:: Deadly force’ used by officers who pinned Floyd to the ground says use-of-force expert and police sergeant
Officer Derek Chauvin had his knee on George Floyd’s neck and was bearing down with most of his weight the entire nine and a half minutes Mr Floyd lay facedown with his hands cuffed behind his back, a use-of-force expert testified yesterday at Mr Chauvin’s murder trial.
Jody Stiger, an LA Police Department sergeant serving as a prosecution witness, said that based on his review of video evidence, Mr Chauvin knelt on Mr Floyd’s neck or neck area from the time officers put him on the ground until paramedics arrived.
He said that "deadly force" was used by the officers who pinned Mr Floyd down.
“That particular force did not change during the entire restraint period?” prosecutor Steve Schleicher asked as he showed the jury a composite of five photos taken from the various videos of the arrest.
“Correct,” replied Mr Stiger, who on Tuesday testified that the force used against Floyd was excessive.
Mr Chauvin’s attorney Eric Nelson sought to point out moments in the video footage when, he said, Mr Chauvin’s knee did not appear to be on Mr Floyd’s neck but on his shoulder blade area or the base of his neck.
Mr Stiger did not give much ground, saying the officer’s knee in some of the contested photos still seemed to be near Mr Floyd’s neck.
The defence attorney also asked Mr Stiger whether video showed Mr Floyd picking up his head and moving it at times. “Slightly, yes. He attempted to,” Mr Stiger said. Mr Chauvin (45) is charged with murder and manslaughter in Mr Floyd’s death outside Cup Foods store in Minneapolis last May 25.
Mr Floyd (46) was arrested after being accused of trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill. A panicky-sounding Mr Floyd struggled and claimed to be claustrophobic as police tried to put him in a squad car, and they pinned him down on the pavement.
Bystander video of Mr Floyd crying that he couldn’t breathe as onlookers shouted at Mr Chauvin to get off him sparked protests and scattered violence around the US. and triggered a reckoning over racism and police brutality.
Mr Nelson has argued that the now-fired white officer “did exactly what he had been trained to do over his 19-year career”, and he has suggested that the illegal drugs in Mr Floyd’s system and his underlying health conditions are what killed him, not Chauvin’s knee on his neck.
Mr Nelson seized on the drug angle in cross-examining Mr Stiger, playing a snippet of then-Officer J Kueng’s body-camera video and asking whether Mr Stiger could hear Mr Floyd saying, “I ate too many drugs.”
Mr Stiger said that he was unable to make out those words in the footage.
Mr Chauvin’s lawyer also asked Mr Stiger about uses of force that are commonly referred to by police as “lawful but awful”. He conceded “you can have a situation where by law it looks horrible to the common eye, but based on the state law, it’s lawful”.
Mr Nelson has argued that the officers on the scene perceived the onlookers as an increasingly hostile crowd and were distracted by them.
But Mr Stiger told the jury, “I did not perceive them as being a threat,” even though some onlookers were name-calling and using foul language. He added that most of the shouting was due to “their concern for Mr Floyd”.
Mr Nelson’s voice rose as he asked Mr Stiger how a reasonable officer would be trained to view a crowd while dealing with a suspect, “and somebody else is now pacing around and watching you and watching you and calling you names and saying (expletives)”.
Mr Nelson said such a situation “could be viewed by a reasonable officer as a threat.”
“As a potential threat, correct,” Mr Stiger said.
Mr Chauvin’s lawyer noted that dispatchers had described Mr Floyd as being between 6 feet and 6-foot-6 in height and possibly under the influence.
Mr Stiger agreed that it would be reasonable for Mr Chauvin to come to the scene with a heightened sense of awareness.
Mr Stiger further agreed with Mr Nelson that an officer’s actions must be judged from the point of view of a reasonable officer on the scene, not in hindsight.
Among other things, Mr Nelson said that given typical emergency services response times, it was reasonable for Mr Chauvin to believe that paramedics would be there soon.
Instead of closing ranks to protect a fellow officer behind what has been dubbed the “blue wall of silence,” some of the most experienced Minneapolis officers, including the police chief, have taken the stand to openly condemn Chauvin’s actions as excessive and contrary to his training and departmental policy.