During his opening statement Monday, the attorney for the former Minneapolis police officer charged with murder in George Floyd’s death claimed that the crowd of onlookers who witnessed Floyd’s death last May had made the responding officers worry for their safety and diverted their attention from him.
On Tuesday, the defense attorney, Eric Nelson, doubled down. He asked four witnesses, including the teenager who recorded the widely seen video of Floyd being detained, whether they and others in the crowd were angry as they watched Floyd pinned on the pavement by the former officer, Derek Chauvin.
Nelson had a particularly tense exchange with witness Genevieve Hansen, an off-duty firefighter who came across the scene while out for a walk.
Hansen rejected Nelson’s assertion that she “got louder and more frustrated and upset” as the minutes ticked by and Chauvin remained on Floyd’s neck. She responded that she was “more desperate,” adding that she had identified herself as a firefighter. In earlier testimony, Hansen, 27, said she approached the scene and offered to help.
Hansen said she didn’t become angry until after Floyd was loaded into the ambulance “and there was no point in trying to reason with them anymore because they had just killed somebody.”
Nelson pressed Hansen to describe other people in the crowd as “upset or angry.”
A visibly upset Hansen shot back, “I don’t know if you’ve seen anybody be killed, but it’s quite upsetting.”
Hansen was the final witness to testify Tuesday. Of the six people who took the stand, Nelson cross-examined four of them and pushed each to suggest that the crowd of onlookers had been angry. He repeatedly asked them if they themselves shouted at officers or heard others do so.
“Do you recall saying, ‘I dare you to touch me like that. I swear I’ll slap the f— out of both of you’?” Nelson asked Donald Williams II, who can be heard in bystander video cursing at the police officers at the scene and calling them “bums,” after watching as Floyd stopped moving.
“Yeah I did. I meant it,” Williams responded.
“So again, sir, it’s fair to say that you grew angrier and angrier?” Nelson asked.
“No,” Williams replied. “I grew professional and professional. And I stayed in my body.”
“You can’t paint me out to be angry,” Williams added.
Williams, a former wrestler who said he was trained in mixed martial arts, including chokeholds, was among onlookers shouting at Chauvin to get off Floyd. Williams told Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank that he remained at the scene even after Floyd had been taken away by paramedics and called 911 because “I believe I witnessed a murder.” He appeared emotional and wiped his eyes as audio of that call played in court.
Darnella Frazier, who was 17 when she recorded the widely seen cellphone video of Floyd’s arrest that brought international attention to his death, testified that she regretted not physically intervening. But, she said, Chauvin was the one who was ultimately at fault.
“When I look at George Floyd, I look at my dad,” Frazier said. “I look at my brothers. I look at my cousins, my uncles. Because they are all Black. I have a Black father. I have a Black brother. I have Black friends.”
“I look at how that could have been one of them,” she added. “It’s been nights, I stayed up apologizing and apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more and not physically interacting and not saving his life, but it’s like, it’s not what I should have done. It’s what he [Chauvin] should have done.”
Frazier, who was walking to Cup Foods, a convenience store, with her 9-year-old cousin on the night of May 25, was among four witnesses to testify Tuesday who were minors at the time of the incident. She turned 18 last week. The trial judge, Peter Cahill, ruled that Frazier, her 9-year-old cousin and two others could testify off camera but that audio of their testimony would be broadcast live.
Nelson asked Frazier if she would agree that as more people arrived at the scene “voices became louder.”
“As we understood more of what was happening,” Frazier responded. “What we seen is how we reacted. Like you said, the video speaks for itself.”
She also said the crowd of bystanders, which she estimated was 12 to 14 people, grew louder as Floyd “was becoming more unresponsive.”
Chauvin is charged with murder and manslaughter. He and the three other officers who were at the scene — Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao — were fired a day after Floyd’s death. The other three officers, who were charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter, are expected to go to trial in August.
Later Tuesday, another bystander who recorded video, Alyssa Funari, now 18, took the stand. She said she didn’t want to get too close because the situation felt tense. Funari testified that she asked the officers why they were still “on top of” Floyd. She said she did not witness any bystanders being violent or aggressive in any way.
“They were just using their voice,” Funari told Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Erin Eldridge, adding that she observed Thao speaking in a hostile tone and Chauvin “digging his knee” into Floyd’s neck.
Nelson asked Funari whether she had told investigators after the incident that she was “angry.”
“Yes,” she responded. Nelson then asked her if she would agree that to this day, she was angry at what she saw and whether she would describe others in the crowd as angry as well.
Funari said she was angry as she watched Floyd pinned to the pavement and she would assume others were, too.
Under redirect, Eldridge asked Funari whether she had attacked or hit anyone or threatened any of the officers. Funari said she had not.
“So when you say ‘angry,’ what do you mean?” Eldridge asked.
“I was upset because there was nothing that we could do as bystanders, except watch them take this man’s life in front of our eyes,” Funari said.
“And when you say, ‘we,’ were all of you doing what you were doing — meaning not getting physical and not throwing punches or making threats to the officers?” Eldridge asked.
“Correct,” Funari responded.