MINNEAPOLIS — Jurors in the Derek Chauvin trial heard from two Minneapolis police officers Tuesday who testified about the crisis intervention and use of force training officers receive.
Lt. Johnny Mercil was presented with an image of Chauvin with his knee on Floyd’s neck and told jurors the move was not a department-trained neck restraint.
The testimony comes a day after Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo told jurors that Chauvin’s restraint of George Floyd “absolutely” violated department policy. He said that the restraint should have stopped “once Mr. Floyd stopped resisting” and “once he was in distress and verbalized it.”
Former police officer Derek Chauvin is facing murder and manslaughter charges. Floyd, a Black man, died in police custody on May 25, 2020, after Chauvin, who is white, pinned his knee against Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes.
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- The court was on a lunch break until 1:30 p.m. CST.
- Johnny Mercil, a Minneapolis Police Department lieutenant who has been in charge of use of force training since 2017, testified Tuesday.
- The first witness to testify Tuesday was Sgt. Ker Yang, crisis intervention training coordinator for the Minneapolis Police Department.
- Earlier, Judge Peter Cahill instructed lawyers to draft questions for Morries Hall, the man who was in the vehicle with Floyd before his struggle with police officers. Hall filed a motion last month saying he would refuse to answer questions if he’s forced to testify.
- Floyd family attorney Benjamin Crump, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Gwen Carr, the mother of the late Eric Garner, were seen with some members of the Floyd family waiting for an elevator in the courthouse early Tuesday.
- Public safety officials said Monday the trial has been going “smoothly,” and that there’s nothing to indicate “that there is an imminent threat to the court proceedings or to either of the Twin Cities.”
Use-of-force instructor, Johnny Mercil, says officers weren’t taught to put their knee on neck
Johnny Mercil, a Minneapolis Police Department lieutenant who taught a use of force class that was attended by Derek Chauvin, took the witness stand Tuesday.
The prosecution showed jurors paperwork that shows Mercil taught a use of force course on Oct. 1, 2018, that Chauvin attended.
Mercil testified that force must be proportional, which means it must be the least amount of force necessary to maintain control over a person and proportional to the level of resistance an officer is getting from the subject the officer is using force on. If it does not work, then more force may be allowed. “If you can use a lower level of force to meet your objectives it’s better and safer for everyone involved,” Mercil said.
Prosecutor Steve Schleicher showed Mercil an image of Chauvin with his knee on Floyd’s neck and asked if it showed the department-trained neck restraint. Mercil, who teaches officers physically how to do neck restraints, said it does not.
He said a knee on the neck can be authorized in use of force, but it depends on the time frame and the type of resistance the officer is faced with. If the subject is handcuffed and not resisting, it is not authorized, Mercil said. Once the subject is handcuffed and compliant or not resisting, then it’s “an appropriate time” for the officer to move their knee, Mercil said.
“There’s the possibility and risk that some people have trouble breathing when they’re handcuffed (to their back) and on their stomach,” Mercil said. One reason to roll a person to their side is to prevent positional asphyxia, Mercil said. The officer should turn the person to this position “sooner the better,” though he noted it depends on the situation and environment.
Under questioning by Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, Mercil acknowledged use of force techniques do not have a strict application in every instance and that officers are taught to be fluid and react to the circumstances they face. Mercil also agreed under questioning that some people make excuses to avoid arrest, and that he has had suspects say “I can’t breathe” when he was trying to arrest them.
Nelson showed Mercil the same image of Chauvin kneeling with his knee on Floyd’s neck. Mercil restated that this is not taught to officers, but that it can be similar to using bodyweight to control technique. “However we tell officers to stay away on the neck, and we tell officers to put it on their shoulder and be mindful of the position,” Mercil said.
Presented with a still image from an officer’s body-worn camera of an EMT palpating Floyd’s carotid artery on his neck to check his pulse, Mercil said Chauvin’s knee, at that point, “appears to be between the shoulder blades.”
In the bystander video, which is filmed from another angle, Chauvin appears to slightly shuffle back to allow the EMT access to Floyd. At that point, based on the image, Mercil said Chauvin’s use of force was not a neck restraint and appeared to be a body weight hold.
Sgt. Ker Yang answered questions from prosecutor Steve Schleicher on the witness stand Tuesday morning. The government’s questioning was focused on showing that former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin received specific training for the type of confrontation he ultimately faced with George Floyd in May 2020.
Yang confirmed records that show Chauvin completed a 40-hour crisis intervention training program in 2016 at the department’s training division. He said the training is designed to enable officers to make decisions as they interact with people in crisis. The ultimate goal of such training, he said, “is to see if that person needs help,” from medical personnel or other assistance.
“If someone is in need of medical attention, then we give him medical attention,” Yang said, referring to a Minneapolis police officer’s duty to act to provide care for a person in custody. He also agreed that a person who is intoxicated by alcohol or drugs could be in crisis.
