A police use of force expert testified in court Wednesday that former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin inappropriately used “deadly force” against George Floyd the night Floyd died in May 2020.
Los Angeles Police Department Sgt. Jody Stiger testified that “no force” should have been used on Floyd after he was handcuffed and in the prone position. (The prone position occurs when a person lies flat on their chest.)
He said Floyd did not appear to pose a threat to the officers at the scene of his arrest during the 9 minutes and 29 seconds Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck.
Floyd was in the “prone position, handcuffed not attempting to resist, not attempting to assault the officers,” Stiger said in his assessment, adding that Floyd was “not actively resisting at the time” nor did he “communicate that he was attempting to resist or evade them.”
Stiger made the remarks on the eighth day of witness testimony in Chauvin’s trial. Chauvin has been charged with second- and third-degree murder as well as second-degree manslaughter. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Stiger, based on his review of video associated with the case and other relevant documents, testified Wednesday that Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly 10 minutes constituted “deadly force.”
“The pressure ... that was being caused by the body weight could cause positional asphyxia, which could cause death,” Stiger told the court.
Positional asphyxia ― oxygen deficiency caused by a person’s body position ― is a well-known risk in law enforcement, Stiger said.
Stiger, whom the prosecution retained as an expert witness, also testified Tuesday. He said he believed Chauvin’s use of force was “excessive.”
During his testimony Wednesday, Stiger threw cold water on the defense’s argument that the crowd of bystanders who witnessed Floyd’s arrest was unruly and therefore could have impacted the officers’ actions.
“I did not perceive them as being a threat,” Stiger said, adding that the bystanders were “merely filming” the arrest and most of their comments were related to “their concern for Mr. Floyd.”
At one point, the prosecution presented a document that showed Chauvin had completed 866 hours of “continued education” training for the police department during his 19-year career with the force. Stiger said that amount of training “absolutely” should have prepared Chauvin for how to appropriately carry out Floyd’s arrest.
The defense has argued throughout the trial that Floyd’s death was caused by a number of factors, including high blood pressure and a drug overdose ― not Chauvin’s actions.
The Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office’s autopsy report, released in June last year, classified Floyd’s death as a homicide and said it was caused by “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint and neck compression.” The report also stated that Floyd had fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system when he died — but didn’t draw a causal link between the drugs and his death.
During his cross-examination of Stiger, defense attorney Eric Nelson played a short clip of Floyd’s arrest that was recorded on a body camera worn by one of the responding officers.
Nelson then asked Stiger whether it sounded like Floyd had said “I ate too many drugs” in that clip. Stiger said he couldn’t tell.
It wasn’t immediately clear what Floyd said in the clip.
Later Wednesday, Nelson asked Special Agent James Reyerson of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension whether he had heard Floyd make the comment that he had eaten “too many drugs” while reviewing video of Floyd’s arrest.
Reyerson, who is leading the BCA’s investigation into Floyd’s death, said no. But after Nelson played the same clip presented earlier in the day to Stiger, Reyerson agreed with Nelson that it appeared as though Floyd had made that comment.
After a short break, prosecutor Matthew Frank played a longer version of the clip that includes the lead-up to the comment in question. In the extended clip, the officers can be heard asking Floyd about drug use.
When asked if the additional video helped him understand what Floyd might have been saying, Reyerson said yes.
“I believe Mr. Floyd was saying, ‘I ain’t do no drugs,’” Reyerson testified.