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Witnesses Take Stand to Describe George Floyd's Final Moments; COVID Cases, Hospitalizations and Deaths Rising in U.S. Again. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired March 30, 2021 - 13:00   ET



ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: And, specifically, there was a lot of back and forth on what's known as a blood choke, which is how he characterized what he saw Chauvin doing to George Floyd's neck.

I want to play part of that exchange and get your take, Laura.


ERIC NELSON, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I just want to make sure, you've never officially been invited to go to the Minneapolis Police Academy to train law enforcement in the use of force?


NELSON: Or the use of these chokeholds?


NELSON: Or any other police academy for that --

WILLIAMS: No. I witnessed my sensei, Greg nelson (ph) --

NELSON: I'm asking about you, sir. Have you ever officially been asked to train police officers specifically in the use of chokeholds?

WILLIAMS: No, I just witnessed it.


HILL: Didn't do the training, was just there as a witness. What did he actually established in that line of questioning, Laura?

LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Nothing, because he wasn't offered as an expert witness. Nobody presented him as an expert witness. This is a term of art in a trial when you have an expert witness. They have to be qualified first to do so, they have to have the idea

of whether their opinion testimony is based on scientifically provable data, in the general community, in the scientific community, et cetera, he's not offered for that. He's bringing in his personal opinions and observations based on what he saw happen that day as an eyewitness.

And what you see the defense attorney trying to do, rather than attack the actual credibility of his vantage point, attack the credibility of what he saw, his comments, imploring repeatedly the officers to intervene, even approaching another officer, Thao, as he mentioned, trying to get him to intervene to render aid, they couldn't attack any of that. They're attacking the very thing that he was never offered to present testimony on.

If you also look at this idea of how there's a general theme here of the defense to try to scapegoat the members in the crowd as if their actions, their words precipitated the kneeling by Derek Chauvin on George Floyd's neck. This is not a chicken or the egg game here, Erica. This is a matter of, did the crowd observe what they saw, did their words somehow cause these officers and this officer in particular to act? No. This is grasping at straws and a defense strategy but it's really all they have at this point given the presentation of evidence.

HILL: When we first started, Laura, Charles Ramsey described specifically the testimony of the nine-year-old and of her now nine years old, this young girl, and her now 18-year-old cousin as compelling. What do you think the takeaway is from what we heard rather from these two young women just a short time ago?

COATES: Well, it is impossible to attack their credibility or try to undermine them in some way as if they're interested parties in this overall criminal justice system.

The idea of the one woman, the first girl, I called her woman, she's really a child, only now 18 years old, saying when I look at George Floyd, I see my father, my brother, my cousins, my friends and actually talking about her social anxiety but also talking about how she stays up at night apologizing to George Floyd because she didn't do enough or save his life. And then saying with her voice breaking, Erica, but that wasn't what I should have done, saving his life, it's what Chauvin should have done.

Imagine as a parent, and I know you and I have talked about this before, what it was like for the parents of these children, for their children to come home, expecting them to bring home snacks, and instead they bring home the memory of having eye witnessed a murder.

And then having to prepare them for testimony of a trial of this magnitude, it was unbelievably compelling. And the redirect by the prosecutor to completely be dismissive of the notion that these officers suddenly were feeling threatened by the crowd when they did not appear to ever be threatened, and they weren't even, for Chauvin's case, even threatened by cars moving by, not moving his body in some way to account for any threat, but even a moving vehicle. It was very, very compelling, very, very persuasive.

HILL: You know, you bring up, too, the crowds, that's come up a number of times today, frankly, from both the defense and the prosecution. You know, Charles, as you look at that, as Laura is pointing out, right, we're hearing on the one hand about the crowds and what was happening, what wasn't happening or the influence that those crowds may have had on the way the police officers did or did not react.

I found it interesting that Donald Williams, again, calling on the security experience that he has as well, was asked specifically about, well, how do you deal with an angry crowd? How do you deal with, you know, people -- do you ever feel afraid and how do you handle that? I found that, too, Charles, to be a really interesting line of questioning. I don't know if it achieved what the defense attorney was maybe hoping it would or maybe what they're hoping to paint in terms of that picture.


