MINNEAPOLIS (NewsNation Now) — George Floyd’s former girlfriend cried on the witness stand Thursday, describing Floyd as a “mama’s boy” and sharing details of their three-year relationship from how they first met to their struggles to overcome opioid addiction.
Courteney Ross, 45, became emotional as she told the story of how they first met in 2017 at a Salvation Army shelter where Floyd was a security guard.
“May I tell the story?” Ross asked on the fourth day of former Officer Derek Chauvin’s murder trial. “It’s one of my favorite stories to tell.”
Ross said she had gone to the shelter because her sons’ father was staying there. She said she became upset because the father was not coming to the lobby to discuss their son’s birthday. Floyd came over to check on her.
“Floyd has this great Southern voice, raspy. He was like, `Sis, you OK, sis?’” Ross recalled. “I was tired. We’ve been through so much, my sons and I, and (for) this kind person just to come up and say, ‘Can I pray with you?’… it was so sweet. At the time, I had lost a lot of faith in God.”
They had their first kiss in the lobby that night and, but for the occasional break after a lovers’ quarrel, were together until his death, she said.
They took walks in the parks and around the lakes of Minneapolis, which was still new to the Texas-raised Floyd, and ate out a lot: “He was a big man,” she said, describing his daily weightlifting, “and it look a lot of energy to keep him going.” She said he adored his daughters and his mother, describing Floyd as a “mama’s boy.”
Ross also explained that both she and Floyd struggled to overcome opioid addiction. At times they took prescribed painkillers. At other times they illegally obtained opioids. Sometimes they shook the habit, sometimes they relapsed.
“It’s a classic story of how many people get addicted to opioids,” Ross, who wore a heart-shaped brooch on her black jacket, told the jury. “We both suffered from chronic pain: mine was in my neck, his was in his back.”
“We both had prescriptions. But after prescriptions that were filled and we got addicted and tried really hard to break that addiction many times.”
In March 2020, Ross drove Floyd to the emergency room because he was in extreme stomach pain, and she later learned he overdosed.
In the months that followed, Ross said, she and Floyd spent a lot of time together during the coronavirus quarantine, and Floyd was clean.
But she suspected he began using again about two weeks before his death because his behavior changed: She said there would be times when he would be up and bouncing around, and other times when he would be unintelligible. Ross said her last conversation with Floyd was on May 24, when they spoke on the telephone.
“Addiction, in my opinion, is a lifelong struggle,” she said. “It’s not something that comes and goes, it’s something I’ll deal with forever.”
Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson drove hard at Floyd’s drug use in cross-examining Ross, asking questions aimed at showing the danger of overdose and death.
Under questioning from Nelson, Ross also disclosed that Floyd’s pet name for her in his phone was “Mama” — testimony that called into question the widely reported account that Floyd was crying out for his mother as he lay pinned to the pavement.
Ross was the first witness who personally knew Floyd to testify at the trial. Minnesota is a rarity in explicitly permitting such “spark of life” testimony ahead of a verdict. Defense attorneys often complain that such testimony allows prosecutors to play on jurors’ emotions.
Also Thursday, paramedics who arrived at the arrest scene on May 25, 2020, testified. The first emergency call was a Code 2, for someone with a mouth injury, but it was upgraded a minute and a half later to Code 3 — a life-threatening incident that led them to turn on the lights and siren.
Paramedic Seth Bravinder said he saw no signs that Floyd was breathing or moving, and it appeared he was in cardiac arrest. A second paramedic, Derek Smith, testified that he checked for a pulse and couldn’t detect one: “In layman’s terms? I thought he was dead.”
Bravinder said they loaded Floyd into the ambulance so he could get care “in an optimum environment,” but also because bystanders “appeared very upset on the sidewalk,” and there was some yelling. “In my mind at least, we wanted to get away from that,” he said.
Smith likewise said there were “multiple people” with “multiple cellphones out,” and “it didn’t feel like a welcoming environment.”
Chauvin’s lawyer has argued that the police on the scene were distracted by what they perceived as a growing and increasingly hostile crowd. Video showed somewhere around 15 onlookers not far from where Floyd lay on the pavement.
Bravinder said after he drove the ambulance three blocks and jumped in back to help his partner, a monitor showed that Floyd had flatlined — his heart had stopped. He said they were never able to restore a pulse.
In addition, on the fourth day of trial, the jury heard testimony from a Minneapolis police supervisory sergeant who was on duty the night Floyd died. David Pleoger testified Thursday that he believes the officers who restrained Floyd could have ended it after he stopped resisting. He noted that officers are trained to roll people on their side to help with their breathing after they have been restrained in the prone position.
“When Mr. Floyd was no longer offering up any resistance to the officers, they could have ended the restraint,” Pleoger said.
The testimony came a day after prosecutors played extensive video footage: Security-camera scene of people joking around inside a convenience store, and bystander and police bodycam video of officers pulling Floyd from his SUV at gunpoint and struggling to put him in a squad car before they put him on the ground. It also showed Floyd being loaded into an ambulance.
Chauvin, 45, who is white, is charged with murder and manslaughter, accused of killing the 46-year-old Black man by kneeling on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes, 29 seconds, as he lay face-down in handcuffs. The most serious charge against the now-fired officer carries up to 40 years in prison.
The defense has argued that Chauvin did what he was trained to do and that Floyd’s death was not caused by the officer’s knee but by Floyd’s illegal drug use, underlying health conditions and the adrenaline flowing through his body. An autopsy found fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system.
Prosecutors plan to counter the defense’s argument by introducing evidence that medical experts have said that while the level of fentanyl in his system could be fatal to some, people who use the drug regularly can develop a tolerance to it.
AP writers Steve Karnowski, Amy Forliti and Tammy Webber reporting. Jonathan Allen of Reuters reporting.