Prosecutors from the Minnesota attorney general’s office have begun their case by calling several people who witnessed the arrest on May 25, 2020: a Minneapolis 911 dispatcher who became alarmed by live police surveillance video of the arrest and a young woman who worked at the gas station across the street who recorded the scene on her cellphone.
During the witness testimony, prosecutors have played videos of the arrest to the jury taken from multiple angles, including the bystanders’ video that shows Chauvin, who is white, pressing his knee into the neck of a dying Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, for about nine minutes.
The footage, which prosecutors say show excessive force, horrified people around the world and led to one of the largest protest movements seen in the United States in decades. Many have held up Floyd’s death as an example of the brutality they say is routinely doled out by U.S. law enforcement in encounters with people of color.
Lawyers for Chauvin, 45, say he followed his police training and is not guilty of the charges of second-degree murder, third-degree murder or second-degree manslaughter.
Donald Williams, eyewitness
Williams is a 33-year-old professional mixed martial arts fighter and father who can be heard on the videos of the arrest of Floyd screaming at Chauvin shortly after Floyd was accused of passing a fake $20 bill.
His is one of the loudest and deepest voices in the videos, and Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill, showing rising impatience, cut off some of Williams’ longer answers when the defense objected that the witness was speculating on the medical cause of Floyd’s death.
“I feel he was in very much danger, to see another man like me being controlled – ,” Williams, who is Black, said of Floyd before the judge interrupted him.
Williams, 33, calls Chauvin a “bum” in the video, accuses him of “enjoying” his restraining of Floyd. He told jurors he believed that Chauvin was using his knee in a “blood choke” on Floyd, a wrestling move to knock an opponent unconscious, and a “shimmy” move to tighten pressure on Floyd’s neck. He told the jury he feared for Floyd’s life.
“You can see his eyes slowly rolling back,” Williams said. “You can see that he’s trying to gasp for air.”
Chauvin’s lawyers have said that Chauvin was distracted from “the care” of Floyd by the angry bystanders. Prosecutors asked Williams whether he heard any bystanders threaten the police, and he said no.
A 911 call Williams made after the arrest was played to the jury. Williams dabbed his eyes with a white tissue as his distressed voice filled the room.
“I believe I witnessed a murder,” Williams told the jury. “So I felt I needed to call the police on the police.”
In a sometimes tense cross-examination, both Chauvin’s lead lawyer, Eric Nelson, and Williams found themselves using their arms to demonstrate different kinds of chokeholds on themselves as Nelson sought to show the jury that Williams has not himself trained police in using force.
Nelson then read aloud some of the obscene insults Williams hurled at Chauvin in the video.
“You call him a ‘tough guy’?” Nelson asked, demanding only a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. “You call him a ‘real man?'”
Williams looked over at Chauvin with a slight smile as each insult was read out.
“You call him a ‘bum’ at least 13 times?” Nelson continued.
“If that’s what you count in the video,” Williams replied with a slight smile, “then that’s what you got: 13.”