MINNEAPOLIS — Through tears, George Floyd’s girlfriend described to jurors in Derek Chauvin’s murder trial her relationship of nearly three years with him leading up to his death, acknowledging that they both struggled with opioid addiction.
Courteney Ross, 45, began sobbing as she described how she met her boyfriend, whom she called “Floyd,” in August 2017 while he was working security at the Salvation Army Harbor Light shelter in downtown Minneapolis.
Ross said she was at the shelter to meet her son’s father.
“I started fussin’ in the corner of the lobby” because the father wasn’t coming to the lobby, she said. That’s when the two met, she said, dabbing tears.
“You OK, sis?” she recalled him saying in his “great, deep Southern voice, raspy.”
They met again soon and had their first kiss in that lobby, she said.
After describing her life with Floyd, prosecutor Matthew Frank shifted his questioning to their opioid addiction, which she said was triggered by chronic pain. Both had prescriptions and became addicted, then obtaining the drugs off the street. She said he typically used oxycodone. They obtained them through other people’s prescriptions to ensure that they were safe.
“Both Floyd and I, our story is a classic story is of how we both get addicted to opioids,” she testified. ” … We got addicted and tried really hard to break that addiction many times.”
She said that off and on they were able to kick the addiction, by May 2020 she believed he was using again, based on changes in his behavior.
Questioning by defense attorney Eric Nelson focused on Floyd’s drug use starting in March 2020 and closer to his death in May. The defense has contended that illicit drug use played a role in Floyd dying and not anything Chauvin did to him on May 25.
Ross said she and Floyd got pills in May that reminded her of “the same feeling” she had from similar pills she took in March, a stimulant that kept her up all night and left her jittery.
“And by similar experience, do you recall telling the FBI that when you had them that you felt like you were going to die?” Nelson asked.
Ross said she didn’t recall saying that, but that it was in her FBI transcript.
Nelson asked whether those pills came from Morries Hall, who was with Floyd outside Cup Foods on the night he was arrested and died.
“I believe so, I’m not sure,” said Ross, who did acknowledge having told the FBI that those pills left Floyd “bouncing around and unintelligible.”
Under questioning by Nelson, she also recounted that in March she took Floyd to the hospital after he was “doubled over in pain” because his stomach hurt. He was hospitalized for several days.
“You later learned that was due to an overdose?” Nelson asked.
“Yes,” Ross said.
“Did you learn what caused the overdose?”
“You did not know that he had taken heroin at that time?” Nelson asked.
Ross responded that she did not.
Wednesday’s testimony before Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill was dominated by two witnesses who gave emotional accounts of being at a south Minneapolis intersection seeing Floyd detained by the neck under Chauvin’s knee until lapsing into unconsciousness.
Until Wednesday’s proceedings in Minneapolis, the public had not heard Chauvin explain what motivated him to restrain Floyd in the way he did outside Cup Foods, a popular neighborhood convenience store.
“We’ve gotta control this guy because he’s a sizable guy; looks like he’s probably on something,” Chauvin is heard saying from the officer’s body-worn camera video that was put into evidence by the prosecution.
Chauvin was speaking to Charles McMillian, a 61-year-old man who started watching when officers arrested Floyd on suspicion of passing fake currency at a corner store and then struggled to get Floyd into the back of a squad car.
McMillian stayed at the scene throughout, and he is heard on various videos played in the courtroom pleading with Floyd as officers strained to push him into the squad car at E. 38th Street and S. Chicago Avenue.
“I’m trying to get him to understand that when you make a mistake, once they get you in handcuffs, there’s no such thing as being claustrophobic, you have to go,” McMillian testified. “I’ve had interactions with officers myself and I realize once you get in the cuffs, you can’t win.”
McMillian kept up his pleas even while Chauvin and two other officers had Floyd pinned to the pavement. They got up once paramedics arrived. Chauvin soon made his way to his squad car, and that’s where McMillian provoked the officer into explaining himself.
“Why did you feel the need to talk to Mr. Chauvin?” prosecutor Erin Eldridge asked McMillian, who earlier needed a break to push aside to tearful grief recounting that night.
He replied: “Because what I watched was wrong.”
Chauvin is on trial for second- and third-degree murder and manslaughter. Fired Minneapolis police officers Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane are scheduled for trial in August on charges of aiding and abetting Chauvin.
Earlier Wednesday, surveillance video was shown from inside the store where Floyd bought cigarettes with the suspected counterfeit currency before his encounter with police.
In the footage disclosed publicly for the first time, Floyd ambled about Cup Foods for several minutes and appeared fidgety at times while chatting with others inside as Christopher Martin, a clerk in the store back then, explained in testimony what was being shown.
Martin, who lived above the store, said Floyd eventually bought cigarettes with a $20 bill. Martin said the color of the bill made him suspicious that it was fake, and he went outside to talk to Floyd twice about it. Eventually, someone called police and that set off the sequence of events that led to Floyd’s arrest and death later that night.
Martin, 19, said store policy meant that he would have to pay for any counterfeit currency he and his co-workers accepted. “I took it anyway and was willing to put it on my tab, and then I second guessed myself,” he said.
Martin said he saw Floyd as he went “motionless, limp” under Chauvin’s knee. Looking back now, a somber Martin testified that he is left now with “disbelief and guilt.”
Why guilt? Prosecutor Matthew Frank asked.
Martin replied: “If I would have just not taken the bill, this could have been avoided.”
(Star Tribune staff writers Rochelle Olson and Chao Xiong contributed to this report.)
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