The last three weeks of the Derek Chauvin trial provided jurors with a comprehensive understanding of George Floyd’s final moments, pieced together from hours of video and witness testimony. But there is one part of the case that lawyers for both sides have spent little time on: the $20 bill that brought the police to the scene in the first place.
Mr. Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer accused of killing Mr. Floyd on May 25, was one of four officers who took part in the arrest, which began when a clerk for the Cup Foods convenience store called 911 to report that Mr. Floyd had used a fake $20 bill to buy cigarettes.
In opening statements, a prosecutor showed jurors a photograph of two $20 bills that each had the same serial number, suggesting that they were counterfeit. One of the bills was ripped in half, a sign that the other one may have been the bill that Mr. Floyd used to buy cigarettes, though prosecutors did not discuss the photograph in more detail.
“The police officers could have written him a ticket, and let the courts sort it out,” Jerry W. Blackwell, the prosecutor, told jurors during opening statements.
In his closing arguments for the prosecution, Steve Schleicher again brought up the reason for the arrest. “This was a call about a counterfeit $20 bill,” he said. “All that was required was some compassion.”
Mr. Chauvin’s lawyer, Eric J. Nelson, has spent little time discussing the bill, in what could be a sign that he believes it would be unproductive to link Mr. Chauvin’s response to Mr. Floyd’s supposed offense. Instead, he has focused on Mr. Floyd’s actions after the police arrived.
The Minneapolis Police Department has also said little about the bill since its initial report in May, which noted that police officers had been responding to a “forgery in progress.” A spokesman for the department referred questions about the bill to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, the state agency that led the investigation into Mr. Floyd’s death. Officials at the agency declined to answer several questions about the bill, saying they could not discuss evidence while a court case was ongoing and an investigation remained open.
Christopher Martin, the teenage clerk who accepted the $20 bill from Mr. Floyd, testified on the third day of the trial that he quickly recognized it as fake because it had an unusual blue pigmentation.
Mr. Martin, 19, said a friend of Mr. Floyd’s had come in earlier and also tried to use a fake $20 bill but was rebuffed. Mr. Martin said he thought Mr. Floyd, unlike his friend, had not realized that the bill was fake. “I thought I’d be doing him a favor” by accepting it, Mr. Martin said.
He testified that he told a manager at the store about the fake bill and that the manager told him to ask Mr. Floyd to come back inside. When Mr. Floyd twice refused, the manager had another employee call 911. Mr. Martin said he later felt “disbelief and guilt” that his actions had led to the police confrontation with Mr. Floyd.
Nearly a year after Mr. Floyd’s death, it remains unclear where the bill came from and whether Mr. Floyd committed the crime that brought police officers to the scene.