MINNEAPOLIS — An expert witness told jurors in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on Wednesday that Chauvin used “deadly” force on George Floyd and kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes.
Sgt. Jody Stiger, a Los Angeles Police Department officer who has conducted about 2,500 use-of-force reviews in his career, said the initial force used on Floyd was appropriate because Floyd was resisting arrest as officers tried to get him into their patrol car.
However, after officers forced Floyd to the ground, “they should have de-escalated the situation,” Stiger said. Instead, the officers continued to intensify the situation, he said.
Meanwhile, Rodney Floyd said Tuesday that his brother’s dying words from the videos played over and over again in the courtroom were supplanting his memory of their last conversation, in which they reminisced about their late mother. “When someone dies you cherish their last words, but my brother’s last words, oh, those words are stuck in my head. Agonizing,” he told reporters.
Chauvin, who is white, is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the death of Floyd, a Black man who died in police custody on May 25, 2020.
Where the trial stands: Prosecutors, on their eighth day, have shifted from eyewitness testimony to focusing on Chauvin’s use of force, trying to show Chauvin’s restraint was excessive and led to Floyd’s death. The defense has elicited testimony suggesting officers were threatened and distracted by an unruly crowd, faced initial resistance from Floyd and decided not to use a “hobble” restraint that would’ve tied his legs to his arms. The defense has argued Floyd died as a result of the drugs in his system and underlying medical issues.
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- Fourteen jurors – 12 to deliberate and two to serve as alternates – have heard from 26 witnesses called by the prosecution over the past week and a half.
- The EMT who leads the Minneapolis Police Department’s emergency medical response training said Tuesday officers are trained to call for an ambulance and provide medical aid if a situation is “critical.” Officers who responded to Floyd did not render medical aid.
- Minneapolis police Lt. Johnny Mercil, a use-of-force expert, was presented with an image Tuesday of Chauvin with his knee on Floyd’s neck and told jurors the move was not a department-trained neck restraint.
Expert witness Sgt. Jody Stiger says Chauvin’s use of force was ‘excessive’
Sgt. Jody Stiger of the Los Angeles Police Department returned to the witness stand Wednesday morning. Stiger has provided training to about 6,000 officers in de-escalation, basic patrol tactics and other subjects
Stiger told jurors Tuesday that, after reviewing the case, he determined Chauvin’s use of force was “excessive.” He said he uses the “objectively reasonable” standard established in the 1989 U.S. Supreme Court case, Graham v. Connor. That legal standard takes into account the severity of a crime, if someone is an immediate threat to the safety of others, and if someone is actively resisting arrest or trying to flee.
On the severity of Floyd’s crime, Stiger said that, given the alleged offense – trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill – “you wouldn’t even expect to use any kind of force.” On assessing whether Floyd was a threat to the safety of others, he said the size and stature of a subject may be relevant but that it is not appropriate to use force against someone simply because of their larger size.
On Wednesday, Stiger testified that, based on time stamps from police body cameras, the pressure Chauvin exerted on Floyd lasted nine minutes and 29 seconds and that Chauvin maintained knee pressure on Floyd’s neck throughout the entire restraint.
Stiger said the number of officers on the scene outbalanced any threat posed by Floyd, who was not actively resisting while he was in the prone position. He said “no force should have been used after he was in that position.” But the pressure exerted by Chauvin “raised the possibility of death,” he said.
Stiger said video evidence of the crowd watching police officers subdue Floyd showed bystanders yelled but did not threaten the officers. He said audio feeds from videos at the scene showed Chauvin did not appear to have been distracted by the bystanders. “You can hear Mr. Floyd displaying his discomfort and pain, and you can hear the defendant responding to him,” Stiger said.He added that Chauvin had 866 hours of paid training during his 19 years on the force, which should have been sufficient for him to deal with a distraction of the crowd.
On cross examination by lead defense attorney Eric Nelson, Stiger acknowledged he never previously testified in any court as an expert on police use of force. He also acknowledged the policies of different police departments may be “to some degree different.” However, he testified that all departments must meet the Graham v. Connor “objectively reasonable” standard.
Using references to Minneapolis police radio transmissions, Nelson got Stiger to agree that Chauvin had reason to believe while en route to the scene that Floyd was 6 to 6 1/2 feet tall and apparently impaired by drugs or alcohol. When Chauvin arrived and saw Floyd resisting other officers’ efforts to get him into the back of a squad car, it would have been reasonable for Chauvin to use a Taser on Floyd, Stiger agreed.
EMT Nicole Mackenzie: Officers must call ambulance, render aid if situation is ‘critical’
Minneapolis Police Department officer Nicole Mackenzie, an EMT and the department’s medical support coordinator, told jurors that officers are required to administer medical aid and call for an ambulance if a situation is “critical.”
Mackenzie said officers receive CPR training every other year. Prosecutor Steve Schleicher posted CPR cards issued to Chauvin to show he had the necessary training.
Mackenzie said department policy instructs officers to check for a pulse and give and continue CPR until someone more senior is on the scene with advanced training, there are obvious signs of death or until the officer is completely exhausted.
Asked by prosecutor Steve Schleicher about whether someone who is speaking is always able to breathe, Mackenzie said: “Just because they’re speaking doesn’t mean they’re breathing adequately.”
In cross examination by defense attorney Eric Nelson, MacKenzie acknowledged some situations may prevent an officer from calling EMS. Her testimony was cut short as the defense said they planned to call her back, as early as next Tuesday, for their case.
Sgt. Johnny Mercil, use-of-force instructor: Officers weren’t taught to put their knee on neck
Minneapolis police Lt. Johnny Mercil, who heads the training division’s use of force lessons and taught a class attended by Derek Chauvin in October 2018, told jurors Tuesday that a still-image of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck is not a restraint taught to Minneapolis Police Department officers.
Mercil said using a knee on the neck or back can be an authorized use of force, but it’s usually transitory and depends on the time frame and type of resistance. If the subject is handcuffed and not resisting, it is not authorized, Mercil said.
“There’s the possibility and risk that some people have trouble breathing when they’re handcuffed (to their back) and on their stomach,” Mercil said. A person is rolled on their side to prevent positional asphyxia, Mercil said. The officer should turn the person to this position “sooner the better,” though he noted it depends on the situation and environment.
Under questioning by Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, Mercil acknowledged use of force techniques do not have a strict application in every instance and that officers are taught to be fluid and react to the circumstances they face. Mercil also agreed under questioning that some people make excuses to avoid arrest, and that he has had suspects say “I can’t breathe” when he was trying to arrest them. Read more.