Chauvin’s knee was never off Floyd’s neck: Expert

Expert witness describes Derek Chauvin’s conduct as ‘excessive force’ as defence claims he was trained to do so.

LAPD Sergeant Jody Stiger testifies in the trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis [Court TV/Pool via AP Photo]

Officer Derek Chauvin had his knee on George Floyd’s neck – and was bearing down with most of his weight – the entire time George Floyd lay facedown with his hands cuffed behind his back, a use-of-force expert testified Wednesday at Chauvin’s murder trial.

Jody Stiger, a Los Angeles Police Department sergeant serving as a prosecution witness, said that based on his review of video evidence, Chauvin’s knee was on Floyd’s neck from the time officers put Floyd on the ground until paramedics arrived – about 9.5 minutes, by prosecutors’ reckoning.

Prosecutor Steve Schleicher showed jurors a composite image of five photos taken from various videos of the arrest. Stiger went through each photo, saying it appeared that the Minneapolis officer’s left knee was on Floyd’s neck or neck area in each one.

“That particular force did not change during the entire restraint period?” Schleicher asked.

“Correct,” Stiger replied.

Stiger also said Chauvin squeezed Floyd’s fingers and pulled one of his wrists towards his handcuffs, a technique that uses pain to get someone to comply, but did not appear to let up while Floyd was restrained.

“Then at that point, it’s just pain,” Stiger said.

Al Jazeera’s John Hendren, reporting from Minneapolis on Wednesday, said the trial – after nearly two weeks of expert testimony for the prosecution – is nearing a turning point when the defence will begin to argue Floyd’s death was caused by drug use and a heart condition.

“We expect that the prosecution is close to wrapping up its case,” Hendren said.

Defence lawyer Eric Nelson questions Los Angeles Police Department Sergeant Jody Stiger, on April 7, 2021 [Court TV/Pool via AP Photo]

Stiger’s testimony came a day after Chauvin lawyer Eric Nelson sought to point out moments in the video footage when Chauvin’s knee did not appear to be on Floyd’s neck.

Nelson also has suggested that bystanders who were yelling at Chauvin to get off Floyd distracted the officers, who perceived the onlookers as an increasingly hostile crowd.

But Stiger told Schleicher, “I did not perceive them as being a threat,” even though some onlookers were name-calling and using foul language.

During cross-examination, Nelson noted that dispatchers had described Floyd as between 6 feet and 6-foot-6 (182 – 198cm) and possibly under the influence. Stiger agreed it was reasonable for Chauvin to come to the scene with a heightened sense of awareness.

Stiger also agreed with Nelson that an officer’s actions must be viewed from the point of view of a reasonable officer on the scene, not in hindsight.

It was Stiger’s second day on the stand. On Tuesday, he testified that officers were justified in using force while Floyd was resisting their efforts to put him in a squad car. But once Floyd was on the ground and stopped resisting, officers “should have slowed down or stopped their force as well”.

Stiger said that after reviewing video of the arrest, “my opinion was that the force was excessive.”

Several experienced officers, including the police chief himself, have taken the stand as part of an effort by prosecutors to dismantle the argument that Chauvin was doing what he was trained to do when he restrained Floyd last May.

The prosecution has “presented a pretty compelling case that the amount of force that Mr Chauvin used was excessive”, said Kenneth Williams, a professor of law at the South Texas College of Law.

“That was pretty devastating for Mr Chauvin,” Williams told Al Jazeera.

Nelson has argued drugs killed Floyd, whose autopsy noted there were narcotics in his system, not Chauvin.

According to testimony and records submitted on Tuesday, Chauvin took a 40-hour course in 2016 on how to recognise people in crisis – including those suffering mental problems or the effects of drug use – and how to use de-escalation techniques to calm them down.

A protester holds a sign across the street from the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis where the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin continues [Jim Mone/AP Photo]

Records show Chauvin also underwent training in the use of force in 2018. Lieutenant Johnny Mercil, a Minneapolis police use-of-force trainer, testified that those who attended were taught that the sanctity of life is a cornerstone of departmental policy and that officers must use the least amount of force required to get a suspect to comply.

Under cross-examination by Nelson, Mercil testified that officers are trained in some situations to use their knee across a suspect’s back or shoulder and employ their body weight to maintain control.

But Mercil added, “We tell officers to stay away from the neck when possible.”

Nelson has argued that Chauvin “did exactly what he had been trained to do over his 19-year career”.

Nelson showed Mercil several images taken from officers’ body-camera videos, asking after each one whether it showed Chauvin’s knee appearing to rest more on Floyd’s back, shoulder or shoulder blades than directly on Floyd’s neck. Mercil often agreed.

Nelson acknowledged the images were difficult to make out. They were taken at different moments during Floyd’s arrest, starting about four minutes after he was first pinned to the ground, according to time stamps on the images.

Instead of closing ranks to protect a fellow officer behind what has been dubbed the “blue wall of silence”, some of the most experienced members of the Minneapolis force have taken the stand to openly condemn Chauvin’s actions as excessive.

Source: Al Jazeera, AP