During cross-examination of Yang, defense attorney Eric Nelson repeated a line of questioning he used Monday with Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo. The questioning reminded jurors that Chauvin and other officers struggled with Floyd and simultaneously received criticism from bystanders who watched and filmed the struggle.
Nelson drew Yang’s agreement that observing police actions to arrest and subdue a suspect could prompt a crisis for some civilian bystanders who watch the process.
Responding to Nelson, Yang agreed that crisis-intervention training would include teaching officers “how to determine when citizens” observing police actions “pose a threat or risk.” Nelson also drew Chang to acknowledge that “sometimes police actions can look pretty bad.”
However, during re-questioning of Yang, Schleicher got the officer to agree that a police officer’s assessment of a suspect’s medical situation during a confrontation would be “a big thing,” while a 17-year-old filming that confrontation would be “a small thing.”
Judge Peter Cahill won’t immediately let a man who was in a car with George Floyd avoid testifying in the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin.
Cahill instructed defense and government lawyers to draft narrowly tailored questions for Morries Hall, who appeared before the court Tuesday via Zoom. He is being held at the Hennepin County Public Safety Facility on unrelated charges.
Hall has been subpoenaed to appear as a witness by both the Chauvin defense and the government. However, Hall filed a motion late last month to quash the subpoena on grounds that he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right against incrimination and refuse to answer questions if he’s forced to testify.
The judge said he would schedule another hearing after Hall has an opportunity to review the questions with Adrienne Cousins, an assistant public defender representing Hall.
Hall’s name came up in questioning last week. Lead defense attorney Eric Nelson asked Floyd’s girlfriend, Courteney Ross, about Hall. Ross acknowledged that she told FBI investigators Floyd bought narcotics from Hall, but in court she said she “did not see it with my own eyes.”
Ross said she was in a car at a hotel while Floyd bought pills a week before his death. She said she was on the phone with him and thought she heard Hall’s voice in the background. She testified that she only learned afterward that Floyd was with Hall the day Floyd died.
Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo: Restraint of Floyd ‘absolutely’ violates policy
Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, who fired Derek Chauvin and three other officers involved in the incident, said Monday under questioning that he believed Chauvin was trying to employ a conscious neck restraint on Floyd, which involves using light to moderate pressure on a person who is actively resisting police, according to the department’s policy.
But while viewing a still-frame of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck, Arradando said from the picture and Floyd’s facial expression, it “does not appear in any way, shape or form, that that is light to moderate pressure.” Arradando added: “I vehemently disagree that that’s the appropriate use of force for that situation.”
The restraint should have stopped “once Mr. Floyd stopped resisting” and “once he was in distress and verbalized it,” Arradondo said. He added that “there’s an initial reasonableness in trying to get him under control in the first few seconds” only.
“And clearly when Mr. Floyd was no longer responsive and even motionless, to continue to apply that level of force to a person proned out, handcuffed behind their back. That in no way shape or form is not backed by policy, it is not backed by our training, and it’s certainly not our ethics or our values,” Arradondo said.
Arradondo said the officers violated department policy by failing to give first aid to Floyd when he appeared to not be breathing, while they waited for an ambulance.
On cross-examination by defense attorney Eric Nelson, Arradondo acknowledged that he had not made an arrest, personally, in many years. He also acknowledged that in a side-by-side comparison of bystander video and an officer’s body-cam video, it appears that in the latter, Chauvin’s knee is more on Floyd’s shoulder blade than on his neck.
The moment in the video came at the end of the incident, after paramedics arrived and checked Floyd’s neck for a pulse. In the body-cam video, Chauvin can be seen shifting his knees and leaning back slightly.
Doctor tells jurors he believed lack of oxygen, not overdose or heart attack, was ‘most likely’ cause of death
Dr. Bradford Langenfeld testified Monday morning, telling jurors he directed the care of Floyd at Hennepin County Medical Center and spent about 30 minutes trying resuscitate him before pronouncing him dead.
Questioned by prosecutor Jerry Blackwell, Langenfeld said the paramedics who brought Floyd to the hospital did not give him any information that Floyd might have overdosed on drugs or suffered a heart attack.
Langenfeld said Floyd had some electrical activity around the heart, but no pulse. Floyd’s heart never resumed beating on its own “to a degree necessary to sustain life,” he said.
Asked by Blackwell what was determined to be the cause of Floyd’s cardiac arrest, Langenfeld said: “At the time, based on the history available to me, I felt that hypoxia was one of the most likely possibilities.” Hypoxia is a lack of oxygen, which Langenfeld said he believed led to Floyd’s death from asphyxia.
During cross-examination by lead defense attorney Eric Nelson, Langenfeld acknowledged that a combination of fentanyl and methamphetamine could cause hypoxia. A toxicology screen of Floyd after his death found fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system.