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Continuing Coverage of the Derek Chauvin Trial; Trial Begins For Ex-Police Officer Charged In George Floyd's Death; Prosecution Questions First Witness In Chauvin Trial. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired March 29, 2021 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: That is one key piece of evidence. The prosecution plans to call the Minneapolis Police Chief as a witness against the fired former officer now on trial.

Mr. Floyd's final pleas of I can't breathe mushrooms of course, into a national indeed an international conversation on race and on policing. Millions marching in a summer of discontent and disruption here in the United States after watching Mr. Floyd a black man being restrained with a white police officers knee on his neck.

Today that Officer Derek Chauvin faces multiple charges second degree, unintentional murder, third degree murder and second degree manslaughter. It is a diverse jury hearing this case one black woman, two multiracial woman, two white men, three black men and four white women. They will decide the fate over trial that could last up to a month.

Let's bring in right now, our key contributors on this CNN Contributor Laura Coats and Charles Ramsey, the Former Chief of the Philadelphia DC Police Department. Laura, let me start with you and what you heard in the courtroom. This is just the opening statements. It is the beginning. Mr. Jerry Blackwell, the lead prosecutor.

I thought making a very effective methodical presentation about the nine minutes and 29 seconds, the final nine minutes and 29 seconds to Mr. Floyd's life, essentially saying that whatever you think happened here, what you see with your own eyes is indefensible.

Mr. Nelson, Eric Nelson, the defense attorney, they're trying to say this is about a lot more than that. Mr. Floyd was there for a long period of time, he lied to police officers, he was high, he struggled with Police officers and you have to take into account the officers were dealing with a crowd that they at least perceived to be a threat. Just as a veteran attorney, your sense so far of the opening statements.

LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I give no weight to the defense's opening statement whatsoever, because the bulk of their statements have to do with that very notion of a crowd of information that they would have known perhaps about whether George Floyd actually had illegal substances in his body. Do you think you would learn after the fact not in terms of what the conduct of George Floyd was? It's very difficult to be able to focus in on this case; it's not about the crowd. It's not about the protests afterwards. It's not about prior arrests or prior incidents. It's about what happened. And what we initially thought was just eight minutes and 46 seconds, John.

But you pointed out precisely at the expansion to nine minutes and 20 seconds showed you a whole different side than we even thought was possible, exponentially raising the temperature in the room here to show that not only was Derrick - was George Floyd on the ground unresponsive what we saw begging for his life.

But there were crowds of people in that very compelling video who were shouting out, please take his pulse. Don't you see he is unresponsive and saying, look at you; you're enjoying this, aren't you? Your body language tells me you're enjoying this. That was testimony that is invaluable for a jury to hear them to see what was happening in real time from a different vantage point.

We also heard from the prosecution, and then only did people asked for the police on scene to stop. But other police officers witnessing what happened through a camera, also called the police on those officers and witnesses, they're called the police.

All of this combines to me to say that you have an unreasonable use of force as its printed right now, a long trial is ahead of us, and they still have to meet their full burden of proof. But this comes down to the cause of death in my mind and the competing experts about whether there was a substantial cause the association or anything else.

KING: Let me stick with you for a second Laura again, for the courtroom experience. I understand you say you give no stock to the defense presentation. But you are aware of the history here. And I think that's what rings, especially to many people in the African American community when they listened to the defense attorney talk about reasonable doubt right on the block.

He said it I think within his first 15 or 20 words, he talked about reasonable doubt trying to say here, we're going to show you a number of circumstances. This is complicated; you have to understand the police officers.

Obviously, as we go forward, the prosecution gets to come back to that. But do you think in the case, the prosecutor goes first, knowing that argument is coming? Did Mr. Blackwell lay enough of the foundation, if you will, to say when you hear that, when you hear that don't take the bait?

COATES: There is one aspect of your right that I thought could have been drawn out even more completely. And that is in Minnesota, where I'm from and where I'm barred. In Minnesota, you don't have to prove that this was the only cause of death had to be the substantial causal factor, which means that essentially, if this hadn't happened, this person would still be alive. For example, if somebody is shot in the heart - they had terminal cancer, another part of their body is not going to alleviate the liability for the person who shot the person in the heart, if it was one of the factors of substantial cause of the factors, that's what you go on.

