Police body cams show final moments of George Floyd's life; media petitioning for public release of footage

The remains of George Floyd are transported in a funeral procession on June 9, 2020 in Pearland, Texas.
The remains of George Floyd are transported in a funeral procession on June 9, 2020 in Pearland, Texas.PHOTO: AFP

MINNEAPOLIS (NYTIMES) - Almost from the moment George Floyd encountered the police on May 25, with a gun pointed at him, he appeared terrified and emotionally distraught, according to police camera footage that was newly made available for viewing on Wednesday (July 15) at a courthouse in downtown Minneapolis.

Floyd was visibly shaken, with his head down, and crying, as if he were in the throes of a panic attack, as he put his hands on the steering wheel in response to a frantic order from an officer.

He told the officers over and over that he was claustrophobic, as two officers struggled to push him to the back seat of a police vehicle. Throughout the video, he never appeared to present a physical threat to the officers, and even after he was handcuffed and searched for weapons, the officers seemed to be more concerned with controlling his body than saving his life, the footage showed.

The video offers the fullest portrait yet of the tragic events around Floyd's killing. It begins with officers driving to the scene, after a convenience store clerk called 911 and said a man had used a counterfeit US$20 (S$28) bill, and it ends showing officers on the street discussing what happened, after Floyd is driven away in an ambulance.

At one point, in footage not previously seen, the officers are shown dragging Floyd to the ground after he resisted being put in the squad car.

Once he was on the ground, as Floyd again said he couldn't breathe, and asked for water, and begged for his life, Derek Chauvin, the senior officer on the scene, said, in a nonchalant, almost mocking, tone, "takes a heck of a lot of oxygen to say that."

The footage provides more detail into the action of Chauvin, who has been charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for keeping his knee on Floyd's neck for more than eight minutes while he gasped for life. He was later pronounced dead at the hospital.

As the minutes ticked by, and Floyd became quieter and his body went limp, one officer checked his pulse and said he couldn't find one.

Chauvin's response, uttered with no emotion, was, "uh huh." Just before, after being told that Floyd appeared to be passing out, Chauvin appears to express more concern for his fellow officers than the man dying under his knee.

"You guys all right, though?" he said.

"My knee might be a little scratched, but I'll survive," responded another officer, Thomas Lane.

 
 
 
 

The footage was made available for viewing Wednesday to the public and media by appointment at the Hennepin County Government Centre in downtown Minneapolis - in a conference room with a dozen laptop stations - but was not allowed to be copied or recorded.

A coalition of media organisations, including The New York Times, has petitioned the court to obtain the footage, which would allow for release to the public. Judge Peter Cahill, who is overseeing the case, will hold a hearing on the matter on Tuesday.

Floyd's family on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against four of the officers at the scene and against the City of Minneapolis, arguing that the police had violated the Fourth Amendment in killing Floyd and that the city had failed to properly dismiss problem officers and train recruits about the dangers of neck restraints.

"It was not just the knee of Derek Chauvin on George Floyd's neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds," Ben Crump, a lawyer representing Floyd's family, said at a news conference. "But it was the knee of the entire Minneapolis Police Department on the neck of George Floyd that killed him."

In the lawsuit, Crump and a team of other prominent lawyers argue that the Police Department's policies had allowed for officers to use "neck restraint" techniques that could be deadly even when they were not in life-or-death situations.

It also said that training materials given to officers in 2014, including Chauvin and another officer charged in Floyd's killing, show an officer placing a knee on the neck of a person who is being arrested and is handcuffed in a prone position, as Floyd was.

The lawyers said in the lawsuit that the policies and training, approved or condoned by the mayor, City Council and police chief, "were the moving force behind and caused" Floyd's death.

Erik Nilsson, the Minneapolis city attorney, said the city would review and respond to the lawsuit. A spokesman for the Police Department did not respond to an inquiry about the lawsuit's claims.

Transcripts of the body camera footage, from two of the four police officers charged in the killing of Floyd, were released last week as part of a motion on behalf of one of the junior officers, Lane, to have the case against him dismissed.

Lane, 37, was a rookie officer, and one of the first officers on the scene. His lawyer, Earl Gray, has sought to shift the blame to Chauvin, a senior officer who trained new recruits to the force, arguing that Lane was following the lead of Chauvin.

According to the transcripts and an interview Lane gave to investigators, Lane suspected that Floyd was having a medical emergency and asked Chauvin if they should turn Floyd on his side as he was facedown and gasping for breath. Lane also rode along in the ambulance to the hospital with Floyd, administering chest compressions in an attempt to revive him.

Chauvin, a 19-year veteran of the Minneapolis Police Department, faces the most severe criminal charges, and three other officers are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder. All four were fired shortly after Floyd's death. Their trial is scheduled to begin March 8.

Once an ambulance arrived - late, because paramedics had first gone to the wrong location - Lane went inside and administered chest compressions on Floyd, whose face appeared bloodied.

But even in the ambulance, at first, there appeared to be little sense of urgency, according to the newly seen footage, with minutes passing before anyone tended to Floyd.

Later, they strapped a mechanical chest compression device on a nearly naked Floyd, which kept pumping as Floyd's body was rising and falling.

Back at the scene, Chauvin, who had arrived later than Lane and another junior officer, J. Alexander Kueng, stood erect, his lips pursed, with his hands on his hips as Kueng, who called his superior, "sir," showed him what he believed was the fake US$20 bill.