A Minneapolis firefighter who witnessed police officers holding George Floyd facedown on a city street testified Wednesday that the three officers on federal trial for allegedly violating Floyd's civil rights ignored her pleas to help administer medical aid to the unresponsive Black man.
Genevieve Hansen was off duty on May 25, 2020, but said she identified herself as a Minneapolis firefighter when saw Floyd on the ground. She testified at the trial of former Officers J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao that she could see Floyd’s head being pressed onto the street under the knee of former Officer Derek Chauvin, while 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 and acknowledged that she got louder and began swearing because Floyd “needed help and he wasn't getting it."
Kueng, Lane and Thao are charged broadly with 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. Chauvin was convicted of state murder and manslaughter charges last year and pleaded guilty 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.
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Robert Paule, an attorney for Thao, showed Hansen a transcript of an interview in which she told the FBI that she wasn’t sure that Thao had any idea what was going on with Floyd and the other officers, who were behind his back. She says she doesn’t remember saying that, but she believes she did if it’s in the transcript.
Whether the officers deprived Floyd of medical aid is a key element to the charges, and 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 that “the patient was probably deceased.”
On video footage from Lane's body camera played for jurors, Smith asks Lane what happened. Lane recounts 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 says officers were “just basically restraining him until you guys got here.” Lane says nothing about Floyd's medical condition.
Sertich got Smith to agree 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. Thank you,” Smith said.
While questioned by Paule, Smith said if the bystanders wouldn't have been there, Smith would have treated Floyd at the scene instead of taking him a few blocks away.
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.
Some medical examiners have attributed in-custody deaths to excited delirium, often in cases where the person had become extremely agitated after taking drugs, having a mental health episode or other health problem. But there is no universally accepted definition and researchers have said it’s not well understood. One 2020 study concluded it is mostly cited as a cause when the person who died was restrained.
Also Wednesday, 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 both murder and manslaughter.
Webber contributed from Fenton, Michigan.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated when Chauvin pleaded guilty to the federal charge. It was December, not November.