The previous encounter occurred after police stopped a car in which Floyd was riding on May 6, 2019, and the evidence from the traffic stop includes body-camera footage from three officers as well as transcripts of Floyd’s interactions with police and emergency medical workers. The footage shows that Floyd did not immediately comply with police requests to put his hands on the dash or his head — he appears to have been swallowing pills instead — but it also shows that he ultimately complied, that the situation de-escalated quickly, and that he was calmly handcuffed and was then seated in a police car without any violence.
Floyd also immediately showed concern that police officers might shoot him: “Don’t shoot me, man, please. I don’t want to get shot,” he implored. A police officer responded: “I don’t plan on shooting you.”
The evidence, released publicly Thursday, shows that Minneapolis police responded aggressively to Floyd’s noncompliance in 2019 — one officer took out his service weapon and another brandished a taser while trying to get him out of the car — but also that within moments they were engaged in civil conversation with him about what had happened. Later, while in police custody, Floyd acknowledged that he was addicted to painkillers and had swallowed as many as eight Percocet pills — a powerful prescription narcotic; police called for help getting him to a hospital and emergency workers were seriously concerned about his elevated blood pressure, according to transcripts.
Though it carried similarities to his fatal encounter with police this past May, most notably the 2019 incident ended without anyone getting hurt. Four police officers are charged in his death, which resulted after one officer had his knee on Floyd’s neck for several minutes while Floyd was pressed to the ground and said he couldn’t breathe.
Speaking to reporters after the hearing Thursday, Earl Gray, a defense attorney representing one of the former Minneapolis police officers charged in Floyd’s death, said he was pushing to use the footage in trial to argue that prosecutors had presented a “false narrative” about Floyd by portraying him as a law-abiding citizen who was afraid for his life.
“The state is portraying Mr. Floyd as somebody he isn’t,” Gray said.
Hennepin County District Judge Peter A. Cahill denied a prosecution motion that would have kept the transcripts and video footage of the 2019 incident shielded from public view as well as a separate motion that would have instituted a two-day delay on releasing future filings in the case. Prosecutors had argued the delay was necessary to allow counsel to review material potentially prejudicial to a jury before it is disclosed to the public.
On Thursday, Cahill said he would allow the 2019 footage into evidence, describing it as “one small piece of evidence which shows what basically everybody already knows: George Floyd was arrested on another occasion.”
While the footage is now entered as evidence in the case, it is likely to be the subject of future debate over whether it should be shown to a jury in the upcoming trial, currently scheduled for next March.
Floyd’s police custody death sparked worldwide protests and a national reckoning on issues of race, social justice and policing. Derek Chauvin, the officer filmed with this knee on Floyd’s neck, is facing second-degree murder and manslaughter charges in Floyd’s death. Three other officers — J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas K. Lane and Tou Thao — are charged with aiding and abetting.
“He refused to go in the squad car,” Gray said about Floyd and the Memorial Day incident. “He’d be alive today if he had.”
The May 6, 2019, altercation between Floyd and police had been the subject of an extended back and forth between defense attorneys and prosecutors who have argued the incident is irrelevant to the case. The incident first came to light in August, when Gray, an attorney for Lane, mentioned the encounter in a motion to dismiss charges against his client.
Footage released by the court Thursday showed Floyd was a passenger in a car stopped during what an officer described as a narcotics investigation. One officer drew his gun while demanding Floyd show his hands, and another threatened to use a taser when Floyd failed to immediately comply. No shots were fired and the taser was not deployed.
The footage shows Floyd crying as he is pulled from the vehicle and is searched — invoking images of his encounter with police last May before his death. But the footage also shows officers trying to de-escalate the situation, holstering their weapons and asking Floyd to calm down. Floyd is later shown being placed in the back of a squad car and later being escorted into a police precinct.
Officers repeatedly told Floyd to calm down and that he was making a bigger deal of the investigation than was warranted.
While Gray has described the incident as an “arrest,” it is not clear if Floyd was ever formally detained or charged, even though the footage shows officers finding pills in the seat where he had been sitting. According to transcripts, Floyd said he ingested “seven or eight” Percocet pills before officers called an ambulance to take him to the hospital.
Sources close to the prosecution, who were not authorized to speak publicly about the case, have said they were unaware of the incident before Gray disclosed it. Hennepin County, which would have housed Floyd if he were jailed, said in response to a public records request that it had no records of an arrest or detainment, and a spokesman for the county attorney said no case involving the incident was ever referred to their office for prosecution. The Minneapolis Police Department has not yet responded to a public records request about the encounter.
The judge also is considering other major issues in the case, including whether the former officers will be tried jointly and whether the trial should be moved out of Minneapolis. Defense attorneys have asked for a change of venue citing concerns about security and the ability to seat an impartial jury.