A paramedic who responded to George Floyd’s arrest testified Thursday during former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s trial that there was “no reason” police couldn’t have initiated chest compressions on Floyd.
Derek Smith, a paramedic with Hennepin County EMS, described arriving on the scene on May 25, 2020, and witnessing three police officers “on” Floyd’s body. Smith said he immediately checked Floyd’s pulse but could not detect one. It appeared as though Floyd was already dead, Smith testified.
Smith and the other paramedic on the scene, Seth Bravinder, loaded Floyd into the ambulance with the help of some of the officers, Smith said. Officer Thomas Lane ― one of the first police officers to the scene that night― joined Smith and Bravinder in the ambulance. Smith testified that he instructed Lane to begin administering chest compressions, which Lane then did.
During Floyd’s arrest, bystanders questioned why the police officers weren’t doing anything to help Floyd, who repeatedly stated that he couldn’t breathe and eventually ceased breathing in front of them. Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, appeared to argue Thursday that the officers may not have been trained to render appropriate medical aid.
Nelson asked Smith on Thursday why he didn’t have Lane stay in the ambulance longer to assist with resuscitation efforts:
Nelson: Went to the second location so that your partner could get back in the back with you to take over for the officer, right?
Smith: Not to take over ― we needed everybody we could at that time.
Nelson: Why didn’t you just have the officer help you continue so you could go straight to the hospital?
Smith: That’s not what we do.
Nelson: Is it because he’s not an EMT?
Smith: Any layperson can do chest compressions. There’s no reason Minneapolis couldn’t have started chest compressions.
Nelson: That’s not my question.
Earlier Thursday, Smith testified that he made the decision to load Floyd’s body into the ambulance before trying to resuscitate him because “all of our equipment” was inside the vehicle. What’s more, Smith said, the crowd of bystanders appeared to be “very upset” and he wanted to be able to focus only on the medical assistance he needed to provide.
David Pleoger, a retired Minneapolis police sergeant, testified later Thursday that department policy requires officers to “render medical aid consistent with training” and request emergency medical services “as soon as reasonably practical” if a person is injured by an officer’s use of force.
Chauvin has been charged with second- and third-degree murder as well as second-degree manslaughter. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Smith took the stand on the fourth day of witness testimony in the high-profile trial. On Tuesday, Genevieve Hansen, an off-duty firefighter who witnessed Floyd’s arrest, testified that she had asked Chauvin and the other officers to allow her to check Floyd’s pulse after he stopped breathing during his arrest.
Hansen said she was blocked from checking Floyd’s pulse or providing any medical assistance to him.
Bystander video of Floyd’s arrest shows Chauvin and the other officers pinning Floyd to the ground facedown for several minutes, even after one of the officers said he couldn’t find a pulse on Floyd. At no point can the officers be seen initiating chest compressions or providing any other type of medical assistance.
Minneapolis Fire Department Captain Jeremy Norton was alarmed enough by the scene outside Cup Foods corner store, where police had apprehended Floyd, that he reported it internally for two reasons.
“I was aware that a man had been killed in police custody,” Norton testified Thursday, “and I wanted to notify my supervisors to notify the appropriate people above us in the city both the fire department and whoever else.”
Norton said he also wanted to let city officials know that Hansen had witnessed a portion of the arrest. Norton said he sent someone to speak with her after the incident.
“I understood the justification for her duress, so I sent my crew back to check on her to make sure she was OK,” the fire chief said.