George Floyd’s girlfriend takes the stand; Chauvin’s supervisor says restraint should have stopped sooner

By: - April 2, 2021 7:45 am

George Floyd’s girlfriend Courteney Ross spoke about their relationship and struggles with addiction to pain killers in the trial of Derek Chauvin on April 1.

The fourth day of testimony in Derek Chauvin’s trial revolved around George Floyd’s drug use and two paramedics’ conclusion that Floyd was dead by the time their ambulance arrived on the scene at Cup Foods.

Takeaways from the trial Thursday:

Floyd’s girlfriend acknowledges their opioid addiction

George Floyd’s girlfriend, Courteney Ross, 45, gave jurors a glimpse into the life of the man she called “Floyd” — beyond the video the world has seen of his head being pressed into pavement.

Ross, who lives in northeast Minneapolis, told jurors how she met Floyd in 2017 at the Salvation Army Harbor Light Center, a shelter for people experiencing homelessness.

She was distraught over family issues. Floyd, who worked as a security guard at the shelter, asked in his “great, deep Southern voice, sis, you OK sis?”

“And I wasn’t OK,” Ross said.

He asked if he could pray with her.

“I was tired and we’d been through so much, my sons and I,” Ross testified. “He was so nice to just say ‘Can I pray with you?’”

“It was so sweet,” she said. “I had lost a lot of faith in God.”

They later had their first kiss in the lobby of the shelter, and continued dating, off and on, until Floyd’s death in the hands of Minneapolis police last Memorial Day.

He was new to the city, and they went to lakes, the sculpture garden and lots of restaurants.

“It just seemed like I was new to my own city,” she said. “It was an adventure always with him.”

She said he worked out every day and loved all kinds of sports. Floyd also was head of security for the Conga Latin Bistro and nightclub until it shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. Floyd was diagnosed with the virus in March, she said.

When the prosecutor displayed the now-ubiquitous selfie of Floyd that has traveled the world, she broke down crying. She called it a “dad selfie” because the father of two daughters didn’t know how to take a good selfie.

Ross described Floyd as a “momma’s boy” who was crushed when his mom died in May 2018.

“He was broken,” she said. “He seemed so sad. He didn’t have the same kind of bounce that he had.”

She also acknowledged the dark side of their relationship: opioid addiction. They both got addicted after being prescribed medication for chronic pain. They typically took Oxycontin or Oxycodone pills, she said.

“We got addicted and tried really hard to break that addiction many times,” Ross said.

She testified that on March 6, 2020, she picked up Floyd from his duplex in St. Louis Park to take him to work, but he was doubled over in pain, so she took him to an emergency room, where he later overdosed and remained hospitalized for five days. Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, said he overdosed on heroin.

After that, Floyd stayed clean until about two weeks before his death, when Ross said he began taking stimulants that would make him “bounce around” and become unintelligible. She tried them, too, and said they made her jittery and unable to sleep.

Nelson pressed Ross as to whether she knew Floyd bought the stimulants from dealer Morries Hall — who was with Floyd the day he went to Cup Foods. Nelson said she also speculated to investigators that he may have gotten drugs from Shawanda Hill, the back seat passenger in the SUV Floyd was driving that day.

Paramedic: ‘There’s no reason (MPD) couldn’t have started chest compressions’  

Hennepin County paramedic Seth Bravinder told jurors that when he and his partner pulled up to Cup Foods, Floyd didn’t appear to be breathing or moving, with three police officers still on top of him.

His partner, Derek Smith, checked Floyd’s neck for a pulse and couldn’t find one.

“In lay terms, I thought he was dead,” Smith testified.

Smith said Floyd’s pupils were dilated when he first checked him at the scene. Pupils are normally small in overdoses, he said.

They decided to load Floyd into the ambulance and take him to a few blocks away to try to resuscitate him because their equipment was inside the ambulance, firefighter-paramedics hadn’t yet arrived to help and the crowd was restive. Officer Thomas Lane went with them in the ambulance.

Bravinder is the person who finally got Chauvin to remove his knee from Floyd’s neck, nudging him to move it so they could put Floyd on a stretcher.

While en route to 36th Street and Park Avenue, Smith said he had officer Lane begin chest compressions as he prepared to try to resuscitate Floyd. When they stopped the ambulance, Smith said Floyd had asystole — or flatlined — the most serious form of cardiac arrest and usually irreversible.

Nelson suggested they stopped the ambulance there so Bravinder could take over for Lane, but Smith said, “Not to take over — we needed everybody we could at that time.”

“Why didn’t you just have the officer help you continue so you could go straight to the hospital?” Nelson said.

“That’s not what we do,” Smith said.

“Is it because he’s not an EMT?” Nelson said.

“Any lay person can do chest compressions,” Smith said. “There’s no reason Minneapolis (Police) couldn’t have started chest compressions.”

Fire captain reported a man was killed

Minneapolis Fire Department Capt. Jeremy Norton was on the fire truck dispatched to Cup Foods, but by the time they arrived, Floyd had already been taken away.

But Norton didn’t know that, and testified Thursday that he walked into Cup Foods looking for a patient. In the store, he spoke with off-duty firefighter Genevieve Hansen, who had witnessed much of the incident and was “agitated to distraught.” She testified Wednesday.

Once Norton met up with the ambulance at 36th and Park and saw Floyd’s condition, he understood why Hansen was so upset, he testified. He took over for Officer Lane in the ambulance.

After leaving the hospital where Floyd was pronounced dead, he reported to fire officials that a man had been killed, and an off-duty firefighter was a witness, he testified.

Chauvin’s supervisor: Excessive force was used

Minneapolis Police Sgt. David Pleoger was the 3rd Precinct supervisor that night, and first heard something was amiss from a dispatcher who saw the scene on a street camera.

Pleoger called Chauvin on his cell phone. Chauvin was in his squad car and said a man had become combative as officers were putting him in a squad car and injured his nose or mouth, then suffered a medical emergency that required an ambulance.

Chauvin told him “something about holding somebody down,” Pleoger testified, but nothing about a knee on a neck.

Under questioning by the prosecutor, Pleoger said once someone is handcuffed and no longer resisting, such restraint should stop.

Once Pleoger arrived on the scene, officers Lane and J. Alexander Kueng told him Floyd was handcuffed and an ambulance had taken Floyd to the Hennepin County Medical Center. Pleoger told Lane and Kueng to gather witnesses and told Chauvin and officer Tou Thao to go to HCMC.

Once at the hospital, Pleoger saw hospital staff working on Floyd. Chauvin and Thao arrived, and Pleoger asked Chauvin if they used any other force. That’s when he first learned Chauvin had knelt on Floyd’s neck.

Once they learned Floyd had died, it became a “critical incident,” in which the scene is secured and officers are separated and questioned at city hall.

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter is a freelance journalist who has covered state and local government in four states over the past three decades.