A Los Angeles-based use-of-force expert and Minneapolis Police Department trainers testified Tuesday that former officer Derek Chauvin went too far with his restraint of George Floyd.
Los Angeles Police Department Sgt. Jody Stiger testified that he had reviewed the case and found Chauvin's force to be "excessive" in arresting Floyd on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill at Cup Foods at 38th and Chicago on May 25.
"Initially, when Mr. Floyd was being placed in the back seat of the vehicle, the officers were justified in trying to have him comply and sit in the back seat of the vehicle," Stiger said. "However, once he was placed in the prone position on the ground, he slowly ceased his resistance and the officers — or ex-officers I should say — should have slowed down or stopped their force."
The defendant's lawyer, Eric Nelson, pressed the claim that a hostile crowd distracted Chauvin and prevented a proper diagnosis or aid. The defense attorney also used cross-examination to argue that in some instances, Chauvin's knee was on Floyd's shoulders, not on his neck, and that maneuver complies with department training.
Stiger's testimony was truncated when Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill abruptly adjourned an hour earlier than usual Tuesday. Questioning by the prosecution is to resume Wednesday.
Three more Minneapolis police officers also took the stand Tuesday, bringing the total to eight current or former officers who have testified on the prosecution's behalf.
Lt. Johnny Mercil, who was in charge of the MPD's use-of-force training but is on medical leave, was shown a photo from the viral bystander video of Floyd pleading for his life under Chauvin's knee and asked if the tactic was trained.
"No, sir," Mercil said.
Prosecutor Steve Schleicher asked, "If the subject was under control and handcuffed, would this be authorized?" Mercil responded, "I would say no."
Nelson had yet to cross-examine Stiger, but through his questioning of the other prosecution witnesses Tuesday, he seeded the notions that Floyd died from a drug overdose, not asphyxiation from Chauvin's restraint and that the hostile bystanders distracted the officer, preventing him from realizing Floyd's distress and saving him.
Nelson also offered a series of photographs from Officer Thomas Lane's body camera. Lane and his partner J. Alexander Kueng were the first on the scene last year. They were also fired and are scheduled for trial in August.
Mercil agreed the images showed Chauvin's knee and shin on Floyd's shoulder area. After viewing those photos, Nelson asked Mercil, "Does this appear to be a neck restraint?" Mercil said, "No."
In one image of Floyd on the ground, paramedic Derek Smith's gloved fingers can be seen touching Floyd's carotid artery, checking for a pulse. Nelson asked Mercil if the paramedic would have been able to touch the artery if Chauvin's knee were on it. Mercil said, "No, sir."
Nelson also raised general questions with Mercil about whether suspects under arrest "at times are making excuses," claiming to suffer from a medical emergency by declaring " 'I can't breathe' " to avoid going to jail. The lieutenant said yes.
As part of his initial direct questioning of Mercil, Schleicher had the lieutenant describe the department's use-of-force policies. Mercil said minimal force needed should be used. "If you can use a lower level of force to meet your objectives, it's safer and better for everybody," he said.
Schleicher asked if it was appropriate to hold someone in a "prone position" after the person had stopped resisting arrest or lost their pulse. Mercil said no.
Mercil explained to the jury when two types of neck restraints are allowed. One is used to render a suspect unconscious when he's offering "active aggression," Mercil said. Another is used to counter "active resistance" and keeps the subject conscious, Mercil said.
The prosecution also called on Stiger, who has been with the Los Angeles department since 1993 and said he had conducted more than 2,500 use-of-force reviews. Stiger disclosed that he was paid a $10,000 "flat fee" and a $2,950 "trial fee" by the state to look at the incident. Stiger said he determined Chauvin's force on Floyd to be "excessive."
Typically, in the case of someone suspected of passing a counterfeit bill, Stiger said force would not be used.
Schleicher replayed video of the officers working to control Floyd in the back seat of a squad as he claimed to be claustrophobic. He highlighted that at one point on the video, Floyd resisted by trying to kick away an officer. The prosecutor asked Stiger if he saw any other acts by Floyd that would constitute "aggressive behavior." Stiger said no.
Nicole Mackenzie, the department's medical support coordinator and first aid educator, testified to two prosecution points: that police can begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) before paramedics arrive and that just because someone can talk, it doesn't mean they are breathing properly.
But when Nelson pressed, she acknowledged that chaotic scenes can hinder a first responder's ability to provide aid.
"If you're trying to be heads-down on a patient that you need to render aid to, it's very difficult to focus on that patient while there's other things around you," she said.
Nelson also asked whether agonal breathing — or involuntary gasps sometimes made by people under cardiac arrest — could be confused with regular breathing. She said that yes, it can.
When Schleicher questioned her directly a second time, he asked whether agitated onlookers excuse an officer from rendering aid.
"Only if they were physically getting themselves involved," Mackenzie said.
At the scene of Floyd's arrest, bystanders grew loud in their pleadings and sometimes used profanity, but they never physically threatened Chauvin or the other officers, according to witnesses and video.
Also testifying was Sgt. Ker Yang, who helps train officers who encounter people in crisis. Although Yang was never directly asked about Chauvin's actions, he said he trains officers to "bring them back down."
"When it is safe and feasible, we shall de-escalate," Yang said.
Before the jury arrived Tuesday, lawyers argued over whether Morries L. Hall could be compelled to testify about any aspect of his relationship with Floyd.
Hall, who was in the car with Floyd and whom one witness said sold him illegal drugs, has invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Hall's lawyer Adrienne Cousins said his testimony would put him at risk for a third-degree murder charge in Floyd's death.
"I cannot envision any topics Mr. Hall would be called to testify on that would be relevant to the case that would not incriminate him," Cousins said.
Cahill left open the possibility he could testify about Floyd's behavior. The judge directed Nelson to submit possible written questions for Hall by Thursday for further discussion.
Chauvin is charged with second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the death of Floyd. Three other fired officers, Kueng, Lane and Tou Thao, are scheduled to be tried in August on charges of aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.