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Derek Chauvin Trial 4/6/21: Officers used excessive force against Floyd, training expert says

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Trainer calls Chauvin's restraint on Floyd unauthorized
Trainer calls Chauvin's restraint on Floyd un... 02:20

Follow the latest trial updates here. Earlier coverage is below.


An expert witness testified in the trial of Derek Chauvin on Tuesday that officers used excessive force against George Floyd during his fatal May 2020 arrest. LAPD Sergeant Jody Stiger, an expert in tactics and de-escalation training, reviewed the case and testified for the prosecution.

"My opinion was the force was excessive," Stiger said.

Stiger said Floyd initially actively resisted officers when officers were attempting to get him inside the police vehicle, and at that point, officers were justified in using force. However, once Floyd was placed in handcuffs on the ground and stopped his resistance, the former officers should have slowed down or stopped their force as well. 

Court adjourned for the day Tuesday afternoon, and Stiger was expected to return to the stand Wednesday to continue his testimony.

Chauvin, who was seen in disturbing videos kneeling on Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes, is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He has pleaded not guilty. 

Earlier, more Minneapolis police officials took the stand. Their testimony came a day after Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo testified Chauvin's actions violated department policy.

Tuesday's first witness, Minneapolis Police Sergeant Ker Yang, explained how the department's crisis intervention team responds to people suffering behavioral or mental health crises. He said officers are trained to de-escalate a situation whenever "safe and feasible." Next up, Lieutenant Johnny Mercil, who trains officers in use of force and defensive tactics, took the stand. A martial arts practitioner, he said he incorporated Brazilian jiu-jitsu techniques into the department's police training. He said officers are trained to use the least amount of force possible to gain a person's compliance.

At the time of Floyd's death, Mercil testified officers were authorized to use neck restraints by applying pressure to the side of a person's neck to gain compliance, but only for people who were actively resisting or assaultive, and only if other techniques had not worked. Looking at a a picture of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd's neck, Mercil said it was not an authorized neck restraint. He said such a restraint is not authorized to be used against someone who is handcuffed and under control. All neck restraints at the department have since been banned.

Mercil later told defense attorney Eric Nelson that the department does train officers to place knee on someone's shoulder if they are resisting being handcuffed while in the prone position. Nelson pointed to several body camera images that appeared to show Chauvin's knee between Floyd's shoulder blades.

Prosecutors then called the department's medical coordinator Nicole Mackenzie to the stand, who testified officers are required to provide CPR to a person if they can't find their pulse. Chauvin, she said, took her first aid courses and was trained in CPR. She told Nelson that it can be "incredibly difficult" to treat a patient amid a loud and excited crowd, and that a scene must be safe for an officer to render aid. Nelson has repeatedly portrayed the crowd of onlookers during Floyd's fatal arrest as unruly.

Police chief: Chauvin "violated our policy" 06:07
 

Court adjourns for the day

Court adjourned early for the day, just before 3:30 p.m. local time (4:30 p.m. ET). Stiger is expected to return to continue his testimony Wednesday.

By Erin Donaghue
 

Prosecutors call LAPD sergeant as expert witness

Prosecutors have called LAPD Sergeant Jody Stiger to the stand to testify as an expert witness.

Stiger, an expert in tactics and de-escalation training, testified that he believed officers' use of force was excessive after reviewing the case. 

"My opinion was the force was excessive," Stiger said.

He said Floyd initially actively resisted officers when officers were attempting to get him inside the police vehicle, and at that point, officers were justified in using force. However, once Floyd was placed in handcuffs on the ground and stopped his resistance, the former officers should have slowed down or stopped their force as well.

By Erin Donaghue
 

Medical coordinator: Crowd would affect ability to render care

On cross-examination from defense attorney Eric Nelson, Officer Nicole Mackenzie agreed that officers must be in a safe environment before they can render medical aid. Officers can consider a variety of factors to determine whether a scene is safe, Mackenzie agreed, including bystander behavior. Mackenzie agreed it's reasonable to say an officer might not be able to start CPR if the scene around them is not safe. Later, Mackenzie said it's "incredibly difficult" to treat a patient amid a loud and excited crowd. 

mackenzie.jpg
Officer Nicole Mackenzie testifies in the trial of Derek Chauvin, April 6, 2021. Court TV/pool via WCCO

On re-direct questioning by prosecutor Steve Schleicher, Mackenzie said an officer would still be bound to render needed medical aid unless the officer was being physically attacked.

