MINNEAPOLIS — An expert witness returned to the courtroom Wednesday in the murder trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin to face more questions about why he determined Chauvin’s use of force on George Floyd was “excessive.”
Sgt. Jody Stiger, a Los Angeles Police Department officer who has conducted about 2,500 use of force reviews in his career, told jurors Tuesday the initial use of force on Floyd that day 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 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 Tuesday.
Floyd, a Black man, died in police custody on May 25, 2020, after Chauvin, who is white, pinned his knee against Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes. Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Stay updated on the Derek Chauvin trial: Sign up for text messages of key updates, follow USA TODAY Network reporters on Twitter, or subscribe to the Daily Briefing newsletter.
- 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.
- George Floyd’s brothers, family attorney Ben Crump, national civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton and Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, held a prayer service outside the courthouse Tuesday afternoon.
Prosecutors Tuesday afternoon called Sgt. Jody Stiger of the Los Angeles Police Department as an expert witness. Stiger has provided training to approximately 6,000 officers in de-escalation, basic patrol tactics and other subjects
Stiger told jurors 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.
Prosecutor Steve Schleicher led Stiger through the factors used to support that opinion, starting with a photo of Chauvin with his knee on Floyd’s neck.
Stiger said he also examined the severity of the alleged offense, in this case, trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill. In such a case, “you wouldn’t even expect to use any kind of force,” said Stiger.
Next, Stiger said he examined the threat posed by Floyd. In certain cases, the size and stature of the subject may be relevant in evaluating use of force. But Stiger testified that it is not appropriate to use force against someone simply because of his or her larger size.
He also said it was “not necessarily” required for the officers to use force to get Floyd into the car. One officer had established a bit of rapport with Floyd, and the officers could have used that to try to talk Floyd into the car, Stiger testified. After watching a video replay from one officer’s body camera, Stiger acknowledged that Floyd kicked the officer’s arms away one time as they struggled to control him.
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.
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.