CHARLES RAMSEY, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Yes, I don't think it helped the defense at all. He talked about how he tries to calm things down, which is de-escalation, as we would say in policing, to try to get a person who's upset to kind of calm down. And he also mentioned that if there are additional guards there, that also goes a long way toward calming a situation down. And, again, you had four police officers there on the scene with Derek Chauvin.

So I agree with Laura. I mean, you know, the defense is grasping at straws. They're trying to paint a picture of a hostile crowd that totally distracted the officers from that from what they were doing and they lost sight of what was happening with Mr. Floyd and so forth, which I don't buy for a second. I mean, if you look at Chauvin, he does not look like a person who's in fear of his life or his safety. I mean, he's very nonchalant, sunglasses on the head, hand on his hip. He does not appear to be a person who is concerned about anything, and that includes the life of Mr. Floyd.

HILL: Stay with me, if you would. We also want to go now to CNN's Omar Jimenez, who is, of course, covering the trial for us. He is live on the ground there in Minneapolis.

Omar, this testimony, and specifically from the underage witnesses, compelling, as you just heard Laura and Charles say, I think it's impossible to listen to that and not feel something. And as I understand it, we could hear some more ahead too. What else can you tell us about how things are playing out there on the ground today?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Erica. I mean, part of the impact of this trial is the fact that everyone is able to see this play out real-time on video. And that actually led some to question, all right, well, how is this going to work if it was going to be audio only? Would this may be the same impact that we had when you looked at a witness like Donald Williams, when you could see the contentiousness back and forth between himself and the defense attorney, Eric Nelson? Well, you went to that audio only testimony, again, because this witness was under 18 at the time of George Floyd's death, only identified as Darnella in court by prosecutors as they questioned her.

And over the course of this, you got the sense that this was something that had a tremendous impact on her, something that she has held with her ever since that day, now a little bit over ten months ago. And I want to play maybe the most emotional exchange that we have had over the course of this trial, where even though it's not on video, you can see the impact that this moment has had on her all these months later.


JERRY BLACKWELL, PROSECUTING ATTORNEY: Would you tell the ladies and gentlemen how your viewing, experiencing what happened to George Floyd has affected your life?

D.F., WITNESS TO GEORGE FLOYD'S DEATH: When I look at George Floyd, I look at -- I look at my dad. I look at my brothers. I look at my cousins, my uncles because they are all black. I have black -- I have a black father, I have a black brother, I have black friends. And I look at that and I look at how that could have been one of them.

It's been nights I stayed up apologizing and apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more and not physically interacting and not saving his life. But it's like -- it's not what I should have done. It's what he should have done.


JIMENEZ: And that's what she holds onto, these ten months later after filming, being the documenter of an unfortunate history for the world, the window into these moments of terror that maybe this movement, this spark that we had seen come from the name, George Floyd, would never have happened if not for what she had done that day.

Of course, she was the one filming that now infamous cell phone video. After she took the stand, it was her nine-year-old cousin who took the stand after that, also appearing off camera, audio only, the defense did not cross-examine her.

And when we get back from the lunch recess, which we are on right now, we will hear from two more witnesses who were under 18 at least when George Floyd died here, and it will be audio only, but it's hard to imagine the impact of their statements having anymore than what we heard from Darnella, as she was referred to in court, Erica.

HILL: Yes, a really powerful and compelling testimony, as you said. Give us a sense, Omar, too, I know leading up to this, there was talk about security, there was talk about how different things were going to be for this trial. How are we now two days in? What's happening outside the courthouse? Are there crowds gathered?


Are there people there, you know, in support of -- what are you seeing?

JIMENEZ: We've seen protests here over at least the last two days in a row. And there have been scattered protests since really trial proceedings began here in this case going all the way back to the first day of jury selection. But yesterday, for example, once court got out for the day, there was a crowd of maybe a little more than 200 people that were gathered outside the building that houses the courtroom here.

And it was really more of a rally is probably how I would describe it, wanting people to remember the lives lost in similar fashions to George Floyd and in many cases at the hands of police and we'll likely see that as we move forward in these trial proceedings.

