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Ex-officer Derek Chauvin's murder trial began with testimony from a 911 dispatcher who said she "was concerned something might be wrong" with the officer's detention tactics

By Jeff Truesdell
March 29, 2021 06:03 PM
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In this image from video, defense attorney Eric Nelson, left, and former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin listen as Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill presides over pre-trial motions prior to opening statements, in the trial of Chauvin
Derek Chauvin, at right, listens as motions are heard March 29 during his trial for killing George Floyd.
| Credit: AP/Shutterstock

A 911 dispatcher who testified Monday in the trial of Derek Chauvin said she "was concerned that something might be wrong" as she watched surveillance images of George Floyd's detention in real time from afar while the officer "sat on this man."

Her testimony was part of prosecutors' efforts to undercut a central theme of Chauvin's defense: that the white police officer followed proper detention protocols when he pressed a knee into Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes last May 25 while Floyd, a Black man, lay handcuffed and face down on a Minneapolis street.

Captured on bystander video that went viral, the May 25 death of Floyd, 46, who was detained for allegedly spending a counterfeit $20 bill, roiled the nation. Millions subsequently took to the streets to protest police brutality and racism while invoking Floyd's repeated cry of "I can't breathe."

The video of Floyd's death was played for the 14 jurors — including two alternates — before dispatcher Jena Scurry took the stand. While monitoring Floyd's detention on surveillance feeds from a 911 dispatch center, Scurry "did something that she had never done in her career," prosecutor Jerry Blackwell said in his opening statement in Hennepin County Circuit Court. "She called the police on the police."

In this image from video, witness Jena Scurry answers questions from Assistant Minnesota Attorney General Matthew Frank as Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill presides, in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, in the May 25, 2020
Jena Scurry
| Credit: AP/Shutterstock

Scurry said said the length of Floyd's restraint went on for so long as she watched, she asked another whether the "screens had frozen."

She said she brought the use of force to the attention of a police sergeant, after "gut instinct" made her feel that what she was seeing was not normal.

"It's a multitude of different things that ran through my brain," she said, "but I became concerned that something might be wrong."

George Floyd, the man who was killed by police officers in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020.
George Floyd
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Asked about her responsibility for raising concerns with her supervisors, Scurry told Blackwell: "If something doesn't look right in a call, if there's a caution note, if there's something that they can do beyond the scope of the call, I can call them."

Chauvin, 44, who was fired a day after Floyd's death, has pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter in Floyd's death.

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Opening statements by Chauvin's defense attorney, Eric J. Nelson, argued that Floyd's death resulted, in part, from Floyd's underlying health conditions and drug use rather than the pressure applied to his neck. In an earlier court filing, Nelson wrote that Chauvin "did exactly as he was trained to do."

In this image from video, defense attorney Eric Nelson, left, and former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin listen as Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill presides over pre-trial motions prior to opening statements, in the trial of Chauvin
Derek Chauvin, right, in court March 29
| Credit: AP/Shutterstock

The defense also will rely on video from a prior 2019 encounter between Minneapolis police and Floyd, who was not charged in the 2019 incident, to argue that Floyd's documented drug use and behavior toward police were consistent in both instances.

On Monday, Judge Thomas Cahill dismissed a 15th juror from the panel, leaving nine women and five men who will decide Chauvin's fate. Eight identify as white, four as Black, and two as mixed-race. Two of those will be dismissed as testimony ends and before the final 12-member panel begins deliberations.

Prosecution in the closely watched case is being led by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison.

In the 10 months since Floyd's death, President Biden has invoked Floyd's name to speak out against racial injustice. Earlier this month the U.S. House of Representatives passed and sent for Senate consideration the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a wide-ranging bill that aims to "hold law enforcement accountable for misconduct in court, improve transparency through data collection, and reform police training and policies," according to the document.

george floyd memorial in minneapolis
A memorial at the Minneapolis site where George Floyd was killed
| Credit: Getty

In the midst of jury selection that began March 8, the City of Minneapolis also announced a $27 million settlement with Floyd's family in a civil lawsuit brought against the city, Chauvin and three other former police officers who were present at the time of Floyd's killing.

Those other officers — J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao — all were charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. They will be tried apart from Chauvin this summer.

Each also has each pleaded not guilty.

Included in the multimillion-dollar settlement with the Floyd family is $500,000 to enhance the neighborhood where Floyd was killed and where resulting protests erupted. In welcoming the settlement, the family's attorneys applauded police reforms put in place by Minneapolis after Floyd's death, as well as the city's commitment to further reforms.

Among the cited changes were a requirement for the city's police officers to keep body-worn cameras on all the time, "a policy for officers to de-escalate non-threatening encounters with citizens by disengaging or walking away," and recruitment of officers "that favors those who live in the areas they would police and who have social service experience," according to a statement to PEOPLE from the Floyd attorneys.

Chauvin's trial is expected to last about a month.