Takeaways

Key Moments in Day 8 of the Derek Chauvin Trial

The effect of bystanders and the Minneapolis Police Department’s use-of-force protocols have been key topics in recent testimony.

Police in the courtyard at Hennepin County Government Center as the trial of Derek Chauvin takes place inside.
Credit...Aaron Nesheim for The New York Times

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.

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Expert: ‘No Force’ Should’ve Been Used Once Floyd Was Restrained

Sgt. Jody Stiger of the Los Angeles Police Department and an expert on the use of force, testified on Wednesday about reasonable force in the arrest of George Floyd.

“Now, are you familiar with the concept of proportionality?” “Yes, I am.” “Can you please explain the concept of proportionality as it relates to the use of force to the jury?” “Yes, so proportionality basically means that an officer is only allowed to use a level of force that’s proportional to the seriousness of the crime or the level of resistance that a subject is using towards the officers.” “Sir, do you have an opinion to a degree of reasonable and professional certainty to how much force was reasonable for the defendant to use on Mr. Floyd after Mr. Floyd was handcuffed, placed in a prone position and not resisting?” “Yes.” “What was that opinion?” “My opinion was that no force should have been used once he was in that position.” “Cameras can’t, they don’t have a feeling or a sensation right? You can’t determine what someone — the tension in their body, right, based on a camera?” “Specifically are you —” “If someone is, if someone is struggling, right, and you’ve got them handcuffed, they can still be tense, but not really look very tense, right?” “I would disagree with that.” “OK, so the camera would be able to pick up whether someone is having a particular sensory experience?” “Yes, it can.” “OK.”

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Sgt. Jody Stiger of the Los Angeles Police Department and an expert on the use of force, testified on Wednesday about reasonable force in the arrest of George Floyd.CreditCredit...Still image, via Court TV

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.”

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Police Expert in Chauvin Trial Says He Didn’t See Crowd as ‘Threat’

Sgt. Jody Stiger of the Los Angeles Police Department testified on Wednesday in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin that he did not perceive bystanders as a threat after reviewing body camera video of George Floyd’s arrest.

“I would define hostile crowd in the situations I’ve been in where the crowd or members of the crowd were threatening and/or throwing bottles and rocks at us, at the police.” “Have you had that experience?” “Yes, sir.” “On more than one occasion.” “Yes.” “When you reviewed the body-worn cameras, did you see anybody throw any rocks or bottles?” “No, I did not.“ “Did you see anyone attack, physically attack the officers?” “No, I did not.” “Did you hear foul language or name-calling?” “There was some name-calling, yes, but, and some foul language. But that was about the most of it.” “Did that factor into your analysis?” “No.” “Why not?” “Because I did not perceive them as being a threat.” “And why is that?” “Because they were merely filming and they were, most of it was their concern for Mr. Floyd.” “When an officer is on scene and he’s making a decision to use force and a crowd assembles, whether they’re peaceful or not peaceful, an officer, a reasonable officer, has to be aware of what they’re doing, right?” “Absolutely.” “And that can distract an officer.” “In certain instances, yes.” “And if I start calling you names, that conveys a meaning, right?” “Yes.” “And a reasonable officer could foresee that or see that, perceive that, as a threat.” “Name-calling? I would say it depends on the officer’s training and experience.” “OK, but an officer, a reasonable officer, could perceive the words that people are saying and the tone that it is being said in as a threat or a risk to the officer’s safety, agreed?” “A risk, possibly, but officers are typically trained that when it comes to verbal threats in themselves, that you can’t just use that only to justify force.”

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Sgt. Jody Stiger of the Los Angeles Police Department testified on Wednesday in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin that he did not perceive bystanders as a threat after reviewing body camera video of George Floyd’s arrest.CreditCredit...Minneapolis Police Department, via Associated Press

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.”

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.