So the prosecution could have done a better job of leading with that knowing full well that the idea of other substances or illegal substances might be in his system or the behavior in terms of whether he was perceived to be under the influence. All of those things are distraction that a jury needs to be able to know right out of the gate.

Look, even if that's true. If the kneeling on the neck is a substantial causal factor of this person dying, you can still convict. They didn't lead it with that, but there's still time to actually develop that particular aspect of the case and they will - it'll be incumbent upon the prosecution to make that very clear that the jury has choices has elements to actually decide upon.


COATES: But substantial causal factor, if it's one of the reasons, it's the reason to convict.

KING: And Chief, both the prosecution and the defense, you know, told the jury, you're going to hear a lot about training. You're going to hear a lot about experience. You're going to hear a lot about officers being trained to handle even what they seems like a routine situation that then escalates into something that is anything but routine.

So let's walk through from the defense perspective, we just heard Mr. Nelson, he was the final attorney to speak before this break. He said, look, he passed a counterfeit bill. He tries to refuse to go in and make amends when the shop owner said, look, that was a counterfeit bill just come in and pay for the cigarettes. We're done here. So OK, he refused to do that.

They said he was high, and then he resisted arrest, even if all that is true. And even if the defense makes a compelling case that Mr. Floyd passed a counterfeit belt that he was under the influence that he struggled with police officers does that justify based on the training officers receive what you see in the end there in that nine minutes and 29 seconds of an officer whose knee is on the neck of a man who keeps saying I can't breathe?

CHARLES RAMSEY, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, in my opinion, it doesn't. I mean, first of all, use force has to be necessary. It has to be proportional. It has to be objectively reasonable. Perhaps in the beginning, when they first attempted take him into custody, there was a need to use force. Once they got him under control and literally they got him under control.

When he's in a prone position, he is handcuffed. That's when that use of force starts to become unreasonable. In other words, you don't need to continue using force once the person is subdued. It did come out in the opening statement about having people in a prone position.

I've been in policing for over 50 years, at least 30, if not longer years ago, positional asphyxia became a topic of training in police academies. When you're in that position, and your chest is down on the pavement, especially if you've got body weight on top, the lungs can expand and contract so a person cannot breathe.

So you don't want to keep them in that position any longer than necessary. You turn them on the side. You sit them up so that they can breathe again. None of that took place in this case, and you can see just how nonchalant Chauvin was, when he had that pressure applied to him with his hand on his hip, his sunglasses on his head.

I mean, clearly, the struggle was long over. And so the use of force then should have stopped a long time ago, it didn't. And I think that's going to be the uphill battle that the defense is going to have to try to overcome because I'm not aware of any training anywhere in the United States that would justify someone being in that position that long with that kind of pressure being applied, who is not resisting arrest.

KING: And Chief to follow up with you, the Minneapolis Chief is going to testify here as a prosecution witness against one of his own officers saying, look, I know these situations escalate. But that's just that about. It is way beyond how they're trained. It is way beyond what the other members of my force do every day on the job out there. How unusual is that that a chief would testify as a prosecution witness?

RAMSEY: Well, I mean, there are going to be occasions when perhaps you're going to be called in to testify is not that common, but in a case like this, obviously, the chiefs got to be called and he's absolutely right. And cases, I mean, things do escalate, something starts off very minor can wind up becoming a situation where high level of force has to be used, that can happen.

The question is, in this particular case, what happened? After the initial takedown of the individual, he was put in handcuffs, at what point in time do you use - do you stop using force? The defense counsel mentioned the fact that the crowd was getting unruly, quite frankly, that's all the more reason to get him up, get him in the car and getting the hell out of there.

I mean, that's what you would do. Because you're in an environment now they're starting to become hostile. So you want to get out of there as quickly as possible so none of that makes sense to me. It's going to be a long trial, there's going to be a lot of information, we're going to see video from a variety of angles, no doubt.

But the defense truly has an uphill climb in this particular case. And in my opinion, I don't see how you can justify the use of force in this particular case at all.

KING: And to the point that Chief just made Laura a long trial, multiple witnesses, some camera video that has audio, some surveillance video that does not medical experts reports, autopsy results, or these things can get very confusing and very hard for everyday Americans serve on a jury to track and go through.

So the impression you make on day one is very important that's why these opening statements by both of these attorneys are so important. From the defense perspective they tried to raise reasonable doubt and they try to say, hey, the state was not happy with the autopsy results. So they went shopping for other doctors to help backup their case, which is why I thought the prosecutor did a very compelling job to the point the chief just made.


