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Derek Chauvin should not have knelt on George Floyd’s neck after he stopped resisting, former sergeant testifies

Chauvin also failed to immediately tell a supervisor he had knelt on Floyd’s neck, the sergeant said during the fourth day of testimony in the former officer’s murder trial

Former Minneapolis police sergeant David Pleoger testified on March 1 that officers had no reason to use force on Floyd after he stopped resisting. (Video: The Washington Post)

MINNEAPOLIS — Derek Chauvin should not have knelt on George Floyd’s neck after he stopped resisting, a former supervisor testified Thursday.

Chauvin also did not immediately tell the supervisor that he had knelt on Floyd’s neck while restraining him during a police investigation — waiting more than 30 minutes until he stood outside the hospital emergency room where Floyd remained unresponsive to disclose the information.

David Pleoger, who was a supervisor in the city’s 3rd Precinct on May 25, 2020, testified that he called Chauvin after getting a call from a concerned 911 dispatcher who was watching a city security camera and saw police holding Floyd on the ground.

“She called to say she didn’t mean to be a snitch, but she’d seen something while viewing a camera that she thought was concerning,” said Pleoger, a retired sergeant.

In a phone conversation partially captured by Chauvin’s body-worn camera, the officer is heard telling Pleoger that the officers “just had to hold the guy down.”

“He was going crazy … wouldn’t go back in the squad,” Chauvin said just before he shut off his body camera.

Pleoger testified that he told Chauvin to turn off his camera — which is allowed for a private conversation — and that the call continued, with Chauvin saying Floyd was “combative.”

Pleoger then went to the scene to investigate.

The former supervisor testified that Chauvin didn’t tell him in that phone conversation or later when he arrived at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue, the intersection where Floyd died, that he had used his knee to pin Floyd to the ground. He said Chauvin told him Floyd had suffered “a medical emergency” while he was being restrained, which led to him being taken away by ambulance.

It was only at the hospital where he, Chauvin and Tou Thao — Chauvin’s partner that night who is also charged in Floyd’s death — had gone to check on Floyd’s condition that Chauvin told him he had knelt on Floyd’s neck.

“He said he knelt on Floyd or knelt on his neck, something of that nature,” Pleoger testified. He told prosecutors that Chauvin did not say how long he had pinned his knee to Floyd’s neck.

Asked his “opinion” on whether that was an appropriate use of force, Pleoger told prosecutors, “When Mr. Floyd was no longer offering up any resistance to the officers, they could have ended the restraint.”

He confirmed that kneeling is a use of force, and that the restraint “should stop” once a subject “is handcuffed and no longer resisting.”

After learning that Floyd had died, Pleoger said he told Chauvin to “get down to 108,” a room in City Hall where officers gathered after a “critical incident.”

Chauvin is charged with second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter after he knelt on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds as the man begged for his life, cried out for breath and ultimately went limp.

The other officers at the scene — Thao, Thomas K. Lane and J. Alexander Kueng — are charged with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter. They are scheduled to stand trial in August.

With Thursday’s accounts, prosecutors began to shift away from the anguished testimony of those who witnessed Floyd’s death to what and who caused it. Proceedings began with emotional testimony from Floyd’s girlfriend, Courteney Ross, who talked about the man she knew and his struggles with opioid addiction, and also included accounts from emergency workers who responded to the scene and found Floyd “dead” beneath Chauvin’s knee.

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Ross, who began dating Floyd in 2017, wept on the witness stand as she recalled for a jury the arc of their three-year relationship, from the first moment she heard the man’s “deep Southern voice” to their shared struggle with an opioid addiction that they had both repeatedly tried to escape.

“Our story, it’s a classic story of how many people get addicted to opioids,” said Ross, 45, describing how they had both become dependent on the powerful pain medication after being prescribed it for injuries.

“We both suffer from chronic pain — mine was in my neck and his was in his back,” Ross testified. “We both had prescriptions. After the prescriptions were filled, we got addicted and tried really hard to break that addiction many times.”

Ross said they bought opioids, mostly oxycodone, off the black market and through street purchases.

“Addiction, in my opinion, is a lifelong struggle and something that we dealt with every day,” she said. “It’s something that doesn’t come and go. It’s something we dealt with forever.”

She also talked about how the 2018 death of Floyd’s mother left him “devastated” and brought about a noticeable change in him.

After Floyd’s mother died and he returned from his native Houston, “he seemed like a shell of himself,” Ross said.

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

Ross recalled the first time she met Floyd. She told the court how she was waiting on her son’s father in the lobby of a Salvation Army shelter when she first noticed a security guard walking up to her. She was upset and tired, but was comforted by the man’s “great, deep Southern voice.”

“He’s like, ‘Sis, are you okay, sis?’ I said, ‘No, I’m just waiting for my son’s father.’ He said, ‘Can I pray with you?’ ” she testified. “I was so tired, and we had been through so much … and this kind person coming up to me saying, ‘Can I pray with you?’ when I felt alone in this lobby, it was so sweet.”

Ross said she had lost faith in God around that time, and that Floyd gave her new life.

Ross was the first person called in the trial who personally knew Floyd. Her testimony was designed not only to humanize Floyd but to contrast the defense narrative of him as out-of-control and dangerous. The talk about his struggle with substance abuse was to establish for the jury his tolerance for opioids as prosecutors begin to challenge Chauvin’s theory of the case.

Chauvin’s defense has argued that Floyd did not die because of the former officer’s knee but rather from a combination of underlying health issues, adrenaline rushing through his body and a drug overdose, citing an autopsy that recorded high levels of fentanyl and other substances in Floyd’s system.

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The Ross said the two tried to stop using several times and went through treatment programs. But in March 2020, they relapsed. Under defense questioning, Ross said Floyd was admitted to the hospital after she had gone to pick him up for work and found him in pain.

She later learned that Floyd had overdosed and said they had taken pills that month that seemed to be different — more of a “stimulant” rather than those they normally took.

She also testified that Floyd had tested positive for the coronavirus in late March 2020.

At the heart of Derek Chauvin’s trial is this question: What killed George Floyd?

Afterward, the jury heard from emergency workers who responded to the scene — including two paramedics who testified that they believed Floyd was dead as they observed him lying motionless under the weight of three police officers.

Derek Smith, a paramedic with Hennepin County EMS, recalled checking Floyd’s pulse, as Chauvin’s knee remained on his neck, and not finding one. He also checked the man’s pupils, which were dilated.

“I looked to my partner. I told him, ‘I think he’s dead,’” Smith testified. “In a living person, there should be a pulse there. I did not feel one.”

Seth Bravinder, another paramedic, said he had already suspected Floyd was dead, just from looking at him, because he wasn’t breathing. The jury was shown video of Bravinder nudging Chauvin to get the officer to remove his knee from Floyd’s neck so that he could be loaded onto a gurney.

Bravinder recalled grabbing Floyd’s head to keep it from slamming onto the pavement because he was “limp.”

Meryl Kornfield, Timothy Bella and Kim Bellware contributed to this report.