George Floyd’s girlfriend has cried in court as she told the story of how they first met in 2017 at a Salvation Army shelter where Mr Floyd was a security guard.
Courteney Ross also recounted how they both struggled with opioid addiction on day four of former officer Derek Chauvin’s murder trial.
“Both Floyd and I, our story, it’s a classic story of how many people get addicted to opioids. We both suffered from chronic pain. Mine was in my neck and his was in his back,” Ms Ross said.
She said they “tried really hard to break that addiction many times”.
Prosecutors put the 45-year-old in the witness box as part of an effort to humanise Mr Floyd in front of the jury and portray him as more than a crime statistic, and also apparently explain his drug use to the jurors and perhaps get them to empathise with what he went through.
In other testimony, David Pleoger, a now-retired Minneapolis police sergeant who was on duty the night Mr Floyd died, said that based on his review of the body camera video, officers should have ended their restraint after Mr Floyd stopped resisting.
He also said officers are trained to roll people on their side to help with their breathing after they have been restrained in the prone position.
“When Mr Floyd was no longer offering up any resistance to the officers, they could have ended the restraint,” Mr Pleoger said.
“And that was when he was handcuffed and on the ground and no longer resistant?” prosecutor Steve Schleicher asked.
“Yes,” Mr Ploeger replied.
Chauvin, 45, is charged with murder and manslaughter, accused of killing Mr Floyd by kneeling on the 46-year-old black man’s neck for nine minutes, 29 seconds as he lay face down in handcuffs last May in Minneapolis.
The most serious charge against the now-fired white officer carries up to 40 years in prison.
The defence has argued that Chauvin did what he was trained to do and that Mr Floyd’s death was not caused by the officer’s knee but by Mr Floyd’s illegal drug use, underlying health conditions and the adrenaline flowing through his body.
A post-mortem examination found fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system.
Under cross-examination by Chauvin lawyer Eric Nelson, Ms Ross said Mr Floyd’s pet name for her in his phone was “Mama” – evidence that called into question the widely reported account that Mr Floyd was crying out for his mother as he lay pinned to the pavement.
In some of the video, Mr Floyd can be heard calling out “Mama!” repeatedly and saying, “Mama, I love you! … Tell my kids I love them.”
In her evidence, Ms Ross described how both she and Mr Floyd struggled with their addiction to painkillers throughout their relationship.
She said they both had prescriptions, and when those ran out, they took the prescriptions of others and also used illegal drugs.
”Addiction, in my opinion, is a lifelong struggle. … It’s not something that just kind of comes and goes. It’s something I’ll deal with forever,” she said.
In March 2020, Ms Ross drove Mr Floyd to hospital because he was in extreme stomach pain, and she later learned he overdosed.
In the months that followed, Ms Ross said, she and Mr Floyd spent a lot of time together during the coronavirus quarantine, and Mr Floyd was clean during that time.
But she suspected he began using again about two weeks before his death because his behaviour changed: she said there would be times when he would be up and bouncing around, and other times when he would be unintelligible.
Ms Ross began by telling how the two of them met.
“May I tell the story?” she asked. “It’s one of my favourite stories to tell.”
Ms Ross said she had gone to the shelter because her sons’ father was staying there.
She said she became upset because the father was not coming to the lobby to discuss their son’s birthday.
Mr Floyd came over to check on her.
“Floyd has this great Southern voice, raspy. He was like, ‘Sis, you OK, sis?’” Ms Ross recalled.
“I was tired. We’ve been through so much, my sons and I, and (for) this kind person just to come up and say, ‘Can I pray with you?’ … it was so sweet. At the time, I had lost a lot of faith in God.”
Also on Thursday, a paramedic who arrived on the scene that day testified that the first call was a Code 2, for someone with a mouth injury, but it was upgraded a minute-and-a-half later to Code 3, a life-threatening incident that led them to turn on the lights and siren.
Seth Bravinder said he saw no signs that Mr Floyd was breathing or moving, and it appeared he was in cardiac arrest.
A second paramedic, Derek Smith, testified that he checked for a pulse and could not detect one: “In layman’s terms? I thought he was dead.”
Mr Bravinder said they loaded Mr Floyd into the ambulance so he could get care “in an optimum environment,” but also because bystanders “appeared very upset on the sidewalk” and there was some yelling. “In my mind at least, we wanted to get away from that,” he said.
Mr Smith likewise said there were “multiple people” with “multiple cellphones out” and “it didn’t feel like a welcoming environment”.
Chauvin’s lawyer has argued that the police on the scene were distracted by what they perceived as a growing and increasingly hostile crowd. Video showed around 15 onlookers not far from where Mr Floyd lay on the pavement.
Mr Bravinder said after he drove the ambulance three blocks and jumped in the back to help his partner, a monitor showed that Floyd had flatlined — his heart had stopped. He said they were never able to restore a pulse.
On cross-examination, Chauvin’s lawyer questioned why the ambulance did not go straight to the hospital, and he pressed Mr Smith on Mr Floyd’s condition as he lay on the pavement, in an apparent attempt to plant doubt as to whether Chauvin was directly responsible for his death.
The paramedic expressed himself in blunt terms that Mr Floyd was “dead” or “deceased.”