Nelson also asked Mackenzie about agonal breathing, when a person in severe medical distress gasps for air. "It's like your brain's last-ditch effort to try to pull some air in," Mackenzie said.

Mackenzie agreed it would be possible for an officer to confuse agonal breathing with regular breathing in a situation with lots of noise and commotion.

Nelson also asked Mackenzie about excited delirium, a condition typically associated with drug use in which a person can experience hyperthermia, elevated heart rate and psychosis. They can also display bizarre behavior, be insensitive to pain and show "superhuman strength," Mackenzie  said. Mackenzie said she trains officers to treat the condition as a medical issue, not a criminal matter.

Mackenzie was excused following her testimony Tuesday, but was expected to be called back to the stand when the defense presents its case.

By Erin Donaghue
 

Police medical coordinator: Chauvin was trained in CPR

Officer Nicole Mackenzie testified she provides first aid training to officers in the field and to recruit and cadets at the police academy. She said she recognized Chauvin because he filled in for a day as her field training officer early in her career with the department. She said Chauvin has also taken her courses, which go over CPR, use of an AED (automated external defibrillator) for someone suffering cardiac arrest, and administering Narcan, which can counter an opioid overdose.

Officers are also required to become certified as emergency medical responders to become licensed in Minnesota, a course which also goes over CPR and using an AED. Mackenzie said the department goes beyond state requirements by requiring officers to take yearly training. Prosecutor Steve Schleicher displayed a card that showed Chauvin had been certified in CPR.

Responding to questions from Schleicher, Mackenzie said officers are required to begin CPR if they find a person has no pulse. She also said that if a person is talking, it doesn't mean they aren't still suffering from breathing complications.

"Just because they're speaking, doesn't mean they are breathing adequately," Mackenzie said.

By Erin Donaghue
 

Police medical support coordinator takes stand

Court has resumed after a lunch break. Minneapolis police officer Nicole Mackenzie, the department's medical support coordinator, has taken the stand.

By Erin Donaghue
 

Defense again portrays onlookers as unruly

On re-direct questioning by prosecutor Steve Schleicher, Lieutenant Johnny Mercil agreed that using a knee to a person's shoulder is intended to gain control of a person as they're being handcuffed. Mercil agreed it's not appropriate to continue to hold a person who was no longer resisting in that position. Mercil also agreed an officer's bodyweight on the neck or back of a person who was prone in handcuffs could increase the person's risk of breathing complications.

mercil2.png
Minneapolis Police Lt. Johnny Mercil testifies April 6 in the murder trial of ex-officer Derek Chauvin. Pool via WCCO

Schleicher also asked whether Mercil had ever seen someone who had lost their pulse suddenly become violent.

"Not that I'm aware of, sir," Mercil responded.

On re-cross questioning, defense attorney Eric Nelson asked whether aggressive words used by a crowd of onlookers would "reasonably tend to raise alarm" in an officer.  Nelson, who has sought to portray the crowd of onlookers during Floyd's fatal arrest as angry, used a series of threatening expletives as examples. Mercil agreed the words would be alarming.

Nelson displayed a still image from body camera video that showed a bystander with his hand on the shoulder of the bystander next to him, appearing to hold him back from officers.

On further questioning, Schleicher asked, "And if they say, 'Get off him, you're killing him,' should the officer also take that into account and consider whether their actions should be reassessed?"

"Yes," Mercil replied.

Mercil finished his testimony early Tuesday afternoon. Court then recessed for a lunch break.

By Erin Donaghue
 

Defense hones in on position of Chauvin's knee

Defense attorney Eric Nelson honed in on Minneapolis police training that allows for officers to place a knee to someone's shoulder in order to handcuff them in the prone position. Showing Lieutenant Mercil a picture of Chauvin on top of Floyd, Nelson noted the lieutenant's previous statement that the image did not show an authorized neck restraint, but asked whether it could reflect some other kind of police training.

"Perhaps," Mercil said. 

Mercil said it could be an example of an officer using bodyweight to control a person. "However, I will add we tell officers to stay away from the neck if possible, and if they're going to use bodyweight, to put it on their shoulder and be mindful of the position," he said.

Nelson displayed a series of still images from police body camera video that showed Chauvin restraining Floyd. In one of the images, Mercil agreed Chauvin's knee appeared to be between Floyd's shoulder blades. The image showed a paramedic checking Floyd's pulse at the carotid artery in his neck. Earlier, Mercil had agreed a paramedic would not have been able to reach the artery if the officer's knee was there.

