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.”