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On Day 4 Of Chauvin Trial, Focus Became Medical Evidence And George Floyd's Drug Use

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

So far, the murder trial of Derek Chauvin has seen days of emotional testimony from bystanders who watched the former Minneapolis police officer press his knee into George Floyd's neck. The trial took a turn today. Lawyers questioned witnesses about Floyd's drug use and the efforts to resuscitate him. And at the end of the day, we heard from Chauvin's former supervisor. NPR's Adrian Florido is covering the trial in Minneapolis and joins us now.

Hey, Adrian.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: So I understand the first witness to testify today was George Floyd's girlfriend. Why did prosecutors call her to the stand?

FLORIDO: Well, they seemed to be trying to accomplish two things. They wanted to humanize Floyd. But as we learned today, his girlfriend was also someone that George Floyd often used drugs with. And because the defense is going to be focusing a lot on Floyd's drug use, the prosecution seemed to be trying to get ahead of that by acknowledging that Floyd did use drugs and just diving into it.

CHANG: OK, so tell us about her testimony today.

FLORIDO: Well, her name is Courteney Ross. She said she met Floyd in 2017 in the lobby of the Salvation Army, where Floyd worked as a security guard, and that she was having a bad day, she said, and Floyd walked up to her.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

COURTENEY ROSS: Floyd has this great, deep Southern voice - raspy. He was like, sis; you OK, sis? And I wasn't OK. I said, no, I'm just waiting for my son's father. (Crying) Sorry. He said, well, can I pray with you?

FLORIDO: She said their relationship developed quickly after that. They liked taking walks. Because Floyd was such a large man, he ate a lot, so they liked eating out. But she also said they took drugs together - opioids. And she said that started because they both had chronic pain.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROSS: We both had prescriptions. But after prescriptions that were filled - and we got addicted and tried really hard to break that addiction many times.

FLORIDO: She also testified that about three months before he died, Floyd had had an overdose and spent a few days in the hospital.

CHANG: I'm curious. Did Chauvin's defense lawyer press her on this drug use?

FLORIDO: He did. And he was especially interested in something Ross told investigators who are looking into this case after Floyd's death, which is that just a week before Floyd died, she and he had acquired some pills that were highly stimulant and made them jittery.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ERIC NELSON: Do you recall telling the FBI that when you had that, you felt like you were going to die?

ROSS: I don't remember saying that, but I did see it in the transcript.

FLORIDO: So, Ailsa, while prosecutors want the jury to sympathize with Floyd's struggles with drugs, the defense seems to be trying to draw a line from his drug use to his panic and the struggle that he put up when officers tried to arrest him to ultimately argue that it was the drugs that an autopsy found in his system and not Chauvin's knee that killed George Floyd.

CHANG: Well, there was also testimony today from the paramedics who tried to resuscitate Floyd that night. What did they say?

FLORIDO: Well, there was a lot of technical testimony about what they did try to do to revive him. But the most important moment came when paramedic Derek Smith was asked what he felt when he checked Floyd's pulse while Chauvin was still on top of him.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DEREK SMITH: In a living person, there should be a pulse there. I did not feel one. I suspected this patient to be dead.

FLORIDO: Obviously powerful testimony for the prosecution, which is arguing that Chauvin stayed on top of Floyd for much longer than he should have.

CHANG: All right. Well, as we mentioned, at the end of the day, the sergeant who was Derek Chauvin's supervisor took the stand. And he was asked precisely about that, right?

FLORIDO: Yes, Sgt. David Pleoger. Here's what prosecutor Steve Schleicher asked him.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STEVE SCHLEICHER: Based on your review of the body-worn camera footage, do you have an opinion as to when the restraint of Mr. Floyd should have ended in this encounter?

DAVID PLEOGER: Yes.

SCHLEICHER: What is it?

PLEOGER: When Mr. Floyd was no longer offering up any resistance to the officers, they could have ended the restraint.

FLORIDO: Of course, on cross-examination, defense attorney Nelson got him to say that policing is hard, dangerous. We expect a lot more on this use of force question in the weeks ahead.

CHANG: Right. That is NPR's Adrian Florido in Minneapolis.

Thank you.

FLORIDO: Thanks, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.