Paramedic Says He Wasn't Told George Floyd Wasn't Breathing

The first responder testified Wednesday at the federal trial of three former Minneapolis police officers.
In this Friday, April 23, 2021 file photo, Damarra Atkins pays respect to George Floyd at a mural at George Floyd Square in Minneapolis.
In this Friday, April 23, 2021 file photo, Damarra Atkins pays respect to George Floyd at a mural at George Floyd Square in Minneapolis.
AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A paramedic who treated George Floyd on the day he was killed testified Wednesday at the federal trial of three former Minneapolis police officers that he wasn’t told Floyd wasn’t breathing and had no pulse when officers upgraded the urgency of an ambulance call.

Derek Smith said that after he arrived on May 25, 2020, he could not find a pulse in Floyd’s neck and that the Black man’s pupils were large, indicating that “the patient was probably deceased.”

Former Officers J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao are charged broadly with depriving Floyd of his civil rights while acting under government authority in the killing triggered worldwide protests and a reexamination of racism and policing.

Prosecutors say the three officers failed to act to save Floyd’s life as fellow Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for 9 1/2 minutes while Floyd was handcuffed, facedown and gasping for air. Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back, Lane held his legs and Thao kept bystanders back, according to prosecutors.

In this image from surveillance video, Minneapolis police Officers from left, Tou Thao, Derek Chauvin, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane are seen attempting to take George Floyd into custody in Minneapolis, Minn on May 25, 2020.
In this image from surveillance video, Minneapolis police Officers from left, Tou Thao, Derek Chauvin, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane are seen attempting to take George Floyd into custody in Minneapolis, Minn on May 25, 2020.
Court TV via AP, Pool, File

On video footage from Lane’s body camera played for jurors, Smith asks Lane what happened. Lane recounts the officers’ response to a 911 call that Floyd tried to use a counterfeit $20 bill at a corner store and a struggle as Floyd kicked his way out of a squad car. He says officers were “just basically restraining him until you guys got here.” Lane says nothing about Floyd’s medical condition.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Manda Sertich sought to show jurors that paramedics were not given important information, noting that Smith wasn’t told that Floyd had been held for more than 9 minutes. She also got Smith to agree that CPR should have been started as soon as possible — something the officers were trained to do.

Smith said paramedics put Floyd in the ambulance and took him to another location to be treated for many reasons, including because bystanders were using “elevated tones.” In the ambulance, Lane did chest compressions and Smith used a cardiac monitor that showed there was no electrical pulse to Floyd’s heart. Paramedics also treated him by creating an airway, inserting an IV, and trying to provide other lifesaving measures.

Defense attorneys pushed back. Lane’s attorney, Earl Gray, asked Smith whether Lane was helpful in attempting to revive Floyd, including squeezing an air bag to try to ventilate Floyd’s lungs. “In my opinion, he was helpful, yes. Thank you,” Smith said.

Robert Paule, an attorney for Thao, got Smith to say that he would have not taken Floyd to another location to work on him if it weren’t for the bystanders.

Under cross-examination by Paule, Smith also acknowledged that he he was concerned that Floyd might have been in a state of “excited delirium” — an agitated condition in which someone is described as having extraordinary strength.

Some medical examiners in recent decades have attributed in-custody deaths to excited delirium, often in cases where the person had become extremely agitated after taking drugs, having a mental health episode or other health problem. But there is no universally accepted definition of it and researchers have said it’s not well understood. One 2020 study concluded it is mostly cited as a cause only when the person who died had been restrained.

Kueng, who is Black; Lane, who is white; and Thao, who is Hmong American, all are charged for failing to provide Floyd with medical care, while Thao and Kueng face an additional count for failing to stop Chauvin, who is white. Both counts allege the officers’ actions resulted in Floyd’s death.

Chauvin was convicted of state murder and manslaughter charges last year and also pleaded guilty to a federal civil rights charge.

Prosecutors have argued in pretrial filings that even bystanders could see that Floyd needed medical attention, and that the officers, who had basic medical training, did not help.

U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson has said the trial could last four weeks.

Lane’s attorney has said his client will testify, but it’s not known if Thao or Kueng will. It’s also not clear whether Chauvin will testify, though many experts who spoke to The Associated Press believe he won’t.

Lane, Kueng and Thao also face a separate state trial in June on charges they aided and abetted both murder and manslaughter.

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Webber contributed from Fenton, Michigan.

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