KING: That you're going to hear a lot of things but just remember trust your eyes. Mr. Blackwell repeatedly said trust what you saw and he did not let up and he did not get up. He said that repeatedly just to ask people in the jury use your common sets think this through at some point obviously Chauvin should have stood up, should have given Mr. Floyd a chance.

COATES: Absolutely John. And the idea of having an impartial jury is not for jurors to come in with the idea of being here no speak no see no evil with their eyes or a head in the sand. It's about using your common sense and what you've actually seen.

And there may be more information that we have yet to see we didn't know all the video was going to come up we hadn't seen the vantage point of a little girl for example who with the love shirt who now witness and going to testify. There's a lot more to come here but they have to use their common sense and I believe they will.

KING: Laura Coates and Chief Ramsey standby we're going to take a quick break. We expect the trial the Former Officer Derek Chauvin to resume in just a few moments. We're back in Minneapolis including a live report from our reporter on the scene, after a quick break.


KING: Officer Derek Chauvin on trial today, the opening statements just wrapped up the prosecution first then the defense attorney making their case. Let's get straight to our CNN's Omar Jimenez in Hennepin County in Minneapolis. Omar, the first break of this trial after the jury listened to the opening statements so you were on the scene back in those horrific days, back there for the trial now what stood out to you most this morning?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean we got a sense of what we were looking for? What the strategy is we're going to be from the prosecution and the defense heading into this trial? I mean we know it's going to be one that's going to last up to four weeks where we're going to hear from a variety of witnesses.

Of course experts from both sides trying to paint an individual picture for why they believe they are in the right here? Now for starters for prosecutors they open with that are they brought in I should say that video the excruciating video that many had seen over the course of what is now been 10 months since George Floyd's death. But to play it out in full like that I mean you look no further than social media and even just our own visceral reaction was very difficult to watch. So you can imagine the impact that it had on the jurors sitting in that courtroom many of who I should mention that over the course of jury selection had said that they had never even watched that full video entirely through.

So it is very possible that some of those jurors could have been seen that video in full for the very first time. And of course it was a powerful moment to begin with. But also the prosecution said they had two goals in this they wanted this to be a fair - they want I should say this to be a fair trial for Derek Chauvin to have a fair trial.

But it is also their intention they say to show that Chauvin is anything but innocent in this. They also say they intend to let the evidence speak for itself. Again you look no further than that video was proof. We also got a sign and clues as for what the defense is going to employ?


JIMENEZ: The defense for their show than to try and prove his innocence or maintain his innocence over the course of this.

And one interesting note that they made was about big crowd size that was growing around that scene where Derek Chauvin had his knee on George Floyd's neck. Defense Attorney Eric Nelson, saying that it was actually the threatening crowd, the growing threat of the crowd, the perceived threat, I should say, in that moment that caused the officers to divert their attention away from the care of George Floyd and toward that perceived threat.

So that seems to be a strategy they're going to move forward with, also one that we knew they were going to bring into the case and one that Nelson said was going to be a major issue. What is the actual cause of death for George Floyd?

Nelson went on to point to the medical records that showed drugs in his system, showed history of heart disease and others and so that issue, however it is settled or presented to the jury will be a central issue in all of this.

And when you look at how people are watching this? The family of George Floyd is here in Minneapolis brothers, his daughters here in Minneapolis as well Felonious Floyd his brother is in the courtroom filling that one spot left for family member of either Floyd, or Chauvin.

And so while there are eyes from the outside looking at this, remember, there was a family at the core of all of this, who is going through this in person hoping that justice is made in the name of their loved one.

And the last thing I want to mention is right before all of these court proceedings took place this morning, right before the beginning of opening statements outside, the family members and their attorneys held a press conference, but they also knelt for close to nine minutes in silence as representative of the amount of time that Chauvin's knee was on George Floyd's neck.

And one of the brothers spoke really to what many feel is at stake with this trial saying that you're always told to trust the system? Well, now is the opportunity for us to trust the system. And let's see what justice ends up coming out of this.

And those are the stakes for many people watching this trial from the outside looking in. But of course, all that matters right now is what unfolds within those walls of that courtroom, John?

