A former girlfriend of George Floyd testified Thursday in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who has been charged with murdering Floyd, about their struggles with opioid addiction.
Courteney Ross, who dated Floyd for nearly three years until his death in May 2020, became visibly emotional as she told the court about their relationship and their substance abuse issues.
“Addiction, in my opinion, is a lifelong struggle,” Ross testified. “It’s something that we dealt with every day. It’s not something that just kind of comes and goes. It’s something that I’ll deal with forever.”
Floyd’s drug use has been a central focus of the defense’s strategy. Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, has argued that Floyd died from a drug overdose and preexisting health conditions ― not from Chauvin kneeling on his neck.
Chauvin has been charged with second- and third-degree murder as well as second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
The Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office released Floyd’s autopsy report last June, stating that his death was a homicide and that its cause was “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint and neck compression.”
The report also said that fentanyl and methamphetamine were present in Floyd’s system when he died.
Prosecutors haven’t shied away from Floyd’s drug use, arguing that he had indeed struggled with substance abuse issues, like millions of other Americans, but that they weren’t the reason he died.
During her emotional testimony Thursday, Ross said she and Floyd became addicted to opioids after they had been separately prescribed medications to treat chronic pain they each suffered.
“It’s a classic story of how many people get addicted to opioids,” Ross said. “We both suffered from chronic pain. ... We both had prescriptions ... We got addicted and tried really hard to break that addiction many times.”
She said they began buying opioids on “the black market.” There were “absolutely” periods of time when they were not using, but she suspected in March 2020 that Floyd was abusing drugs again, Ross testified. She said she fell back into abusing opioids around that time as well.
During his cross-examination, Chauvin’s attorney Nelson asked Ross details about Floyd’s “extended hospitalization” in March 2020. She said she drove him to the hospital one night after he complained of terrible stomach pains.
Asked if she later learned that Floyd’s illness was due to a drug overdose, Ross said yes. She also confirmed that she saw “foam” near his mouth when she was bringing him to the hospital.
In the footage of his arrest, Floyd repeatedly stated he couldn’t breathe and called out for “Mama.” He said his stomach hurt, and witnesses have testified that they saw “foam” coming from his mouth while he was pinned to the ground.
Countering the defense’s argument that Floyd died of an overdose, prosecutors have argued that because of his longtime opioid addiction, Floyd had a high tolerance for drugs at the time of his death. On Thursday, they suggested that Floyd had previously taken pills similar to the ones he may have taken the night he died and pointed out that he had survived each time.
In a statement on Thursday, attorneys for Floyd’s family condemned the defense for claiming that Floyd had died of a drug overdose.
“We fully expected the defense to put George’s character and struggles with addiction on trial because that is the go-to tactic when the facts are not on your side,” their statement read. “We are confident that the jury will see past that to arrive at the truth ― that George Floyd would have lived to see another day if Derek Chauvin hadn’t brutally ended his life in front of a crowd of witnesses pleading for his life.”
On Thursday, Ross described through tears how she had first met Floyd at a Salvation Army shelter in August 2017. She recalled how she felt “alone” at the time and he had come over to ask if he could pray with her.
“It was so sweet,” she testified. “At the time, I had lost a lot of faith in God.”
Ross said she and Floyd spent almost every day together, often going out to eat at restaurants and walking around the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.
Floyd “is what I would call a mama’s boy,” she said, adding that he “seemed kind of like a shell of himself” after his mother died in May 2018.
“Like he was broken,” Ross testified. “He seemed so sad. He didn’t have the same kind of bounce that he had.”
Need help with substance use disorder or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.