Mercedes-Benz with Floyd the day he died, were supplying Floyd with illicit drugs.
Nelson asked Ross about a purchase of controlled substances she and Floyd made from Hall the week before his death. Ross said she was in a hotel parking lot when the purchase was made, but recalled hearing Hall's voice in the background while talking to Floyd.
Hall has said he will invoke the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination if called to testify.
Ross also described Floyd as a physically fit man who exercised regularly and rebounded from taking drugs.
"He had a lot of energy. He was OK after that (taking pills), playing football, hanging out, eating," she said.
Hennepin County paramedics Seth Bravinder and Derek Smith both took the stand to describe what they saw when they arrived at Cup Foods on May 25, 2020. Smith said he went over to take Floyd's pulse and couldn't find one.
"I thought he was dead," Smith said. The police officers were still on top of him.
The two paramedics continued to work on Floyd in the rear of ambulance, including directing Officer Thomas Lane to deliver chest compressions. Bravinder and Smith tried various lifesaving attempts, but Floyd was later pronounced dead at Hennepin County Medical Center.
Former officers Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao will be tried later this year in connection to Floyd's death.
During cross-examination by Nelson, Nelson asked Smith why he didn't just have the officer help him continue care as they could continue to the hospital.
"That is not what we do," Smith said.
"Is it because he is not an EMT?" Nelson asked.
"Any lay person can do chest compression," Smith said. "There is no reason Minneapolis couldn't have started chest compressions."
Near the end of the day, Nelson described how police officers are constantly taking in new information and adjusting their decisions and tactics based on that information. Chauvin and other officers were dealing with an angry and desperate crowd and that reality caused them to shift their attention away from Floyd.
But in his questioning of Pleoger, Schleicher noted that a crowd of people desperately urging medical attention for someone "doesn't necessarily constitute a danger to the officer." Shouldn't those pleas be considered and push officers to deliver medical services?