KING: Critical point Omar Jimenez, grateful to have you on the ground again for us at this important moment in Minneapolis. Let's bring back our CNN Contributors Laura Coates and Chief Charles Ramsay.

Laura, let me start with the point that Omar just closed with their, to the Floyd family to those who kneel down outside to many watching around the United States. This is about more, more. It begins, of course, with the tragic, unnecessary death of one man, but it's about trying to see will finally justice be served?

Will finally a white police officer be convicted for something that your own eyes tell you was beyond the pale? That is the national conversation. That is a global conversation. But the prosecutor Mr. Blackwell, right out of the bat tries to convince the jury listen here. Please don't think about that. This is about one thing. Listen.


JERRY BLACKWELL, PROSECUTING ATTORNEY: This case is not about all police. This case is about Mr. Derek Chauvin and not about any of those men or women and is not about all policing at all. And this case is not about split second decision making in nine minutes and 29 seconds there are 479 seconds, not a split second a month. That's what this case is about.


KING: Again, we will watch as this plays out, that both sides compete with each other. But I'm sorry, I have to go back into the courtroom now that the proceedings are resuming excuse me.

MATTHEW FRANK, PROSECUTING ATTORNEY: Do you swear or affirm that there is only a perjury that the testimony about to give will be the truth and nothing but the truth?


FRANK: Before you begin if you could give us your full name spelling each of your names.

SCURRY: My first name is Jena J-E-N-A middle of Lee L-E-E the last name is Scurry S C as in Charlie, U-R-R-Y.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Crane. FRANK: And do you want the witnesses to leave their mask on or off. What's the preference?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Actually, I prefer you to take your mask off so we can hear you if you don't mind.

FRANK: Thank you, Ms. Scurry. Can you tell the jurors what your occupation is?

SCURRY: I am a Minneapolis 911 dispatcher.

FRANK: And so who is your employer?

SCURRY: City of Minneapolis.

FRANK: And how long have you been doing that?

SCURRY: Almost seven years.


FRANK: Can you tell the jurors what kind of training goes into being a dispatcher?

SCURY: A lot of training. We go through close to two years of training starting with call taking where citizens are calling 911 with their emergencies also speaking to non emergencies and how we can direct those.

We then work with police and fire on sending them their calls and prioritizing those and also with the police officers on their off duties and warrants and lost children. So there's multiple - there's about four different positions that we work.

FRANK: Yes maybe I should start first with you know what all is involved in your job as a dispatcher? What are the kinds of things you do?

SCURRY: Specifically as a dispatcher I take the calls that are from 911 as they are prioritized and send them out to the police officers or the firefighters to handle.

FRANK: And do you also like for instance have to answer - well provide information out?


FRANK: And is this just for police calls or fire calls or what kind of calls is involved?

SCURRY: We have two different dispatches so we have police dispatchers who will take the calls from 911 and the information and give it - give it out to the officers over the radio and we have fire dispatchers who would then do that specifically for the fire department.

FRANK: So kind of four different aspects to your job right?

SCURRY: Correct.

FRANK: What - can you just describe for us what those four really are?

SCURRY: The first one 911 call taking again where the citizens would call in giving their emergencies. We help with prioritizing those or getting them to non emergencies lines. We then have fire dispatch where those dispatchers specifically send over fire rigs to fires or medical runs.

Channel seven would be where we log in are off duty officers deal with lost children reports warrants it's called our information channel because it is a lot of work information questions happen. And then our police dispatching where we take those calls from 911 and then send them out to the officers based off of priority.

FRANK: So a lot of people think of a dispatcher as getting a call from somebody and then just calling a police officer and saying go answer this call, but it's more to it than that?

SCURRY: A lot more to it.

FRANK: And when you're working at typical shift - well describe for the jurors what's around you? What's your office look like when you're a dispatcher?

SCURRY: My office - our center is currently located in a basement. We have walls similar to like this covered with carpet. It's a large center you'll have all the call takers together similar to how the jurors are set but you'll have five to six different screens around you.

And then in another room you'll have your fire dispatchers to give them some silence so they can work around that and be on the radio and listen to the firefighters. Across the room you will have our channel seven that is closely located to our dispatch group which is approximately four people that are giving out all the calls to the officers.

FRANK: So you say that fire dispatchers are somewhere different why is that?

