Once George Floyd was on his stomach in handcuffs, police should’ve used “no force,” according to a Los Angeles Police Department use of force expert who testified in the Derek Chauvin murder trial on Wednesday morning.
Instead, according to LAPD sergeant Jody Stiger, who reviewed the arrest as an expert witness for the state, Minneapolis police continued using “deadly” force on Mr Floyd last May for more than nine minutes, failing to meet the constitutional “objective reasonableness” standard that police must follow when interacting with suspects.
Mr Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police department officer, is facing two murder charges after Mr Floyd died in his custody during an arrest for a counterfeit $20 bill. Assessing whether the officer used reasonable force by kneeling on Mr Floyd’s neck is one of the key questions of the trial.
“My opinion was that no force should’ve been used once he was in that position,” Mr Stiger, an expert witness for the state, said. “He was in the prone position. He was handcuffed. He was not attempting to evade. He was not attempting to resist. And the pressure that was being caused by the body weight could cause positional asphyxia, which could cause death,” he added.
This follows testimony yesterday from Mr Stiger where he called the force “excessive,” and noted that in most low-level forgery cases, force isn’t used at all. Minneapolis police, for example, had the option to ticket Mr Floyd instead of arrest him.
He also noted on Wednesday that since at least 1995, the Department of Justice has warned officers about the dangers of causing positional asphyxia, essentially someone being smothered to death due to their body position, and that Mr Chauvin appeared to acknowledge Mr Floyd’s repeated comments about his discomfort and pain.
Mr Floyd told officers he couldn’t breathe 27 times while they were detaining him. In police body camera footage from the arrest played in court on Wednesday, Mr Floyd can also be heard groaning and telling Mr Chauvin his body hurts.
“Takes a heck of a lot of oxygen to talk,” Mr Chauvin says in response.
Mr Chauvin’s lawyer Eric Nelson emphasised that Mr Chauvin was called in as backup, and was eventually briefed that a large man was intoxicated and struggling with other officers, arguing these facts meant entering the scene of the arrest with a heightened awareness was “reasonable.”
“It’s much different how a reasonable police officer would respond to an intoxicated large person, than they would to a small person who’s a little crabby,” he said. “If you are an officer, and you hear a scuffle on the radio, and if you get dispatched code 3, in an emergent situation, it’s reasonable for an officer to come in with a heightened sense of alertness and awareness,” he added.
Both Mr Nelson and Mr Stiger, the force expert, also agreed that initially, as Mr Floyd struggled with officers to avoid getting into their squad car, the use of some force was justified to try and subdue him.
Sometimes, Mr Nelson continued, using force in the era of smartphones may not be attractive, but it’s still important, “lawful but awful,” as the defence attorney put it.
The vast majority of police testimony, so far, has concluded that Mr Chauvin’s use of force was not reasonable and not in line with Minneapolis police training. Four of Mr Chauvin’s former colleagues, including the chief of police, as well as the lieutenant in charge of use training, have testified to this point in recent days.
“Once Mr Floyd had stopped resisting, and certainly once he was in distress and trying to verbalise that, that should have stopped,” Minneapolis police chief Medaria Arradondo told the court last week.
“There’s an initial reasonableness in trying to get him under control in the first few seconds,” Mr Arradondo continued. “Once there was no longer any resistance, 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 by policy, is not part of our training, and is certainly not part of our ethics or values.”
For much of the period where Mr Chauvin was on top of Mr Floyd, Mr Arradondo said, it wasn’t even clear Mr Floyd was still conscious.
“Matter of fact, as I saw that video, I didn’t even know if Mr Floyd was alive at that time,” he added.
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