Now, when we talk to city officials here and security officials on how they are planning to move forward, obviously, what happened in May 2020 is still fresh on the minds of many here. It's part of why the Hennepin County Government Center that, again, houses this courtroom essentially has been turned into a fortress with barbed wire, National Guard also on scene, heavy law enforcement presence. And the mayor here in Minneapolis says that is only going to gradually increase as we move forward in this trial.

We are on what's known as phase two in regards to security, a little bump up from phase one, which was jury selection, and phase three, as it's been described by law enforcement officials here, will be when you see the heaviest law enforcement presence, and that will come when we get time to awaiting a verdict.

HILL: All right. Omar, stay with us, we'll continue to check back with you.

We're going to check in with both Laura Coates and Charles Ramsey as well after the break, as we continue to bring you a little bit more of the testimony that we have heard now in day two of the testimony in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, of course, on trial for the death of George Floyd. That is all ahead.

We are also following very closely fears of a fourth COVID surge, those fears growing now. The president calling on local leaders to bring back mask mandates and to stop playing politics.

Meantime, Mr. Biden also said to make his multitrillion sales pitch for a massive infrastructure and jobs package. So where is that money, where would it be going? How the Democrats plan to pay for it? That is ahead.

Plus, a new Secret Service report finds dozens of school attacks were actually thwarted because of tips from the local community. What else we're learning after this quick break. Stay with us.



HILL: It is day two of testimony in the murder trial of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, and more emotional moments on this day two. We've heard from two underage witnesses to Floyd's death, and we're expected to hear more, including a similar line of questioning, when the trial resumes after a lunch break. That's going to happen in about an hour.

We also heard from this gentleman who witnessed the final moments of George Floyd's life. Those are moments he described as a man, quote, going through torture. He returned to the stand today. Donald Williams is a mixed martial arts fighter. He said he saw Floyd gasping for his final breaths and being held in what's known as a blood choke.

Williams also testifying that after he saw Floyd being placed in the ambulance, he immediately called 911 because he believed he had just witness a murder.


MATTHEW FRANK, PROSECUTING ATTORNEY: At some point, did you make a 911 call?

WILLIAMS: That is correct. I did call the police on the police.

FRANK: All right. And why did you do that?

WILLIAMS: Because I believe I witnessed a murder.

FRANK: And so you felt a need to call the police?

WILLIAMS: I felt the need to call the police on the police.

FRANK: And there were police there, right?

WILLIAMS: There were police there.

FRANK: And why didn't you just talk to them about it?

WILLIAMS: I believe that they -- I just -- we just didn't have no connection. You know, I spoke to them, but not on a connection of a human being relationship.

FRANK: Did you, well, believe that they were involved?

WILLIAMS: Yes, totally.


HILL: Laura Coates and Charles Ramsey is back with us now.

Laura, as we listen to that description, I didn't feel a connection, he said at least twice that I counted, I called the police on the police. I mean, those words chosen, I think, very carefully for Mr. Williams in terms of how he is laying out that moment and recalling that moment.

COATES: Absolutely. I mean, the idea that he had tried multiple times, and we hear him trying multiple times in the opening statement, they played the video, we had the teenager who now testified talking about what she heard, the constant and consistent imploring of these officers to show and demonstrate some humanity to render aid.

And he's saying, look, I couldn't -- I didn't see a human connection with the officers on the scene, and having that corroborate testimony from yesterday, where somebody else, somebody who was in law enforcement, a 911 dispatcher, also seeing what she saw and deciding to bring in law enforcement in the form of a sergeant.

So you're seeing as the prosecution developing different layers here, layers of corroboration that proved the point, having different vantage points. And what I thought was very odd about this notion from the defense perspective, Erica, was the idea of suggesting that somehow these imploring, these entreaties to be able to have aid rendered from not only a firefighter who was there, a 911 dispatcher watching from afar, teenagers and this witness, Mr. Williams, that it all fell upon deaf and defiant ears.

The question is, why?


If these were officers, why wouldn't they have done something to help?