SCURRY: It's just the layout of our center. And police dispatch is also across the room away from the call takers it gives them the ability to be louder if they need to if someone's hard hearing or anything like that the chatter also gets with everybody together gets pretty loud. So we have our own different areas for the ability to be on the radio without all of the background noise.

FRANK: So in any particular shift there are some people taking calls and some people dispatching calls?

SCURRY: Correct. We are not doing the same - I am not taking a 911 call and then dispatching it.

FRANK: Why is that?

SCURRY: Minneapolis is very busy. We have dedicated 911 call takers at that time. We wouldn't be able to do it all at the same time.

FRANK: And then fire dispatches their own fire units for a particular call?

SCURRY: Correct.

FRANK: Now you mentioned having five or six screens in front of you what are all those screens about?

SCURRY: Those screens have different resources on them one of my screens his telephone that has hundreds of numbers in it that I can use to call whoever I need to for any given reason. I also then have a city computer that I can utilize if I need to find an address because someone may not know it. I can use Google or any other resources I need from the internet.


SCURRY: I then have a radio screen that has all of our radio channels on it, along with other public answering points. So we can listen to their chatter in case something is coming into Minneapolis that we need to be aware of.

And then I have three screens dedicated to the calls that are coming in, the calls that are assigned to police or fire. And it'll tell me - all of the units I have available, or who has signed in for different things.

FRANK: Sounds like a lot of information.

SCURRY: It has a lot of information.

FRANK: How long did it take you to become a master at your job?

SCURRY: Every day is a learning day. I can tell you that I can learn something new that I didn't know yesterday. To be completely comfortable with police dispatching it took me about three years to get comfortable with.

FRANK: And as part of your training for that job, did you have to learn about how the City of Minneapolis Police Department divides up the city for coverage?

SCURRY: Yes, that's all geography for us, based off of the precincts and then how the precincts break down into different sectors?

FRANK: And can you describe for the jurors then and by police coverage and talking about how officers are assigned? Correct?

SCURRY: Correct.

FRANK: And so how is the City of Minneapolis divided up for police coverage? SCURRY: There are five different precincts in Minneapolis, one through five. Within those precincts, they all have different sectors those sectors are given to the officers. They have specific sectors that they belong to. And based off of the geography of the call, you would assign a certain unit to a different call or to that call.

And if you don't have a unit to cover that area, then you would have to take the unit from a different sector to cover that leaving the sector that came from available.

FRANK: So can you describe for the jurors, let's take for example, the third precinct familiar with the third precinct?


FRANK: And describe for the jurors generally what the third precinct is?

SCURRY: The third precinct is - have four sectors in it. The first one being 310 that is the top of the precinct goes down to Lake Street. And then the middle would be 320 and the lower half being 330 the East Side being 340.

FRANK: And so what generally in the area of Minneapolis are we talking about?

SCURRY: For the third precinct would be South Minneapolis, East of 35 W.

FRANK: And when you use these terms like 310 and 320, what does that really referring to?

SCURRY: It refers to their sectors to correspond with the call signs that they use.

FRANK: And so in a typical shift, how many officers would be assigned to each sector?

SCURRY: Typically, you have one per sector. And then you have a sector squad or a precinct wide squad that would be assigned to the whole precinct.

FRANK: And so when officers are assigned to that sector, they're known by that sector number, not their names or their badge numbers or anything like that.

SCURRY: Correct.

FRANK: So when you're dispatching you dispatch to 320 because they're the 320 card?

SCURRY: Correct?

FRANK: And so if you dispatch a call, and that sector power is not available, what's the process there? SCURRY: You move to that 360 number, it is a precinct wide squad. If there's not one available, then you move to the closest available squad.

FRANK: So somebody has to go out of their sector to respond to that?

SCURRY: Correct.

FRANK: And or what's a priority call?

SCURRY: A priority call is an incident where someone calls in within 10 minutes of the situation happening, or there's the suspect that is still on scene.

FRANK: So what's the significance of calling out a priority call for in terms of dispatch?

SCURRY: Significance - we would want to get someone there as soon as possible. It's no longer it - it falls still into the - this is still happening. There is still possibility of the person still being unseen. It's not a report call that they would go not code to.

FRANK: And so describe for us then what code two means?

SCURRY: As far as I understand code two would be not using lights and sirens. They're going without those.

FRANK: So it sort of makes sense for a call to be priority if you've got a suspect still there. Want to get an officer there right away?

SCURRY: Correct.