Scott Johnson reacts to bizarre testimonies in Derek Chauvin trial

I’m not sure why, but the witnesses were allowed to testify to the effect of the incident on them.

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin and his attorney, Eric Nelson, in the courtroom. (YouTube screenshot)

(Power Line) — Minnesota martial arts practitioner Donald Williams returned to the stand and concluded testimony that began Monday afternoon. He reiterated his observations culminating in Floyd’s death: tremendous pain in Floyd’s face, his eyes rolling back in his head, his mouth open, drooling, gasping for air. All the while Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck, Williams’s “energy” did not let him feel he could intervene. After Floyd was loaded into the ambulance, Williams called 911, believing he had witnessed a murder.

The scope Judge Cahill afforded Williams on direct examination required penetrating cross examination. I didn’t think defense counsel Eric Nelson rose to the occasion either in his attempts to distinguish mixed martial arts from police restraint or in his recitation of the vulgar names Williams had called Chauvin as Floyd lay prone under Chauvin’s knee. Like the bystanders who followed Williams to the stand, I thought Williams’s anger was understandable given his perception of what he had witnessed.

Williams drew on his training in mixed martial arts to speak with authority on the issues in the case. He referred to his education at “the academy” (of mixed martial arts) and his experience in the ring as “an artist.”

An attorney friend wrote me to comment on Judge Cahill’s admission of Williams’s testimony about chokeholds and related issues. He thought Judge Cahill should not have allowed it, but suggested that Nelson’s cross should have pounded away at key points:

The easy stuff — you are not a physician, not a pathologist, have never seen anyone asphyxiated … 

You have never conducted an autopsy and have no idea how to do one.

In your opinion did you assume that Floyd’s breathing was normal before he was restrained by Chauvin?

Did you assume his lung function was normal?

Did you consider whether he was suffering from fentanyl intoxication?

Did you consider whether his lungs had an abnormal amount of fluid in them due to fentanyl and were not functioning properly?

Mr. MMA you understand that here in Hennepin County when anyone dies under suspicious circumstances the County Examiner, who is a pathologist, conducts an autopsy?

You are not asking this jury to consider your opinion of the cause of the death of Mr. Floyd as equal in weight to the official autopsy by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner.

The point is that Williams’s pretensions to expertise should have been punctured on cross. I don’t think Nelson put up a fight on the basic points.

After Williams we heard from five more bystanders whom I want to take up as a group:

1. Examined by Jerry Blackwell, Darnella Frazier just turned 18. She is the teenager who recorded the video that approximately everyone saw after she disseminated it via Facebook. The prosecution took her testimony as an opportunity to review the video. She was choked with emotion throughout her direct examination. After Nelson asked her on cross whether the video had changed her life — why? I don’t know — Blackwell had her fill out the details on redirect. She sees Floyd as her father, her cousins, her brothers, her uncles, her friends, because they are all black. “And I look at that and I look at how that could have been one of them. It’s been nights I stayed up apologizing and, and apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more …”

2. Darnella’s nine-year-old cousin Judea testified briefly without cross examination. Judea can be seen in photos and stills with Darnella. She was wearing a t-shirt with LOVE printed on it. Judea saw Chauvin with his knee on Floyd’s neck. What she saw made her “sad and kinda mad.”

3. Examined by Assistant Attorney General Erin Eldridge, Alyssa is another 18-year-old bystander who recorded video of the scene. She lives in the neighborhood and went to Cup Foods with her friend Kailyn to buy snacks and an aux cord for her car. She saw Chauvin with his knee on Floyd’s neck, and two other officers holding him down. Alyssa’s testimony gave the prosecution another opportunity to play video of the incident.

“At first he was vocal, and then he got less vocal,” she said. “You could tell he was talking with smaller and smaller breaths, and he would spit a little when he talked, and he tried to move his head because he was uncomfortable.” She described Floyd’s descent into unconsciousness: “You could see in his face that he was slowly not being able to breathe, his eyes were rolling back, and at one point he just kind of sat there,” she said. “Or laid there.” Talking about it with difficulty, she cried. “It was difficult because I felt like there wasn’t really anything that I could do as a bystander,” she said. “I felt like I was failing him.”

4. Examined by Eldridge, Alyssa’s friend Kailyn accompanied Alyssa to Cup Foods on May 25. She lent Alyssa the cell phone she used to record her video of the incident. Alyssa asked her to remain in the car. A “gut feeling” prompted her to get out of the car. She heard Floyd calling out from under Chauvin’s knee. She felt that Chauvin’s restraint of Floyd wasn’t needed. She had a gut feeling Floyd was dead before the ambulance arrived. Seeing Chauvin reach for his Mace in response to the bystanders, she was afraid of him. Nelson passed on cross examination.

5. Examined by Deputy Attorney General Matthew Frank, the last witness of the day was Minneapolis firefighter and EMT Genevieve Hansen. Her testimony continued this morning. She lives in the neighborhood of Cup Foods and was on a walk when she happened on the scene. She too took a video on the scene and called 911 after the ambulance left the scene to complain about the officers’ treatment of Floyd. It is evident that she is heavily invested in Chauvin’s conviction.

She walked around the scene after her arrival. She saw the officers restraining Floyd. She was concerned because he wasn’t moving and he was cuffed, with three men restraining him. His face was swollen and smashed into the ground. She noticed fluid coming from his body. She assessed Floyd as having an altered consciousness in which he was oblivious to painful stimuli. She identified herself as an EMT and wanted to render medical assistance. She wanted Floyd’s pulse to be taken. She is “totally distressed” that she was unable to do so.

Nelson began his cross examination. Among the points he made was that she didn’t know that the officers had already requested Code 3 medical assistance on the scene before Hansen arrived. Hansen said she didn’t believe it.

She is an argumentative witness, to say the least. She argued with Nelson. She argued with Judge Cahill. When she refused to relent, Judge Cahill excused her to return this morning. I’m embedding the two-hour video of Hansen’s testimony yesterday below. It begins at about 5:00 with Hansen’s video and the recording of her 911 call. Nelson’s cross begins at about 1:09:30.

The testimony of these bystander witnesses featured videos and photographs of the incident. The testimony was raw and emotional. I’m not sure why, but the witnesses were allowed to testify to the effect of the incident on them. I didn’t think that Nelson found a productive line of cross examination on either Darnella or Alyssa. Hansen is another story.

Scott Johnson
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Scott W. Johnson is a Minneapolis attorney who writes for Power Line and serves on the board of Alpha News.