MINNEAPOLIS — A seventh day of testimony has begun in the Derek Chauvin murder trial, but the jurors were not present when attorneys made their arguments Tuesday about whether a witness to George Floyd’s arrest should be compelled to testify.
Morries L. Hall was with Floyd on that night late last spring, when Floyd was apprehended by police outside a corner store in south Minneapolis and pinned on the pavement under an officer’s knee until he died.
Hall has said he would invoke his Fifth Amendment constitutional right against self-incrimination and not testify as ordered in the fired police officer’s trial in Hennepin County District Court.
Judge Peter Cahill listened on Tuesday to points raised by Hall’s attorney, Adrienne Cousins, and from the defense and prosecution before putting off any ruling on the issue until at least late in the week.
In Tuesday’s hearing out of the view of the jury, Hall appeared via video hookup and explained through his attorney that he would be exposed to a potential third-degree murder charge and other possible felony counts should he be forced to answer questions in Chauvin’s trial.
Cousins said her client “has been provided no immunity, no protection for his testimony whatsoever. I cannot envision any topics Mr. Hall would be called to testify on that would be relevant to the case that would not incriminate him.”
Hall is listed by both the defense and the prosecution as a possible witness as they present their respective cases.
Defense attorney Eric Nelson disclosed the areas of questions he has for Hall. They include inquiries about: what Floyd and Hall were doing together that day, Hall possibly passing Floyd a counterfeit bill in the Cup Foods store, providing Floyd with drugs and other questions about illicit drug use.
“Going for the ignition when police arrived … taking something out of his backpack and throwing it,” giving false names to police and his decision to leave Minnesota for Texas immediately after Floyd’s death, Nelson continued.
Testimony last week from Floyd’s girlfriend revealed her belief that Hall provided drugs to Floyd earlier in the month of his death.
Cahill agreed that all those topics would expose Hall to self-incrimination while testifying. The judge said he did see that Hall could talk about being in the SUV with Floyd and share his observations, but his attorney and prosecutor Matthew Frank disagreed.
Again, Cousins said, that too could be incriminating her client.
Frank concurred with Cousins, saying that limiting the line of questioning “creates a huge problem” in that Hall would be invoking his Fifth Amendment right in front of the jury when asked follow-up questions.
“It won’t exist in a vacuum, there will be other questioning and we will have the right to question him about his credibility and other aspects of that interaction that would lead, unfortunately and potentially, to him invoking question by question in front of the jury.”
Ultimately, Cahill directed Nelson to put in writing the questions he would ask Hall and bring those back by Thursday for further discussion.
Chauvin is charged with second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the killing of Floyd. Three other fired officers who assisted in Floyd’s 2020 arrest — J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao — are scheduled to be tried in August on charges of aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.
Tuesday’s testimony focused solely on training, as did much of what jurors heard from witnesses a day earlier, and added to conclusions from earlier prosecution witnesses that Chauvin should not have had his knee on Floyd’s neck for any length of time.
Police Lt. Johnny Mercil, who oversees the department’s training on use of force, explained to the jury when two specific neck restraints are allowed on a subject, whether it is one that renders a suspect unconscious to counter “active aggression” or one that does keeps someone conscious while offering the lesser “active resistance.”
He testified about “red zones,” where injury tends to range from serious to long lasting and could include serious bodily injury or death. Areas included the head, neck and sternum, among others. Mercil was shown a photo from the viral bystander video of Floyd under Chauvin’s knee and then asked whether that tactic is part of department training that Chauvin and all other officers have received.
“No, sir,” the lieutenant said. At the same time, he acknowledged that department policy does not explicitly forbid such an act, but he added that this position should stop once a suspect is handcuffed and under control, as Floyd was that night.
On Monday, Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, who previously called Floyd’s death a “murder,” testified and placed the responsibility for the death on Chauvin.
“Once Mr. Floyd had stopped resisting — and certainly once he was in distress and trying to verbalize that — that should have stopped,” the chief said after spelling out department policy on when to use force versus calming a situation through de-escalation tactics.
“Once there was no longer any resistance, and clearly when Mr. Floyd was no longer responsive and even motionless, to continue to apply that level of force to a person proned out, handcuffed behind their back, that in no way shape or form is anything that is by policy. It’s not part of our training and is certainly not part of our ethics or values.”
Under cross examination by Nelson, Arradondo acknowledged that officers sometimes need to take control of a situation. The chief also agreed that department policy affords an officer flexibility under evolving circumstances for when to use force or choose to de-escalate an encounter with someone resisting arrest.
Next up was Katie Blackwell, the Fifth Precinct Minneapolis police inspector who formerly headed up training for the department when Floyd was killed.
Blackwell was shown a photo from the viral video of Chauvin on Floyd’s neck and was asked whether that is a tactic the police are taught. “I don’t know what kind of improvised position this is,” she said.
(Star Tribune staff writers Rochelle Olson and Chao Xiong contributed to this report.)