HILL: I think we have that 911 call too as well. I just want to play that moment for everyone.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 911, what's the address of the emergency?

WILLIAMS: The officer at 987 who was previously in front of a Chicago store, he just pretty much just killed this guy that wasn't resisting arrest. He had his knee on this dude's neck the whole time, officer 987. The man stopped breathing, he wasn't -- he's just been arrested, nothing, he was already in handcuffs. They pretty much just (INAUDIBLE). I don't know if he's dead for sure but he was not responsive when the ambulance came to get him.

We saw another off duty firefighter as we're staying here and watching in front of us said, look, she told him to check the man's pulse but they didn't even check if there was a pulse.


HILL: You see Mr. Williams, you know, wiping his eyes there. I thought it was interesting, Charles, too. He also seemed to identify the officer when he made that call.

RAMSEY: Yes, that sounds like a badge number that he's giving. Apparently, he was able to see the badge number on Chauvin, and that's why he was referring to that particular number. But he was -- I mean, he laid it out exactly what he was seeing as it was unfolding.

And, again, all the testimony that I've heard thus far from the prosecution has been pretty compelling and the defense is going to have a hard time trying to justify the actions of Chauvin and the other officers for that matter, although Chauvin is the one on trial now.

HILL: I want to play a little bit more too of this cross-examination, the defense attorney questioning Mr. Williams. There was one point where he was really pressing him repeatedly, seemed really determined to get Mr. Williams to say that he was angry, using that word over and over again. Take a listen.


NELSON: At one point, you said that Officer Thao pushed you.

WILLIAMS: That's correct, he did. He put his hand on my chest is what I said.

NELSON: And you observed Officer Thao push someone else, right, or feel like he pushed someone else?

WILLIAMS: I didn't let him touch anyone else.

NELSON: Do you recall saying I dare you to touch me like that, I swear I'll slap (BLEEP) out of both of you?

WILLIAMS: Yes, I did.

NELSON: So, again, sir, it's fair to say that you grew angrier and angrier?

WILLIAMS: No, I grew professional and professional. I stayed in my body. You can't paint me out to be angry.


HILL: Laura, you can't paint me out to be angry. That is a loaded word, to put it mildly.

COATES: He did not take the bait, and I'm glad he didn't because the bait was not worth catching. What they were trying to do was suggest somehow and scapegoat the crowd reacting to what they witnessed, and their belief that they had just seen a murder, that somehow their calls, their actions towards the officers verbal actions, Erica, somehow influenced the officers' decision to take the knee off or keep the knee on George Floyd's neck. These are wholly distinct issues here.

And, again, if you're the jurors in this case, and I know we're in the court of public opinion, what would you expect a crowd to think? Should they be shouting compliments towards officers they believe are doing -- are committing murder? Should they be doing atta boys and go get them? They weren't taunting these officers to remain on the neck of George Floyd. They were imploring them to take the knee off of a neck of somebody.

And remember what he said. He talked about that timeline that Charles Ramsey has spoken about so eloquently before, about the idea of officers can use force, absolutely. But you stop using force when it no longer is necessary, proportional or in the person at the very minimum is unconscious without a pulse.

And this scapegoating idea, I'm glad he didn't take the bait. It would have undermined the integrity of the actual trial, but more importantly, and it would not have been actual and it would not have been factual. He kept his composure and he implored them to save a life. They refused, not him.

HILL: Laura Coates, Charles Ramsey, I always appreciate your insight and your expertise. Stay with us as we wait for this trial to resume.

We do also want to get everyone at home caught up on where we stand right now when it comes to coronavirus and these very real fears of a fourth COVID surge. The alarms have been sounding now for weeks, and yet, here we are, the president now calling on local leaders to keep mask mandates in place, to bring them back, also cautioning about reopening the country too soon and the results of this new WHO report about the origins of the virus.

Miguel Marquez and Nick Paton Walsh are both standing by. We'll be back with their reporting, next.



HILL: The warning signs, they're all there, cases, deaths, hospitalizations, all ticking up, experts sounding the alarm for weeks now, and increasingly concerned that the U.S. is on the brink of a fourth surge.