Chauvin Trial Day 8: Testimony continues on excessive force, drugs found in Floyd’s car

By: - April 7, 2021 7:04 pm

Senior Special Agent James Reyerson of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension testified Wednesday in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin.

A Los Angeles sergeant, the lead investigator on the case and three scientists testified Wednesday, as prosecutors continued to lay out their case that former Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin committed murder and manslaughter when he pinned George Floyd to the ground last year.

Floyd died, and prosecutors say his death was caused by positional asphyxia, while Chauvin’s attorney has argued Floyd ingested a lethal dose of fentanyl and possibly a speedball — a combination of fentanyl and methamphetamine, which were both found in his system.

The case moved into that disputed territory Wednesday, with prosecutors presenting evidence that fentanyl and methamphetamine were found in pills found in the Mercedes Benz Floyd was driving that day and in the squad car where officers struggled with Floyd. Chauvin’s attorney sometimes did no cross-examination, since the presence of drugs squares with their defense.

Here are our takeaways from the eighth day of testimony: 

LAPD officer: Chauvin used ‘pain compliance’ on Floyd

Sgt. Jody Stiger of the Los Angeles Police Department said Minneapolis police used excessive force on Floyd by restraining him face down and handcuffed for nine minutes and 29 seconds.

He also said it appeared that while pinning Floyd down, at one point Chauvin was using “pain compliance” on Floyd’s left hand — meaning he would squeeze Floyd’s fingers and knuckles to get him to comply.

Stiger said the officers used excessive force based on a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Graham vs. Connor, in which the court said an “objective reasonableness” standard should be used.

Stiger said the severity of Floyd’s alleged crime, the threat to officers and Floyd’s level of resistance did not merit any use of force once Floyd was handcuffed and face down. Instead, the officers used deadly force, he said, which can cause positional asphyxia and death.

The dangers of positional asphyxia in that situation — even without adding the officers’ body weight — have been known in law enforcement for at least 20 years, Stiger testified.

As for the defense argument that the crowd of agitated bystanders posed a threat, Stiger said, “I did not perceive them as being a threat.”

“They were merely filming and most of it was their concern for Mr. Floyd,” he said.

Stiger acknowledged during cross-examination that he has never before testified in court as an expert on police use of force.

Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, said the Supreme Court decision also said police force “must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.”

Nelson’s questioning revolved around three officers being unable to get Floyd to stay in the squad car; Floyd’s size; the tussle with him in the squad car; and how a handcuffed person can still be a threat.

Nelson played a portion of a body cam video and asked Stiger if it sounded to him like Floyd said, after groaning in pain, “I ate too many drugs.” Stiger said no.

Nelson also said Chauvin received training on handling large crowds about a month prior, and was taught never to underestimate a crowd’s potential.

Nelson again showed a training photo demonstrating how to handcuff someone by putting a knee between their shoulder blades at the base of their neck, and photos that seem to show Chauvin’s knee above the shoulder blade or the base of the neck.

Stiger said that while handcuffing someone in the prone position, officers are trained to stay away from the neck and put the person on their side or upright as soon as possible. And, he said, putting pressure anywhere on the body of someone in that position complicates breathing.

Lead investigator: Chauvin kept his knee in place 3 minutes after Floyd stopped talking

The lead investigator on the Chauvin case testified Wednesday that Chauvin kept Floyd pinned to the street about three minutes after Floyd stopped talking.

Senior Special Agent James Reyerson of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension was shown videos with Floyd handcuffed and placed on the ground at 8:19 p.m. He stopped talking at about 8:25 p.m., but Chauvin still had his knee on him when paramedics walked up to him at 8:27:40 p.m.

Nelson also asked Reyerson if it sounded like Floyd said “I ate too many drugs” in the video, and Reyerson said no. So Nelson replayed the video, after which Reyerson said “Yes it did.”

But after prosecutors played more of the video, where an officer asked if he’d used drugs, Reyerson said, “I believe Mr. Floyd was saying ‘I ain’t do no drugs.’ ”

Nelson also said liquid under the squad car that some have speculated was Floyd’s urine was “probably condensation” from the running squad car.

After the Mercedes Benz and squad car were processed a second time, pills were found in the Mercedes and pill remnants in the back seat of the squad car.

Chauvin’s attorney noted Reyerson didn’t notice pills in the Mercedes.

“Out of the 750 photos I reviewed, I did not,” Reyerson said.

There were also questions about exhaust from the squad car, which is a hybrid, apparently a reference to the carbon dioxide buildup in Floyd’s body, which has come up in the trial previously. 

On Monday, the ER doctor who treated Floyd, Dr. Bradford Wankhede Langenfeld, testified that Floyd’s carbon dioxide level was more than twice what you’d expect in a healthy person.  Fentanyl can cause that by depressing ventilation levels, but Langenfeld said once the heart stops and blood stops flowing to tissues, that can also elevate carbon dioxide.

Reyerson said about 50 BCA and 25 FBI agents worked the case, executing about a dozen search warrants, interviewing about 200 people and creating 440 reports and counting.

Pills found in Mercedes, squad car contained fentanyl, meth

McKenzie Anderson, a forensic scientist at the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, testified that when she first processed the Mercedes Benz SUV Floyd had been driving and the police squad car where officers struggled with Floyd, she noticed a small white pill in the Mercedes’ center console, but didn’t know Floyd might have been under the influence of anything.

She was asked to search the Mercedes again on Dec. 9, and collected Suboxone — prescription medication for people addicted to opioids — and two pills from the center console.

On Jan. 27, the vehicles were towed back to the BCA so the defense could retrieve what appeared to be pills.

Remnants of pills were found in the rear of the squad car, and DNA testing matched Floyd.

Breahna Giles, a forensic scientist at the BCA, tested a glass pipe from the Mercedes and found THC. She also tested the two white pills found in the Mercedes with the pharmaceutical markings for oxycodone and acetaminophen, but found the tablets contained methamphetamine and fentanyl.

Susan Neith, a forensic chemist with NMS Labs in Pennsylvania, testified that she did a quantitative analysis of two pills from the Mercedes and one partial pill from the squad car and found fentanyl and methamphetamine in them.

She found the fentanyl was less than 1% pure and the meth was 2-2.9% pure. The purity of the fentanyl was typical for street fentanyl, but the amount of meth was lower — she usually sees 90-100% purity rates.

The trial continues Thursday.

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs. Before joining the staff of the Reformer in 2021 she was a contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. She and her husband have a daughter, son, and very grand child. In her spare time, she likes to play tennis, jog, garden and attempt to check out all the best restaurants in the metro area.