George Floyd’s girlfriend broke down in tears on the witness stand Thursday as she gave jurors an intimate glimpse at the “mama’s boy,” amateur athlete, restaurant lover and struggling drug user whose death prompted nationwide protests against police brutality last summer.
Courteney Ross said she had a relationship with Floyd for about three years after they met in Minneapolis in August 2017.
“It’s one of my favorite stories,” she said, growing emotional and stifling tears as she recounted the romantic beginning.
Ross was among the prosecution witnesses who testified Thursday in the trial of Derek Chauvin, a white, former Minneapolis police officer. He is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the death of Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man.
Ross was the 13th witness to testify, but the first to detail Floyd’s life beyond the day he died.
Floyd was devastated by his mother’s death
The day they met, Ross had gotten off work at the coffee shop where she has worked part-time for 22 years. She went to see her son’s father, who had fallen on hard times and was staying at the Salvation Army Harbor Light Center shelter for the homeless, where Floyd worked as a security guard.
“Floyd came up to me. Floyd had this great, deep Southern voice, raspy. ‘You OK, Sis?’ he said. I wasn’t OK. He said, ‘Can I pray with you?'” said Ross, 45. “We’d been through so much, my sons and I. And this kind person asks if he can pray with me. It was so sweet. … We had our first kiss in the lobby.”
In early 2020, the two separated for a while, Ross said. But from March to early May, they were together every day. She described visits to a sculpture garden, restaurants and other places with Floyd. She choked back tears, then chuckled after being shown a photo that he’d apparently taken himself. She called it a “dad selfie.”
Ross said Floyd was “devastated” after his mother died in May 2018.
“Floyd is what I would call a mama’s boy. I could tell, from the minute I met him,” Ross said. When he returned from his mother’s funeral in another state, “he seemed like a shell of himself, like he was broken.”
Ross said Floyd saved her number in his cell phone as “mama.” Asked by prosecutor Matthew Frank whether Floyd also referred to his mother that way, Ross said: “He called her mama, too,” but in a different way.
Floyd cried out “mama” more than 20 times as police officers struggled to subdue him and as he lay on the ground with Chauvin and three other officers holding him down, according to recordings played during the trial.
One of the Black men on the jury appeared to become emotional behind a face mask during parts of Ross’ testimony.
Both struggled with drug addition
Floyd was usually very active, Ross said, and worked out every day.
“He lifted weights that were far beyond anything I could lift. He did sit-ups, push ups … he would do anything physical,” she said. “Floyd loved playing sports with anyone who wanted to, including neighborhood kids. He’s that person who’d just run to the store.”
He never complained about shortness of breath, she said.
Guilt, regret, helplessness:Watching George Floyd die had a ‘profound’ impact on witnesses
Ross acknowledged that drug use was part of their relationship. The couple sometimes split up for a period but always got back together, she said.
“Floyd and I both suffered from opiate addiction,” she said. “We both suffered from chronic pain. Mine was in my neck. His was in his back. We both had prescriptions. After prescriptions were filled, we got addicted, and we both tried, very hard, to break the addictions, many times.”
On cross-examination by lead defense attorney Eric Nelson, Ross acknowledged that she and Floyd had ups and downs during which one of them sometimes used drugs but the other didn’t.
Many of the drugs were opiates, highly addictive medications obtained through prescriptions of their own or bought from others who had gotten prescriptions, said Ross.
“Addiction, in my opinion, is a lifelong struggle” that continues every day, she said. “It’s not something that comes and goes.”
Defense focuses on Floyd’s drug use
Nelson asked Ross about a time in March 2020 when Floyd required hospitalization. She said she went to Floyd’s house to pick him up, but “his stomach really hurt” and he was “doubled over in pain.”
She took Floyd to the hospital and later learned he had overdosed. Ross testified that she didn’t know at that time that Floyd had taken heroin or any drugs other than opiates.
Nelson turned his questioning to Maurice Hall, who was in a vehicle with Floyd when Minneapolis police officers first approached his car on Memorial Day. Ross said she “didn’t like Maurice very much.” She acknowledged that she told FBI investigators that Floyd had bought narcotics from Hall, but in court she said she “did not see it with my own eyes.”
“Do you recall telling the FBI (that Floyd’s hospital stay for an overdose) was from heroin?” Nelson asked. “I was speculating,” Ross replied.
However, Ross also testified that she and Floyd had taken other drugs besides opiates. Those pills looked different from the others they took, made her feel jittery, and kept her from sleeping well.
Ross said she was in a car at a hotel while Floyd bought pills a week before his death. She said she was on the phone with him and thought she heard Hall’s voice in the background. She testified that she only learned afterward that Floyd was with Hall the day Floyd died.
During re-questioning, Frank tried to show that Floyd had not been in immediate danger of dying from the drugs he’d taken in the weeks before his death.
“He had a lot of energy,” Ross said. “He was playing football, eating, hanging out.”
Her last words with Floyd came during a phone call the day before he died. “He said he was going to be staying at Sylvia’s.” She was a mutual friend he knew from the Salvation Army shelter.
Contributing: Eric Ferkenhoff, Tami Abdollah, N’dea Yancey-Bragg