Derek Chauvin's supervisory sergeant detailed to jurors Thursday afternoon the immediate aftermath of George Floyd's death as word of the incident spread through Police Department administration.
Retired Third Precinct Sgt. David Pleoger fielded concerns through 911 dispatch on May 25 about possible excessive use of force by officers while detaining Floyd, and his initial assessment was that it sounded more like a less serious "takedown," according to dispatch audio from that night. He then headed to the scene while questioning Chauvin on what happened.
"Not really, but had to hold the guy down, he was going crazy … wouldn't go in the back of the squad," Chauvin is heard telling his sergeant over the phone on his supervisor's body-worn camera.
Pleoger then testified that Chauvin did not immediately tell him that he placed his knee on Floyd's neck. And when Chauvin made that disclosure later that night, he did not say for how long, the sergeant added.
The sergeant, who reviewed officers' body-worn camera video, was asked when use of force against Floyd should have ended. He replied: "When Mr. Floyd was no longer offering up any resistance to the officers, they could have ended their restraint."
Was that when Floyd was handcuffed and on the ground, prosecutor Steve Schleicher asked? "Yes," Pleoger replied.
Pleoger also testified that he was told by Chauvin that Floyd "became combative … after struggling with him. He suffered a medical emergency and an ambulance was called."
Asked whether Chauvin mentioned any use of force, Pleoger said he recalled, "I don't believe so."
Body-camera footage from the scene captured Pleoger instructing Chauvin and officers Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng to speak with witnesses.
"We can try, they're all pretty hostile," Chauvin said.
Pleoger then headed to HCMC and instructed Chauvin and Thao to do the same. Once there, he eventually learned Floyd had died and the situation was now a "critical incident."
Pleoger said he spoke with Chauvin at HCMC that night, and it was then that he learned the officer had his knee on Floyd's neck, but Chauvin did not disclose how long that contact lasted. He notified the lieutenant on duty and separated Chauvin and Thao for interviews.
Pleoger said he asked Chauvin whether other force was used.
"He said he knelt on Floyd or knelt on his neck," Pleoger testified.
"Is that the first time you became aware that force had been applied to George Floyd's neck?" Schleicher asked.
"Yes," he said.
"Did the defendant tell you how long he applied pressure to his neck?"
"And at some point, did you receive another update on Floyd's medical condition?"
"Someone approached me and let me know that he passed away."
Defense attorney Eric Nelson established while questioning Pleoger that the sergeant has made thousands of arrests in his long career and sometimes used force.
"Would you agree with the general premise that the use of force is "not necessarily attractive [and] sometimes officers have to do very violent things [and] it's a dangerous job?" Pleoger replied, "Yes."
Nelson also again hinted at the argument that the officers were concerned about the angry bystanders when he asked whether it was more important to deal with the immediate threat than a medical emergency. Pleoger said he would try to deal with both simultaneously.
"For example, if you were in a gun battle, and someone was shooting at you, and someone went into cardiac arrest, would you stop what you were doing to mitigate the threat or to immediately perform CPR?" Nelson asked.
"I'd mitigate the threat," Pleoger said.
The what to do and when kept up as the two sides wrapped up their questioning of Pleoger at the end of the day's proceedings.
The sergeant agreed with prosecutor Steve Schleicher that if a suspect is no longer resisting, then police restraint is not long needed. Pleoger's answers were the same should a suspect no longer have a pulse or stopped breathing.
And also stop restraining a suspect who is no longer resisting in order "to render medical attention?" Schleicher asked. Again, the sergeant said, "Yes."
Nelson followed and got Pleoger to agree that giving medical aid on the spot might not be wise if there was an especially agitated crowd nearby or if a suspect were in a busy street "with buses and cars going by." Both those circumstances, Nelson has suggested during the trial, were present during Floyd's arrest.
In general, the defense attorney said, officers need to assess "the totality of the circumstances and not just one single factor." The sergeant again agreed with Nelson.
Earlier Thursday, one of the paramedics who responded to the scene where Floyd lay unresponsive under Chauvin's knee testified that he immediately suspected Floyd was dead.
Hennepin EMS paramedic Derek Smith testified that he checked Floyd's pulse while three officers were on the patient, and he did not detect one. He also checked his pupils, which were dilated.
"I looked to my partner, I told him 'I think he's dead, and I want to move this out of here and begin care in the back,' " Smith said, noting the agitated crowd of bystanders. "In a living person, there should be a pulse there. I did not feel one. I suspected this patient to be dead."
However, they continued to work on Floyd in the rear of the ambulance, including directing Officer Lane to deliver chest compressions while they attempted various lifesaving attempts en route to HCMC, where Floyd was later officially pronounced dead.
Smith said Floyd never regained a pulse, but they continued attempting to save him.
"He's a human," Smith said. "I was trying to give him a second chance at life."
Under cross examination, defense attorney Nelson asked Smith why he had Lane do chest compressions when he is not an EMT. Smith said he did not know Lane's level of training, but that "any layperson can do chest compressions."
"I wanted as many people who were available at that time to help me with this cardiac arrest," Smith said.
