ST. PAUL — First it was a paramedic, testifying that the officers who restrained George Floyd didn’t call in critical information as his ambulance rushed to the scene where Floyd would soon be pronounced dead. Then it was an off-duty firefighter, recounting her frustration that Floyd obviously “needed help and wasn’t getting it.”
Federal prosecutors building their case against three Minneapolis police officers on trial on charges accusing them of violating Floyd’s civil rights turned Wednesday to a pair of witnesses who testified last year at Derek Chauvin’s trial in which he was convicted of state murder and manslaughter charges.
Genevieve Hansen, a Minneapolis firefighter, was on a walk when she came across Chauvin and officers J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao. Hansen said she could see Floyd’s head being pressed onto the street under Chauvin’s knee as other officers helped hold him down.
“It was just alarming, the amount of people that were on top of one person not moving and handcuffed,” said Hansen, who said she is a trained emergency medical technician. She acknowledged that she got louder and began swearing because Floyd “needed help and he wasn’t getting it.”
Kueng, Lane and Thao are accused of depriving Floyd of his civil rights while acting under government authority in the killing that triggered worldwide protests and a reexamination of racism and policing. Their trial resumes Thursday with more testimony. Chauvin pleaded guilty in December to a federal civil rights charge.
Hansen said she asked Thao — who kept bystanders from intervening — to check Floyd’s pulse. Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back and Lane held his legs, according to prosecutors. Hansen testified that Thao told her something to the effect of, if she were a firefighter, she would know better than to get involved.
Robert Paule, an attorney for Thao, responded by showing Hansen a transcript of an FBI interview in which she said that she wasn’t sure that Thao had any idea what was going on with Floyd and the other officers, who were behind him.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Manda Sertich sought to show jurors that responding paramedics were not given important information, and that Floyd should have been given medical attention immediately.
Paramedic Derek Smith testified that he wasn’t told Floyd wasn’t breathing and had no pulse when officers upgraded the urgency of an ambulance call. Smith said that after he arrived, he could not find a pulse in Floyd’s neck and that his pupils were large, indicating he “was probably deceased.”
On video footage from Lane’s body camera played for jurors, Smith asked Lane what happened. Lane recounted the officers’ response to a 911 call that Floyd tried to use a counterfeit $20 bill at a corner store, and a struggle as Floyd kicked his way out of a squad car. He said officers were “just basically restraining him until you guys got here.” Lane said nothing about Floyd’s medical condition.
Smith agreed with Sertich that CPR should have been started as soon as possible — something the officers were trained to do. Paramedics put Floyd in the ambulance and took him to another location to be treated.
Lane’s attorney, Earl Gray, asked whether Lane was helpful by getting into the ambulance and trying to revive Floyd, including squeezing an air bag to try to ventilate Floyd’s lungs. “In my opinion, he was helpful, yes,” Smith said.
Paule, Thao’s attorney, got Smith to say that he would have not taken Floyd to another location to work on him if it weren’t for the bystanders.
Smith also acknowledged that he was concerned that Floyd might have been in a state of “excited delirium” — a disputed condition in which someone is described as having extraordinary strength, often after taking drugs, having a mental health episode or other health problem.
There is no universally accepted definition of excited delirium and researchers have said it’s not well understood. One 2020 study concluded it is mostly cited as a cause of death when the person was restrained.
Later, Minneapolis Fire Department Capt. Jeremy Norton — who arrived after paramedics had moved Floyd — testified that his department would have started CPR on the scene, and that providing care as early as possible would have been the best chance to save Floyd. A 911 dispatcher testified Tuesday that she would have sent the Fire Department instead of an ambulance if she had known Floyd wasn’t breathing because they could have gotten there faster.
Kueng, who is Black; Lane, who is white; and Thao, who is Hmong American, all are charged for failing to provide Floyd with medical care, while Thao and Kueng face an additional count for failing to stop Chauvin, who is white. Both counts allege the officers’ actions resulted in Floyd’s death.
U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson has said the trial could last four weeks.
Lane, Kueng and Thao also face a separate state trial in June on charges they aided and abetted murder and manslaughter.
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