The Potluck

Chauvin murder trial day seven: Cops say he violated policy, used excessive force

By: - April 6, 2021 6:59 pm

Sgt. Jody Stiger, a former tactics instructor for the Los Angeles Police Department, testified for the prosecution in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin.

Prosecutors continued calling police officers Tuesday to testify that Derek Chauvin’s handling of George Floyd violated Minneapolis Police Department policies and training.

Chauvin is charged with murder and manslaughter in the May 25 death of Floyd after police were called to Cup Foods.

Takeaways from the seventh day of testimony: 

Training coordinator says officers should de-escalate

Minneapolis Police Sgt. Ker Yang, who is the crisis intervention training coordinator for the department, said officers are trained to de-escalate situations with people in crisis when it’s safe and feasible.

Prosecutors showed records indicating Chauvin took a 40-hour training course in crisis intervention, complete with professional actors.

On cross-examination, Chauvin’s attorney Eric Nelson got Yang to agree that the public doesn’t always understand that when police use force, it can look “really bad” and part of crisis intervention is dealing with bystanders, too.

Nelson’s questions implied Chauvin knew medical help was on the way and was making decisions about how to protect the officers’ safety with an agitated crowd.

Yang agreed officers are trained to “have a confidence about them,” speak slowly and softly and avoid staring or eye contact with the arrestee or bystanders.

Prosecutor Steve Schleicher responded to Nelson’s line of questioning by asking Yang whether rendering medical aid to a subject shouldn’t be prioritized over “a 17-year-old filming with a camera.” Yang agreed.

Use-of-force director testifies

The man who was in charge of MPD’s use-of-force training testified Tuesday that officers are trained to use the least amount of force needed to meet their objective — such as getting someone in handcuffs.

Lt. Johnny Mercil said officers’ use of force should be proportional to the level of resistance.

Mercil said a neck restraint was allowed by MPD policy at the time of Floyd’s death if someone was actively resisting police. The sanctioned neck restraint involved using arms to put pressure on the sides of the person’s neck.

Mercil said putting a knee on a neck could be an authorized restraint, but not on someone who is handcuffed and under control. He said officers are taught to put a knee across the shoulder while handcuffing them face down, but they’re taught to avoid the neck and place the knee on the shoulder. 

They should remove the knee when the person stops resisting and sit the person up or move them onto their side to avoid positional asphyxia — which prosecutors say killed Floyd.

Nelson showed several bodycam video still shots that showed Chauvin’s knee or shin on Floyd’s shoulder blade when a paramedic was checking his pulse toward the end of the incident.

Mercil agreed with the prosecutor’s inquiry that it’s not appropriate to keep holding someone in the prone position after they’ve stopped resisting and have no pulse. 

Medical trainer says officers must render aid

Nicole Mackenzie, a medical supply coordinator for MPD, trains police officers on CPR and administering Narcan during overdoses.

She testified that after using force on someone, officers must render medical aid as soon as reasonably practicable once the scene is safe. They should not wait for an ambulance to arrive.

“If you don’t have a pulse on a person, you’ll immediately start CPR,” she said.

She said just because someone can talk, does not mean he can breathe adequately — contrary to what officers said on the Floyd scene.

Under cross-examination, she acknowledged sometimes people mistake agonal breathing — irregular gasps for air by someone in respiratory distress — with regular breathing.

She also confirmed that fentanyl has become a bigger concern, and use of both stimulants and depressants together has become commonplace.

Chauvin’s attorney has argued Floyd ingested a lethal dose of fentanyl and possibly a speedball — fentanyl and methamphetamine.

Mackenzie also confirmed officers are taught to recognize signs and symptoms of “excited delirium,” a controversial term that police say is a potentially deadly medical condition that can give someone super-human strength. The condition has not been recognized by the American Medical Association or the American Psychiatric Association.

The defense may call Mackenzie back to testify next week, Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill said.

LAPD officer: MPD used excessive force

An expert for the prosecution said Chauvin used excessive force on Floyd.

Sgt. Jody Stiger, who has served as a tactics instructor for the Los Angeles Police Department, said typically you wouldn’t expect to use any force in a counterfeit bill case.

Stiger has reviewed use-of-force cases across the nation and trained about 3,000 officers on de-escalation and avoiding using force.

He said Floyd initially resisted police when they were trying to get him in the squad SUV, justifying their use of force. But once he was face down on the ground, he slowly stopped resisting and they should have followed suit.

Instead, they continued to use force, he said.

They could have tried to talk to him, which an officer did successfully earlier, Stiger testified.

Once on the ground, Stiger only saw Floyd take one aggressive action — kicking an officer’s arm away.

Stiger’s testimony will resume Wednesday.

Floyd passenger tries to get out of testifying

The man who went into Cup Foods with Floyd and was a passenger in his SUV on the day Floyd died is trying to get out of testifying during the trial.

Both the prosecution and defense have listed Morries Hall as a witness, and he appeared in court via Zoom Tuesday to try to quash a subpoena, invoking his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination. 

Hall fled to Texas after Floyd’s death and was apprehended by the Texas Rangers. He is now in the Hennepin County jail on various domestic violence charges. 

His attorney, Assistant Public Defender Adrienne Cousins, said he has been offered no immunity, and requiring him to testify about what happened that day exposes him to a third-degree murder charge. 

Drugs were found in Floyd’s system, and his girlfriend testified last week that Hall had sold him drugs in the past.

Chauvin’s attorney wants to question Hall about what happened before they got to Cup Foods; whether either gave the other a fake bill; whether he gave or sold Floyd drugs; his past statement that Floyd was falling asleep in the SUV before police arrived; and why he fled Minnesota.

Cahill told Nelson, however, to draft questions he wants to ask Hall by Thursday, and he’ll decide which Hall can testify about without incriminating himself, which indicates a sharply limited range of questions.

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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.