MINNEAPOLIS – A leading law enforcement practices expert from the Los Angeles Police Department told jurors Wednesday that murder defendant Derek Chauvin appeared to be inflicting pain to a cuffed hand of a prone George Floyd during his arrest late last spring.
Sgt. Jody Stiger made his assertions Wednesday in Hennepin County Court while testifying on behalf of the prosecution, who hired him to analyze numerous videos from the scene, court records and other documents in preparation for taking the witness stand.
Stiger said officers’ body-worn camera video from one of the officers showed Chauvin using “his right hand and appeared to use a pain compliance on Mr. Floyd’s hand.”
Chauvin appeared to accomplish this by “squeezing fingers or bringing knuckles together, which can cause pain or pulling the hand into the cuff, which can cause pain as well.”
The sergeant pointed out that “the handcuffs [on Floyd] were not double-locked; they can continue to ratchet tighter as the person moved.”
Stiger went on to conclude that while three officers were on Floyd, he “was not actively resisting when he was in the prone position,” and therefore the amount of force used by Chauvin and the others was excessive.
When discussing pain compliance, prosecutor Steve Schleicher asked: “You would inflict pain for the purpose of having the subject obey your commands?”
“Yes,” Stiger said.
“What if there’s no opportunity for compliance?” Schleicher asked.
“At that point, it’s just pain.” Stiger said.
Stiger also testified about the dangers of positional asphyxia, and how it contributed to deadly force Chauvin used on Floyd.
“At the time of the prone restraint period, Mr. Floyd was not resisting. He was in a prone position, he was handcuffed, he was not attempting to evade, he was not attempting to resist,” Stiger said. “The pressure that was being caused by the body weight would cause positional asphyxia which could cause death.”
Stiger said that even without the additional body weight, Floyd would have potentially been in danger. The dangers of positional asphyxia have been widely known since at least 1995, Stiger Sid.
Schleicher closed his testimony by playing Kueng’s body camera video, which shows Floyd expressing his pain, by saying “my neck hurts, my back hurts, everything hurts.” Each time, Chauvin responded “Uh huh,” and then remarked that if Floyd could talk, he could breathe.
Under cross examination by defense attorney Eric Nelson, Stiger testified that he has never been an expert witness on use of force before.
Nelson said ultimately it’s the “totality of the circumstances” when analyzing the use of force. Stiger said that yes, “You have to look at the subject’s actions and the officer’s actions.”
Nelson said that by the time Chauvin arrived at the scene this client knew some of the circumstances there: other officers were struggling with an uncooperative crime suspect of up 6 to 6½ feet tall and suspected of being high on drugs.
He also pointed out that “lots of situations officers are expected to go into, they go into with a heightened sense of awareness correct?”
Yes, Stiger said, adding that there is always a potential risk.
“Once we put that uniform on and respond to a call, we know there’s a risk factor, we just don’t know the severity of the call,” Stiger said.
“Every single time an officer responds to a call there is an inherent risk?” Nelson asked.
“That is the nature of policing?” Nelson asked.
As he continued questioning Stiger, Nelson returned to a theme he struck earlier in the trial, that suspects are known to lie in order to avoid being arrested or jailed.
Nelson raised as examples in this case that Floyd can be heard on video being asked “repeatedly what kind of drugs you are taking,” while at the same having a foamy substance on his mouth consistent with illicit drug use. Early on, Floyd denied being under the influence, according to video evidence.
The defense attorney also told Stiger that Floyd described himself as not a bad guy but possibly said while prone later that he ate some drugs. And Floyd kept saying “I can’t breathe” but at the same time “he was actively resisting being put in the back of the squad car,” Nelson said.
On Tuesday, the sergeant testified that his review of the case led him to conclude that Chauvin’s bodily force of more than nine minutes was “excessive” in arresting Floyd on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill at Cup Foods at 38th and Chicago on May 25.
“Initially, when Mr. Floyd was being placed in the back seat of the vehicle, the officers were justified in trying to have him comply and sit in the back seat of the vehicle,” said the sergeant whose department employs roughly 9,000 sworn officers. “However, once he was placed in the prone position on the ground, he slowly ceased his resistance and the officers … should have slowed down or stopped their force.”
Typically, in the case of someone suspected of passing a counterfeit bill, Stiger added, force would not be used, let alone employed at a moderate level.
Stiger has been with the LAPD since 1993 and said he has conducted more than 2,500 use-of-force reviews. He disclosed that he was paid by the state a $10,000 “flat fee” and $2,950 “trial fee.”
Nelson has argued that a hostile crowd distracted Chauvin and prevented a proper diagnosis or aid that could have saved Floyd’s life.
The defense attorney also argued that in some instances, Chauvin’s knee was on Floyd’s shoulders — not exclusively on his neck — and that maneuver complies with department training.
Schleicher replayed video of the officers working to control Floyd in the back seat of a squad as he claimed to be claustrophobic. He highlighted that at one point on the video, Floyd resisted by trying to kick away an officer. The prosecutor asked Stiger whether he saw anything else Floyd did to draw “aggressive behavior” from the officers. Stiger said no.
Also Tuesday, three more Minneapolis police officers testified about their department’s training, bringing the total to eight current or former MPD officers who have been witnesses on behalf of the prosecution’s contention that Chauvin violated various policies despite being taught proper arrest and medical procedures.
Chauvin is charged with second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the killing of Floyd. Three other fired officers who assisted in Floyd’s 2020 arrest — J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao — are scheduled to be tried in August on charges of aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.
(Star Tribune staff writers Rochelle Olson and Chao Xiong contributed to this report.)
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