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The trial of the former officer Derek Chauvin resumed on Wednesday with testimony from Sgt. Jody Stiger of the Los Angeles Police Department, who is expected to be the only outside expert to testify for the state about police training and use of force.
Here are some key takeaways from the eighth day of the trial.
A police force expert says Derek Chauvin used ‘deadly force’ on George Floyd when he should have used none.
A use-of-force expert with the Los Angeles Police Department testified on Wednesday that Derek Chauvin had used “deadly force” on George Floyd at a time when it was not appropriate to use any force.
Sgt. Jody Stiger, who works with the department’s Inspector General’s Office to investigate internal wrongdoing, reviewed evidence in the Chauvin case for prosecutors. He said Mr. Chauvin had put Mr. Floyd at risk of positional asphyxia, a key point for prosecutors who have argued that Mr. Floyd died of asphyxia, meaning a loss of oxygen.
Sergeant Stiger said that even being handcuffed and in a prone position can make it harder to breathe.
“When you add body weight to that, it just increases the possibility of death,” he said.
The testimony from Sergeant Stiger came on the eighth day of the trial of Mr. Chauvin, who has been charged with murdering Mr. Floyd. The sergeant has said that the officers who arrested Mr. Floyd were initially justified in using force to try to put him in the back of a police car and put him in the prone position, but “should have slowed down or stopped their force” once Mr. Floyd was on the ground.
Sergeant Stiger said on Wednesday that while Mr. Chauvin knelt on Mr. Floyd, he had appeared to use a “pain compliance” technique on one of Mr. Floyd’s hands. Sergeant Stiger said Mr. Chauvin could be seen, in body camera video, either pushing Mr. Floyd’s knuckles together or pulling his wrist against his handcuffs to hurt him. The sergeant said he could hear the handcuffs ratcheting tighter in one of the videos.
Those techniques may be appropriate to get a person to comply with police commands, Sergeant Stiger said, but he indicated that there was no opportunity for Mr. Floyd to comply.
“At that point, it’s just pain,” Sergeant Stiger said.
But in the cross-examination of Sergeant Stiger, the lawyer for Mr. Chauvin, Eric J. Nelson, played a short video of Mr. Floyd handcuffed on the ground and asked the sergeant if it sounded like Mr. Floyd was saying, “I ate too many drugs.” Sergeant Stiger said he could not make out what Mr. Floyd had said, at which point Mr. Nelson asked him if things can be “missed” in a chaotic scene. The sergeant agreed that they could.
Sergeant Stiger also agreed, in response to Mr. Nelson’s questioning, that it would have been appropriate for Mr. Chauvin to use a Taser on Mr. Floyd when he first arrived on scene, given that Mr. Floyd appeared to be resisting officers’ efforts to get him into a police car. Still, the jury has heard from many experts — including Sergeant Stiger — who said that the appropriate level of force changed once Mr. Floyd was on the ground and no longer resisting.
Mr. Nelson emphasized that the sergeant was an outside expert who worked for the Los Angeles Police Department, which he joined in 1993, and might not be as familiar with Minneapolis police policies.
Mr. Nelson also highlighted that the Minneapolis Police Department’s policies on using force give discretion to officers. He read from one portion of the department’s policy that says that the reasonableness of an officer’s use of force has to be judged “from the perspective of the reasonable officer on the scene rather than with the 20-20 vision of hindsight.”
The defense kept a focus on the role of the crowd.
Since the first day of the trial of Derek Chauvin, it has been one of the central arguments in his defense: that the bystanders who witnessed George Floyd’s arrest last May in Minneapolis also influenced Mr. Chauvin’s actions.
On Wednesday, Mr. Nelson, the lawyer for Mr. Chauvin, returned again to the crowd of people who had gathered outside Cup Foods and watched Mr. Chauvin kneel on Mr. Floyd, their voices raised and their cellphones recording. Mr. Nelson repeated insults that had been heard on videos from that day and suggested that the bystanders made up an aggressive, unpredictable group.
Asked if the crowd was growing “more excited,” a use-of-force expert for the prosecution, Sgt. Jody Stiger of the Los Angeles Police Department, answered, “They became more concerned.”
In response to a prosecutor’s question, Sergeant Stiger said he did not find the crowd to be a threat to the officers.
On Tuesday, Officer Nicole Mackenzie, the medical support coordinator for the Minneapolis Police Department, agreed with an assertion by Mr. Chauvin’s lawyer that a crowd of vocal bystanders could make it difficult for an officer to render medical aid during an arrest. Lt. Johnny Mercil, a veteran of the Minneapolis Police Department and use-of-force instructor, also said that hostile bystanders could raise alarm with officers.
Police policies generally advise how officers should react when they are being heckled by bystanders or filmed with smartphones, an increasingly common occurrence, said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit group in Washington.
Three other officers were present during Mr. Floyd’s arrest, and in an ideal situation, Mr. Wexler said, Mr. Chauvin would not have been directly monitoring the crowd.
“There’s a division of labor there,” Mr. Wexler said. “You would hope that there would be enough officers so that some can handle the crowd. But Officer Chauvin should be focused on Mr. Floyd and his well-being, and the other officers should be focused on the crowd.”
Discussion of neck restraints may help the defense’s arguments.
When reviewing a picture of Mr. Chauvin pinning George Floyd to the ground, Lieutenant Mercil told prosecutors that Mr. Chauvin’s position was not consistent with the Minneapolis Police Department’s training on use of force. In addition, Lieutenant Mercil said officers were trained to “use the lowest level of force possible” when controlling a subject.
Still, Mr. Nelson made some potential headway with the testimony of Lieutenant Mercil. Asked about neck restraints, Lieutenant Mercil said it generally took less than 10 seconds for a person to become unconscious because of a neck restraint. The question could allow Mr. Nelson to argue that Mr. Chauvin’s knee did not qualify as a neck restraint because it took several minutes for Mr. Floyd to lose consciousness.