Off-Duty MN Firefighter Tells Chauvin Trial Jurors of Attempts to Intervene

Minneapolis Firefighter Genevieve Hansen
In this image from video, Minneapolis Firefighter Genevieve Hansen, wipes her eyes as she testifies as Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill presides Tuesday, March 30, 2021, in the trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin, in the May 25, 2020, death of George Floyd at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minn. (Court TV via AP, Pool)

Paul Walsh, Chao Xiong and Rochelle Olson

Star Tribune


MINNEAPOLIS — A Minneapolis firefighter who was off-duty when she came upon the scene of George Floyd’s arrest testified in Derek Chauvin’s murder trial Tuesday that she feared for Floyd’s life and offered to give him emergency medical attention or at least direct the officers to do so.

“He wasn’t moving, and he was cuffed,” Genevieve Hansen said. “Three grown men is a lot … putting their weight on somebody — too much.”

Hansen, 27, a two-year member of the Fire Department, testified that she was out for a walk on a day off and heading home when she came upon the scene at E. 38th Street and Chicago in late May. She circled around and grew immediately concerned.

Hansen said Chauvin appeared “very comfortable with the majority of his weight balanced on top of Mr. Floyd” while pinning him to the pavement with his knee.

“I identified myself right away because I noticed that he needed medical attention. It didn’t take long to notice that he had an altered level of consciousness,” she said. “My attention moved from Mr. Floyd to ‘How can I gain access to this patient and give him medical attention or provide direction to the officers?'”

However, she was repeatedly rebuffed by Officer Tou Thao, who was keeping increasingly agitated bystanders at bay as they pleaded for Chauvin to set Floyd free.

Prosecutor Matthew Frank asked Hansen how she felt being unable to use her training and tend to Floyd.

“There is a man being killed,” she said, “and I would have been able to provide medical attention to the best of my abilities, and this human was not provided that right.”

Hansen said that if given access to Floyd, she would have called for more assistance, then asked for someone to fetch a defibrillator from the nearby Speedway gas station. She also would have checked his airway and looked for a spinal injury “because of all the weight on him.”

“Were you able to do any of those steps?” Frank asked.

“No sir,” she said.

“How did it make you feel?” Frank asked.

“Totally distressed.”

“Were you frustrated?”

“Yes,” Hansen said, beginning to cry.

In his cross-examination of Hansen, defense attorney Eric Nelson raised potential inconsistencies in her testimony compared to previous statements to investigators, such as whether Chauvin had one hand in his pocket, or whether or not she described the bystanders as comprising a “heavy crowd.”

Nelson also reminded Hansen that she earlier described Floyd as a small man, despite his being roughly 6 feet, 3 inches tall and weighing well over 200 pounds.

He asked her whether she ever had a citizen yell at her or tell her she was doing her job wrong while fighting a fire, an apparent allusion to how the bystanders on May 25 were reacting to the tactics being used to detain Floyd. She repeatedly said it would not faze her, because she is confident in her training.

After exchanges with Nelson that grew testy at times, Judge Peter Cahill dismissed the jury for the day and admonished Hansen not to argue, and that it is Nelson’s job to ask her questions.

“You will not argue with the Court, you will not argue with counsel,” Cahill said repeatedly, cutting Hansen off.

Hansen’s testimony resumes Wednesday morning.

But before the lights went out in the courtroom, Cahill summoned in a woman for a verbal reprimand for taking photos near the elevators of the 18th floor, where the trial is located.

Kelley Jackson, a publicist for the teenager who shot the viral video of Floyd’s arrest, took a photo of herself with state Attorney General Keith Ellison as a keepsake. Cahill told her of the ban on such camera use and ordered her to delete the image from anywhere she may have posted it online.

Earlier Tuesday, the teenager who brought before the world’s eyes the events leading to George Floyd’s death last spring testified Tuesday in Derek Chauvin’s murder trial that the ex-Minneapolis police officer had a “cold look, heartless” as Floyd pleaded for his life.

Darnella Frazier began her testimony late Tuesday morning in Hennepin County District Court and immediately fought to keep her emotions in check during questioning about what brought her to that south Minneapolis intersection on May 25, when Floyd was detained before dying that evening.

Now 10 months later, the 18-year-old Frazier was asked in court how being on the scene that night and seeing a white officer pinning a Black man to the pavement has affected her life.

“When I look at George Floyd I look at my dad, I look at my brothers, I look at my cousins, my uncles because they are all Black. I have a Black father, I have Black brothers, I have Black friends. I look at them and how it could have been one of them.”

She added that there have been nights since then when “I’ve stayed up apologizing and apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more and not physically interacting and not saving his life. It’s not what I should have done, it’s what [Chauvin] should have done.”

Many of the jurors had visibly sympathetic expressions when Frazier spoke about apologizing to Floyd. Frazier wept at times, allowing her tears to flow without wiping them away.

Frazier also testified that she viewed Chauvin that night as having a “cold look, heartless. It didn’t seem like he cared.”

The young woman said she was walking with her 9-year-old cousin to the Cup Foods and soon saw Floyd and the police presence. She said he was “terrified, scared, begging for his life.”

She sent her cousin into the store and stood closer to where Chauvin had Floyd pinned. Frazier then took out her cellphone and recorded Chauvin on Floyd’s neck as another officer kept watch over a growing crowd of increasingly angry bystanders.