Next to testify was Fire Capt. Jeremy Norton, who rode the firetruck from his station to Cup Foods only to find no patient there, but he encountered an "agitated to distraught" off-duty firefighter, Genevieve Hansen, and other bystanders. However, Norton said, he inquired more about her concerns as he kept searching for a patient.
While still looking, Norton soon learned over his radio that he and his rig were needed elsewhere immediately for someone injured "in a scuffle with the police, or a situation with the police." The firefighters then met up with the ambulance holding Floyd at E. 36th Street and S. Park Avenue, where he saw the man being treated by paramedics using all available medical tools.
"He was an unresponsive body on a cot," Norton said of Floyd.
"We did multiple pulse checks" and never found a pulse all the way to HCMC, he said.
With the call complete, Norton said he turned his attention back to Hansen, the off-duty firefighter.
He said that once "I understood the justification for her duress, I sent my crew back to her to make sure she was OK."
Norton said he also checked in with department administration that night and reported that Floyd "had been killed in police custody."
Nelson followed the prosecution and went over the times of the various emergency calls in connection with fire and EMS personnel responses but otherwise raised no other points for Norton to address.
Earlier in the day, George Floyd's girlfriend described through tears to jurors that her relationship of nearly three years with him leading up to his death, acknowledging that they both struggled with opioid addiction.
Courteney Ross, 45, began sobbing as she described how she met her boyfriend, whom she called "Floyd," in August 2017 while he was working security at the Salvation Army Harbor Light shelter in downtown Minneapolis.
Ross said she was at the shelter to meet her son's father.
"I started fussin' in the corner of the lobby" because the father wasn't coming to the lobby, she said. That's when the two met, she said, dabbing tears.
"You OK, sis?" she recalled him saying in his "great, deep Southern voice, raspy." They met again soon and had their first kiss in that lobby, she said.
After describing her life with Floyd, prosecutor Matthew Frank shifted his questioning to their opioid addiction, which she said was triggered by chronic pain. Both had prescriptions and became addicted, then obtaining the drugs off the street. She said he typically used oxycodone. They obtained them through other people's prescriptions to ensure that they were safe.
"Both Floyd and I, our story is a classic story is of how we both get addicted to opioids," she testified. " ... We got addicted and tried really hard to break that addiction many times."
She said that off and on they were able to kick the addiction, by May 2020 she believed he was using again, based on changes in his behavior.
Questioning by Nelson focused on Floyd's drug use starting in March 2020 and closer to his death in May. The defense has contended that illicit drug use played a role in Floyd dying and not anything Chauvin did to him on May 25.
Ross said she and Floyd got pills in May that reminded her of "the same feeling" she had from similar pills she took in March, a stimulant that kept her up all night and left her jittery.
"And by similar experience, do you recall telling the FBI that when you had them that you felt like you were going to die?" Nelson asked.
Ross said she didn't recall saying that, but that it was in her FBI transcript.
Nelson asked whether those pills came from Morries Hall, who was with Floyd outside Cup Foods on the night he was arrested and died.
"I believe so, I'm not sure," said Ross, who did acknowledge having told the FBI that those pills left Floyd "bouncing around and unintelligible."
Under questioning by Nelson, she also recounted that in March she took Floyd to the hospital after he was "doubled over in pain" because his stomach hurt. He was hospitalized for several days.
"You later learned that was due to an overdose?" Nelson asked.
"Yes," Ross said.
"Did you learn what caused the overdose?"
"You did not know that he had taken heroin at that time?" Nelson asked.
Ross responded that she did not.
Ross was followed by Hennepin EMS paramedic Seth Bravinder, who walked jurors through their attempts to resuscitate Floyd, who was in full cardiac arrest and never regenerated a pulse.
Upon arriving to the scene, Bravinder said "there were multiple officers on top of the patient, we assumed — I assumed — there was potentially some struggle still because they were still on top of him."
Bystander footage showed Bravinder and his partner, and the officers lift Floyd onto a stretcher while Bravinder protected his head from hitting the pavement. Asked why, Bravinder said "He was, I guess, limp was the best description; he was unresponsive and not holding his head up or anything like that."
Bravinder and Smith, his partner, loaded Floyd into the ambulance and began working on him. He said full cardiac arrest is "not a good sign for successful resuscitation. Basically, just because your heart isn't doing anything at that moment, it's not pumping blood. It's not a good sign for a good outcome."
Nelson's questions addressed in part the gathering crowd at 38th and Chicago and noted that Floyd was moved quickly in the ambulance to a different location before continuing on to HCMC. The defense earlier in the trial has touched on how bystanders might have created an atmosphere that was potentially threatening to the officers at the scene.
Bravinder agreed with Nelson that Floyd needed to be moved in what is called a "load and go" to a spot a few blocks away, where Fire Department personnel joined in the resuscitation effort. From there, the trip resumed to HCMC.
Prosecutor Erin Eldridge countered and asked what other reasons are there for leaving an active police scene swiftly, and Bravinder said it's prudent to get the patient "in the ambulance with the [medical] equipment [and to be] in a good environment to concentrate."
Bravinder confirmed under questioning that medics carried ketamine to sedate agitated patients, but that it was not used on Floyd.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482