George Floyd’s girlfriend told the Derek Chauvin murder trial that the couple shared addiction to opioid painkillers that they struggled to overcome in the weeks before his death.
Courteney Ross said that Floyd had been clean for a while after she took him to the hospital when he overdosed, but that he started using again about two weeks before his arrest by Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, last May.
The bulk of Ross’s often tearful testimony on the fourth day of the trial focused on the pair’s opioid use, as the prosecution sought to head off defence claims that Floyd was killed by drugs because he had opioids and methamphetamine in his system.
The death of Floyd triggered off a national reckoning over race in America, including a summer of protests and civil unrest aimed at tackling structural racism. The trial of Chauvin who kept his knee on Floyd’s neck as he died during the arrest is seen as one of America’s biggest murder trials in recent history.
Ross’s account helps establish that Floyd built up a tolerance to opioids and that the relatively small amount recorded in the official autopsy would not have been enough to kill him.
The prosecution is also seeking to undermine defence claims that the level of force used by Chauvin in kneeling on Floyd’s neck for about nine minutes was justified because the detained man was high on drugs.
Ross, who dated Floyd for about three years, said they both became hooked after being prescribed opioids to treat chronic pain.
“We got addicted and we both tried to break that addiction many times,” she said.
Chauvin, 45, who is white, has denied charges of second-and third-degree murder, and manslaughter, over the death of the 46-year-old Floyd, who was Black. He faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted of the most serious charge.
Ross said sports injuries led to Floyd’s addiction to prescription pills obtained legally before the pair started buying black market drugs, including from Maurice Hall, the man who was in the car with Floyd at the time of his death.
These included oxycodone pills, including the powerful prescription opioid OxyContin.
Ross told the trial she also believed Floyd bought heroin from a female friend, Shawanda Hill, who is expected to be called as a witness. She said that Hall was also among those who supplied Floyd with pills.
“I didn’t like Maurice very much,” she said.
Hall’s lawyers have told the court that he intends to exercise his right against self-incrimination and will decline to testify at the trial.
Two months before his death, Ross said she took Floyd to the hospital when he overdosed after taking a new pill that appeared to be more powerful than the rest. She said he complained of severe stomach pain and she noticed a white substance around his mouth.
In its cross-examination, the defence returned to that part of Ross’s testimony, apparently because at the time of his arrest Floyd repeatedly complained that his stomach hurt and had white foam around his mouth.
Chauvin’s defence has claimed Floyd was overdosing at the time and that it contributed to his death from heart failure.
The state medical examiner’s report on Floyd’s death recorded that he had the powerful opioid fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system when he died, but it did not list them as a cause of his death.
Although the prosecution steered Ross’s testimony to focus on Floyd’s addiction, she also spoke about how they met in August 2017 when he was working as a security guard at a Salvation Army homeless shelter. He was also working as a guard at a night club.
Ross said Floyd had been devastated by his mother’s death in 2018.
“He seemed kind of like a shell of himself, like he was broken,” she said. “He seemed so sad. He didn’t have the same kind of bounce that he had.”
On being shown a selfie taken by Floyd, Ross reached out and touched the screen and cried.
Derek Smith, the first paramedic on the scene, said that when he arrived he saw three police officers on top of Floyd but no one giving medical treatment.
“He wasn’t moving. I didn’t see any chest rise or fall,” he said.
The paramedic tried to find a pulse in Floyd’s neck but could not find one.
“I thought he was dead,” he said.
The trial was shown police body-camera footage showing that Chauvin continued to kneel on Floyd’s neck even as the paramedics attempted to revive him. The police officer only removed it immediately before Floyd was lifted on to a stretcher and moved to the ambulance.
Smith said he had to tell police officers to get out of the way in order to move Floyd.
The jury was shown photographs of Floyd’s lifeless body inside the ambulance as Smith described his efforts to revive him. The paramedic continued to work on Floyd as his partner drove the ambulance.
Smith said Floyd “was flatlining”, and tried to save him by administering compressions, electric shocks and drugs to stimulate his heart. But Smith said Floyd remained in his “dead state” and at no point regained a pulse.