Asked what she witnessed as she trained her phone on Floyd and Chauvin, Frazier replied: “I heard George Floyd say, ‘I can’t breathe. Please get off me.’ … He cried for his mom. … It seemed like he knew it was over for him. He was suffering.”

Special Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell then showed Frazier a still image of Chauvin from her video as he knelt on Floyd’s neck. He asked her if she recognized him.

“Yes,” whispered Frazier, dressed in a blue pantsuit, her medium-length air worn straight down. “This was the officer that was kneeling on George Floyd’s neck.”

Nelson was brief in his cross-examination, crafting his questions to set the scene as becoming increasingly hostile to the point of creating a potential threat to the officers.

Frazier agreed with Nelson that bystanders were getting louder and more angry, but she added that she didn’t think anyone was ever threatening to Chauvin.

Another bystander who recorded the arrest echoed much of what the other witnesses said they saw, but she also noted that Chauvin added more of his weight onto Floyd’s neck as he struggled under the officer’s knee.

Alyssa Funari, now 18, testified Tuesday afternoon that “I kind of saw him move his knee down more … down onto Mr. Floyd’s neck.”

Funari said she told Chauvin he should get off Floyd while “expressing that I was upset. He wasn’t able to breathe.”

She added that Chauvin was still kneeling while a paramedic checked Floyd’s neck for a pulse and didn’t find one. Assistant Attorney General Erin Eldridge played video Funari filmed with her cellphone as she pleaded with officers to get off Floyd. At one point during testifying, Funari grew emotional.

“Alyssa, why is this difficult for you to talk about?” Eldridge asked.

“It was difficult because I felt like there wasn’t really anything I could do,” she said. “As a bystander I was powerless there, and I was failing to do anything.”

Eldridge asked her why she was so vocal, shouting that Floyd hadn’t moved in “over a minute.”

“I knew time was running out or it had already,” she said. “That he was going to die.”

Nelson focused his questions in large part on whether Funari testified accurately when she said she did not see the officers check Floyd for a pulse. Nelson showed her a transcript of an interview she gave with state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agents, which said she saw checks for a pulse multiple times. She then acknowledged that was indeed the case, but added that the agents “kind of forced the interview onto me.”

A friend of Funari’s, 17-year-old Kaylynn Gilbert, was next to testify, and she gave essentially some of the same account as others before her. She also said that she saw Chauvin press his knee down harder on Floyd’s neck.

“He was like digging his knee into George Floyd’s neck,” Gilbert said, adding that the officer later “did grab his Mace and started shaking it at us. … I didn’t know what was going to happen. … I was scared of Chauvin.”

Nelson declined to cross-examine this witness.

Frazier’s cousin, Judeah Reynolds, briefly took the stand and testified as to what she saw, that Chauvin had his knee on Floyd’s neck until directed to remove it by an ambulance driver.

“I was sad and kind of mad and it felt like it was stopping his breathing and it was hurting him,” she said. Nelson declined cross-examination of the girl, who was then excused.

The second day of testimony began with a key witness picking up where he left off after telling how he repeatedly pleaded with Chauvin to set Floyd free.

Donald Williams II testified Monday that his experience as a mixed martial arts trainer and fighter told him that Chauvin’s “blood choke” was squeezing the life out of Floyd, who died that night after being pinned by the neck under the officer’s knee for more than nine minutes.

Back on the stand Tuesday, he reiterated his concern for Floyd’s life.

Nelson pressed Williams about him growing more angry and threatening the officers at the time. He explained he became irate because the officers “were not listening to anything I was telling him. I felt like I had to speak out for Floyd.”

Tuesday started with Judge Peter Cahill imposing prosecution-requested limits on video and audio coverage of testimony from four witnesses who were minors at the time of Floyd’s death. The four, two of them now adults, will not be shown on the public livestream as they testify, Cahill ruled. However, their voices will be heard other than when they identify themselves upon being sworn in, the judge decided.

“All four of those witnesses do object to that video,” Cahill said. “This is more to give them comfort testifying as witnesses in what is a very high-profile trial.”

The most prominent of the four is Frazier, who turned 18 last week.

Eldridge argued for anonymity of the four witnesses, saying: “This is a very, very public trial; there is a lot of online coverage. … These are children who did not choose to be a part of this case. They’re individuals who happened to be going about their day and happened to see a man die before their eyes.”

Speaking on behalf of a consortium of news media covering the trial, Star Tribune attorney Leita Walker spent most of her time focusing on Frazier.

Walker said that while Frazier is uncomfortable about being in the trial spotlight, “she has been quite public” the entire time since first speaking with the Star Tribune the day after Floyd died. She has distributed her photo to media, recorded a video online after receiving a prestigious national courage award and commented on Facebook about jury selection in the case.

“It’s a little bit farcical to suggest no one knows who she is,” Walker said, an observation that Cahill agreed with before imposing the limitations.

Chauvin is charged with second- and third-degree murder and manslaughter. Three other fired Minneapolis police officers, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Thao, are expected to stand trial together in August on charges of aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.

The 14 jurors, two of them alternates, are diverse beyond the population they were chosen from and cover many decades in age. Six of the jurors are people of color and eight are white. Nine are women, and five are men. Chauvin is white. Floyd was Black.

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