Mercil agreed that there are circumstances under which an officer might need to use their bodyweight to restrain a person until EMS responded. "As long as we needed to control them, yes," Mercil said.

Mercil also agreed there are times when holding someone in the same position can be a "de-escalating technique."

By Erin Donaghue
 

Defense cross-examines police training official

When trying to handcuff someone who is prone on the ground, Lieutenant Mercil testified that officers are authorized to use their knee on a person's shoulder if the person is resisting, in order to gain compliance. He said it's possible a person could continue to resist while handcuffed, such as by kicking or biting. The knee should be removed as soon as the person stops resisting, he said. Mercil also said the person should be taken off their stomach as soon as it's safe to do so, in order to avoid the risk of breathing complications.

On cross examination by defense attorney Eric Nelson, Mercil agreed he's been in situations where people have offered excuses in an attempt to avoid arrest. Mercil agreed people have told him before that they were having medical emergencies and that they couldn't breathe. Mercil said there have been circumstances when he didn't believe the person he was trying to arrest was actually suffering a medical emergency.

Mercil also agreed that one way a person can resist arrest is through their words. He said it's possible someone who was violent and then complied with officers could again become violent. He agreed that the department trains officers that a person rendered unconscious by a neck restraint may become combative when coming back to consciousness.

By Erin Donaghue
 

Lieutenant: Chauvin did not use authorized neck restraint

Police Lieutenant Johnny Mercil described the two forms of neck restraints that were taught to Minneapolis police officers at the time prior to Floyd's death. (All neck restraints have since been banned at the department.) A conscious neck restraint is intended to gain a person's compliance by applying the pressure to the sides of their neck with an arm, slowing their blood flow to the brain. An unconscious neck restraint is intended to render a person unconscious. Both were authorized only for people who are actively resisting or assaultive, where other techniques have not worked, Mercil said.

Mercil said a leg can also be used, but the tactic is not taught to officers in the field.

When asked to look at a picture of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd's neck, Mercil said it does not show an approved neck restraint. Mercil said he believes a knee on someone's neck would not be an authorized tactic to use on someone who is in handcuffs and under control.

Police officials testify against Chauvin 21:09
By Erin Donaghue
 

Lieutenant: Officers are trained to use least amount of force possible

Police Lieutenant Johnny Mercil, who trains officers in use of force and defensive tactics, is being questioned by prosecutor Steve Schleicher. A martial arts practitioner, Mercil said he incorporated Brazilian jiu-jitsu techniques into the department's police training.

Mercil said he was familiar with Chauvin, and pointed him out in court. He said he recognized Chauvin's name on a training roster of officers who had taken his defensive tactics training course in October 2018.

Reading from the department's use of force policy, Mercil testified sanctity of life and protection of the public is the policy's "cornerstone." Mercil agreed he teaches officers restraint is a form of force, and must be reasonable and proportional to the level of resistance an officer encounters.

Mercil said he trains officers to use the least amount of force necessary to get the person involved under control, because "it's safer for everyone involved."

"If those lower uses of force do not work, would not work, or are unsafe to try, then you can increase your level of force against that person," Mercil said.

By Erin Donaghue
 

Police lieutenant takes the stand

Minneapolis Police Lieutenant Johnny Mercil has taken the stand. 

By Erin Donaghue
 

Police official describes crisis de-escalation training

Minneapolis Sergeant Ker Yang told prosecutor Steven Schleicher he introduced a "critical decision-making" model into Minneapolis police training in 2018. 

sergeant.jpg
Minneapolis Police Sergeant Ker Yang testifies in the trial of Derek Chauvin, April 6, 2021. Court TV/pool via WCCO

When responding to individuals in crisis — whether because of a mental health issue or some other reason — he said officers are trained to de-escalate the situation to "pre-crisis levels" and provide whatever help the person may need, including medical attention. 

Officers are trained to listen to the person's needs and treat the person with respect, he said. The decision-making model also includes a risk assessment to determine whether or not the person poses a threat. Yang said officers are given scenario-based training involving professional actors, in the hopes the training will be learned and then implemented "like a memory."

On cross-examination by defense attorney Eric Nelson, Yang said officers are trained to recognize signs of aggression in a person, including a raised voice. He agreed officers are trained to focus not only on the person in crisis but on other situational elements, including interactions with citizen observers.

On cross-examination by defense attorney Eric Nelson, Yang agreed that as the intensity of a person's crisis grows, the risk to officers and others is greater. Yang agreed officers are trained to handle such a situation by appearing confident in his or her actions, staying calm, maintaining space, speaking slowly and softly and avoiding eye contact. He agreed that officers could be dealing with multiple people in crisis in the same situation.  

