Day 3 of Chauvin Trial: Five Takeaways
A witness broke down in sobs as he recounted his memory of George Floyd’s arrest. Jurors watched the fatal incident from the perspective of the police officers’ body cameras.,
Takeaways from the third day of the Derek Chauvin trial.
March 31, 2021, 6:27 p.m. ET
By Will Wright
The grief and guilt of witnesses have been center stage throughout the first three days of the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer accused of killing George Floyd. On Wednesday, the judge temporarily halted the proceedings after a 61-year-old witness broke down in sobs as he recounted his memory of Mr. Floyd’s arrest.
The witness, Charles McMillian, was among several who have spoken through tears on the witness stand. Jurors also heard on Wednesday from Christopher Martin, the 19-year-old Cup Foods employee who first confronted Mr. Floyd about the apparently fake $20 bill that he used to buy cigarettes. Here are Wednesday’s highlights.
If there were any doubts that witnesses of Mr. Floyd’s arrest have been traumatized by what they saw, those suspicions were dispelled on Wednesday. A major focal point of the trial so far has been the scars that the events of May 25 have left on those who were there. The prosecution has used their stories — and the raw emotion that has come with them — to underscore the case they are building against Mr. Chauvin through videos of Mr. Floyd’s arrest. Witnesses have repeatedly said that they believed that Mr. Floyd was in grave danger. And they have shared feelings of helplessness. It is almost always a crime to interfere with officers as they make an arrest, and several witnesses testified that they have struggled with being stuck just feet away from a man who they knew was dying, with no way to help.
The testimony of Mr. Martin, the Cup Foods cashier, gave jurors, for the first time, a clearer understanding of what happened in the store before Mr. Floyd’s arrest. Video footage from the store showed Mr. Floyd walking around and chatting with other shoppers before buying cigarettes. Mr. Martin said he quickly recognized that Mr. Floyd’s $20 bill appeared to be fake. At the urging of his boss, Mr. Martin went outside and asked Mr. Floyd to pay or to come in and talk to the manager. Mr. Floyd refused, and eventually a manager asked another employee to call the police.
Mr. Martin told the court that he felt “disbelief and guilt” when he saw Mr. Chauvin kneeling on Mr. Floyd. He had initially planned to replace the fake $20 bill with a real one of his own, but then changed his mind and told the manager what happened. Had he not taken the bill from Mr. Floyd in the first place, “this could have been avoided,” he said.
Jurors also watched the arrest from the perspective of the police officers’ body cameras. The footage showed officers confronting Mr. Floyd with their weapons drawn as he sat in a car. “Please don’t shoot me,” Mr. Floyd said, crying. Later, officers struggled to put a distressed Mr. Floyd in the back of a police vehicle. Mr. Floyd told them repeatedly that he was claustrophobic and scared, and officers continued to try to force him into the cruiser. Though Mr. Floyd was clearly distraught, he never appeared to pose a threat to the officers. As they pinned him to the ground next to the vehicle, the body cameras captured the words that reverberated around the world last summer: “I can’t breathe.” After a few minutes, Mr. Floyd went silent. “I think he’s passed out,” one officer said. When another officer told Mr. Chauvin that he couldn’t find Mr. Floyd’s pulse, Mr. Chauvin appeared unmoved.
With the body camera footage, the jurors are seeing the arrest of Mr. Floyd from every possible angle. Videos from the viewpoint of the officers are particularly jarring. From the beginning of the interaction, Mr. Floyd appeared not as a threat, but as someone who was scared and helpless. It also shows that officers took no action to address Mr. Floyd’s medical condition as he went limp.