The training of Minneapolis Police Department officers was the subject of several hours of testimony heard Tuesday, April 6, in the case against Derek Chauvin.
Witnesses called by the prosecution attested to officer training generally, and also to the training of the ex-officer charged in the death of George Floyd himself. At the heart of questions asked of them was whether Chauvin broke with what he was taught to do and with departmental policies by kneeling on Floyd's neck the night of May 25, 2020, and by not rendering him care.
Sgt. Jody Stiger of the Los Angeles Police Department, who said he has overseen the training of many officers, testified that he did not approve of Chauvin's handling of Floyd.
"My opinion is that the force was excessive," said Stiger, who was called as an expert witness by the prosecution.
Chauvin is charged with second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd's death, which last year set off a wave of nationwide wave of protests and calls for policing reform.
Now in their sixth week of the trial, jurors heard from Chauvin's colleagues about the training he himself underwent. Records of his attending training sessions on the use of force and on emergency care were cited in court Tuesday.
Police Lt. Johnny Mercil, a use-of-force instructor for the Minneapolis department, testified that officers are taught to steer clear of several "red zones" on the human body when dealing with an uncooperative suspects, such as their head and neck. Using one's knee to restrain a suspect by the neck, as Chauvin did to Floyd, Mercil said, is not something that officers are trained to do. Neck restraints involving the arms and hands are more commonly taught.
"We don't train leg-neck restraints," he said. "As far as my knowledge, we never have."
At the questioning of a Chauvin defense attorney Eric Nelson, Mercil did say officers are taught that individuals can be restrained for the more specific purpose of placing them in handcuffs by applying leg pressure to their shoulder blades. The attorney asked if an officer in such a position may maintain it if they believe the situation they are in is volatile, to which Mercil responded in the affirmative.
Throughout the trial, Chauvin's defense has sought in part to depict the crowd of bystanders that gathered at the scene of Floyd's arrest in Minneapolis. Nelson Tuesday asked if the apparent threats some crowd members made to Chauvin and the other officers present the night of May 25 may have been a cause for them to not stop restraining Floyd. Mercil said yes, but also told state prosecutors that calls from bystanders that Floyd was dying would also had to have been taken into account.
Officer Nicole Mackenzie, of the Minneapolis Police Department, similarly testified Tuesday that a chaotic situation and disruptive bystanders could keep an officer from providing emergency care to a suspect or individual who needs it, as Floyd may have in the time before an ambulance arrived for him, but that such things would not excuse an officer for not doing so unless he or she was physically being restrained themselves.
The Minneapolis Police testimony came one day after department Chief Medaria Arradondo testified that Chauvin "absolutely" did not abide by the policy or ethics of city police during Floyd's arrest.
Stiger, of the Los Angeles police, also said Floyd's arresting officers could be heard in audio capture by their body-worn cameras discussing whether to use a so-called "hobble" on Floyd, which is an immobilization devices that fastens the legs to the waist. That they ultimately decided not to, he said, suggests to him that Floyd had stopped offering resistance in the time that they were on top of him.
Floyd friend seeks to avoid testifying
Morries Hall, who was with Floyd just before he was detained May 25, 2020, also appeared briefly in court on Tuesday via a web camera broadcast. He is being held in jail for matters unrelated to Floyd's arrest.
Attorneys for Hall indicated that he is likely to plead his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination if asked to talk about the events leading up to and after the arrival of Minneapolis police at the scene where Floyd would be arrested.
Last week, Floyd's girlfriend, Courteney Ross, testified that Hall in the past had provided drugs to Floyd, who was found to have fentanyl and other drugs in his system upon an autopsy. Asking Hall if he provided drugs to Floyd in the past could open him up to third-degree murder charges in particular, according to his attorney. Attorneys for Chauvin have several times referenced Floyd's use of drugs in their defense.
Judge Peter Cahill asked the defense for a narrow list of questions for Hall that he could review, and that the court would return to the matter later in the week.
Court is in recess until 9:15 a.m. Wednesday, April 7, with Stiger expected to continue his testimony.