By Erin Donaghue
 

Police official takes the stand as testimony resumes

Testimony has resumed with the testimony of Minneapolis Police Sergeant Ker Yang. Yang is the crisis intervention training coordinator for the department.

By Erin Donaghue
 

Judge delays ruling about testimony of Floyd's friend

Judge Peter Cahill has indicated he would be willing to allow Floyd's friend Morries Hall to answer limited questions under oath about Floyd's demeanor in the car before the fatal arrest. Defense attorney Eric Nelson said he hopes to ask Hall about Floyd falling asleep, which can be associated with fentanyl use.

Hall's lawyer argued Hall might still be at risk of self-incrimination by confirming on the stand that he was in the car with Floyd. Prosecutors argued any cross-examination of Hall would likely lead to Hall repeatedly invoking his Fifth Amendment privilege on the stand, something they hope to avoid.

Cahill didn't immediately rule, but directed Nelson to draft written questions he would hope to ask Hall and share them with Hall's lawyers. Cahill said he will revisit the issue at a future hearing outside the presence of the jury.

The jury was expected to return at 9:15 a.m. local time (10:15 a.m. ET).

By Erin Donaghue
 

Court resumes with hearing about testimony of Floyd's friend

Court has resumed with the judge and attorneys holding a hearing regarding the potential testimony of Floyd's friend Morries Hall, who was in the car with him before the fatal arrest. Hall has been called to testify for the defense, but he said he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination.

The defense has suggested that Hall sold drugs to Floyd, and that Floyd died of a drug overdose. Tuesday morning, Hall's lawyer said that if Hall testifies, he could potentially be incriminated under Minnesota's broad third-degree murder statute, which has been used to prosecute drug dealers in fatal overdoses.

By Erin Donaghue
 

Floyd's cause of death a key point of dispute

A key point of dispute in the trial has been how Floyd died. During opening statements last week, prosecutors played the video of Floyd being pinned down, saying Chauvin used lethal force against a "defenseless" and handcuffed Floyd for nine minutes and 29 seconds. Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell said Floyd died of oxygen deprivation beneath the pressure of Chauvin's knee. But the defense argued Floyd, who suffered from heart disease, died of a heart arrhythmia complicated by the fentanyl and methamphetamine he ingested before his arrest.

Monday, Dr. Bradford Langenfeld, the emergency doctor who tried to resuscitate Floyd and ultimately pronounced him dead, testified that paramedics did not tell him that Floyd suffered a drug overdose or a heart attack. When asked by Blackwell whether he believed oxygen deficiency was the cause of Floyd's death, he responded it was "one of the more likely possibilities."

Doctor testifies about how George Floyd died 09:27

Langenfeld agreed a more common term for the possible cause of death would be asphyxia. 

Under questioning from defense attorney Eric Nelson, Langenfeld agreed that drug use, including from methamphetamine and fentanyl, can cause a lack of oxygen to the brain. Langenfeld agreed that Floyd had "exceptionally high" levels of carbon dioxide in his system, which he agreed can result from fentanyl use. Langenfeld testified that heightened levels of carbon dioxide can affect the respiratory system and cause a feeling of shortness of breath.

Later, on re-direct questioning from Blackwell, Langenfeld said he considered the elevated carbon dioxide level to be "weak evidence" in relation to Floyd's cause of death, because it indicates someone's heart has stopped but no indication as to why.  

By Erin Donaghue
 

The charges

In order to convict Chauvin of second-degree murder, prosecutors will need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Chauvin caused Floyd's death while committing or attempting to commit a related felony, in this case third-degree assault. To convict the former officer of third-degree murder, prosecutors must convince the jury that Chauvin caused Floyd's death during an act that was "eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind, without regard for human life." 

The third-degree charge was initially dropped by Judge Cahill, but was re-instated earlier this month after an appeals court handed a win to prosecutors.

To convict Chauvin of second-degree manslaughter, prosecutors will need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Chauvin caused Floyd's death by "culpable negligence," meaning he created unreasonable risk and consciously took a chance of causing death or serious harm.

Prosecutors do not need to prove that Chauvin intended to cause Floyd's death. Since police officers are authorized to use force, prosecutors must prove that the force Chauvin used against Floyd was unlawful.

In Minnesota, second-degree murder carries a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison. Third-degree murder is punishable by up to 25 years. Second-degree manslaughter carries a maximum prison term of 10 years.

By Erin Donaghue
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