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Chauvin Trial: Witnesses Describe Officers' Fatal Detention Of George Floyd

Two bystanders, testifying for the prosecution, described what they witnessed in the fatal interaction between George Floyd and Minneapolis Police in testimony Wednesday during the murder trial of former officer Derek Chauvin.

Chauvin is charged in the May 25, 2020, death of Floyd.

Charles McMillian, 61, lives in Minneapolis near Cup Foods.

He was driving his van by Cup Foods when he saw police officers next to Floyd's SUV.

He immediately pulled over. When asked why, he replied, "Being nosy... in the neighborhood, I'm a nosy person."

From the Cup Foods side of the street, McMillian started watching. He saw an officer ask Floyd to get out of the truck. Another officer walked up. McMillian saw Floyd in handcuffs being walked across the street, and then the officers sitting him down. He could not hear the conversation.

Then officers got Floyd up off the sidewalk and toward Cup Foods. McMillian kept watching as they moved Floyd to the squad car.

McMillian was talking to Floyd as the officers tried to get him in the car, saying something to the effect that he should just go with the officers in the car, that "you can't win." He says he was trying to help make the situation easier.

Video showed Floyd getting increasingly frantic and saying he's claustrophobic as the officers tried to push him into the car. "I can't breathe," Floyd says repeatedly.

More officers arrived.

McMillian says he had seen Chauvin around the community. Five days earlier, McMillian had interacted with Chauvin, telling him that at the end of the day, everyone wants to go home to their families safe.

McMillian began to cry as the video of Floyd saying "Mama, Mama!" and "I can't breathe" is played.

"I feel helpless," McMillian explained. The court took a short break so he could collect himself.

McMillian said that as the officers were holding Floyd down, Floyd appeared to be "in and out" and with white foam around his mouth. He heard Floyd keep asking to be let up.

"Even I said to the officer, I said, 'man, he said he can't breathe.' They said, 'if he keep talking, well, he can breathe,'" McMillian said.

McMillian says he understood Floyd's statements — that he couldn't breathe, that his stomach hurt — to indicate that "he was in trouble" and going to die.

He did not see Chauvin or other officers give CPR or medical attention to Floyd at any point. Chauvin did not remove his knee from Floyd's neck until the ambulance arrived, McMillian said.

"When the paramedics arrived for Mr. Floyd, I knew then in my mind and in my instinct, it was over for Mr. Floyd. That he was dead," McMillian said.

Prosecutors played new video from Chauvin's body camera that showed Chauvin explain to McMillian why he restrained Floyd.

"We got to control this guy because he's a sizable guy, and it looks like he is probably on something," Chauvin said on the recording.

Christopher Belfrey, 45, said he and his fiancée drove his car to pick up food at Cup Foods, and he parked right behind George Floyd's SUV.

Prosecution witness Christopher Belfrey answered questions on Wednesday.
Court TV / AP
Prosecution witness Christopher Belfrey answered questions on Wednesday.

Belfrey told the court that he watched as two police officers crossed the street from the Cup Foods corner to the vehicle in front of him.

"One officer drew a handgun and opened the door, and pointed the gun at whoever was in the driver's seat."

It startled him, Belfrey said. But he added that when he saw the officer raise his gun, "I started recording."

Those first two officers on the scene were Thomas Lane, who initially approached Floyd's side of the SUV, and J. Alexander Kueng, who went to the passenger side.

Belfrey stopped recording video moments later, he told Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank, when he heard "more sirens pulling up" to the scene.

"I didn't want to be trapped in between the whole commotion of what's going on," he said, adding, "I didn't know exactly what was going on."

At that point, he said, he moved his car across the street.

The video Belfrey took was then played in court, showing one officer standing on each side of Floyd's vehicle.

In the footage, Lane, the officer at Floyd's door, holsters his weapon before attempting to pull Floyd out of the SUV. The other officer, Kueng, then comes from behind the SUV to help, and the sounds of yelling can be heard. The officers' names were not used in court; they were fired along with Chauvin last year and are now facing charges of aiding and abetting.

When Belfrey asked what he heard, he said the officers seemed to be yelling for Floyd to show his hands. Floyd, he said, seemed to be yelling, "'I've been shot before. Please don't,' or something like that."

Once Belfrey was across the street, he resumed recording what he was seeing. Around the same time, his fiancée, had come back out from the store, bringing their food with her.

That second video was also played in court, without any audio. The footage shows Floyd sitting on the ground with his back to a wall, his hands restrained behind his back while an officer stood over him. The officer then helps bring Floyd to his feet, and the two speak to another officer. The video ends soon afterward.

When asked why he stopped recording, Belfrey said he felt a little scared and nervous.

"One of the officers kept staring at me" while he was recording, Belfrey said.

By the time Belfrey started to drive away, he said, he saw the officers walk Floyd back across the street toward Cup Foods to put him in the back of a patrol vehicle.

"I thought he was detained," he said. "I thought it was over, so I kept on going home."

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.