State vs. Chauvin: Wednesday court proceedings

Sgt. Jody Stiger, Los Angeles Police Department Sgt. Jody Stiger, Los Angeles Police Department |  Photo: Court TV pool

WDIO/KSTP
Updated: April 07, 2021 09:19 PM
Created: April 07, 2021 09:46 AM

MINNEAPOLIS - Testimony resumed in the criminal trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on Wednesday morning at 9:15 a.m. Sgt. Jody Stiger, a Los Angeles use-of-force expert returns to the stand to continue testimony began on Tuesday afternoon. 

Sgt. Jody Stiger was among four members of law enforcement who spoke Tuesday about Chauvin's use of force and other actions during the fatal arrest of George Floyd.

On Tuesday, Stiger weighed in on the tactics used. He testified that he has traveled to police agencies nationwide to compare their use-of-force policies with his department.

Here is the court proceedings for Wednesday, April 7:

State prosecutor Steve Schleicher asked Stiger to describe what he sees in photos shown in court regarding the position of Chauvin on Floyd. He described the former officer to be "on his knees and pushing down from his knee area from his body."

He also noted another factor to consider when evaluating use of force is the number of officers versus the number of subjects.

The use-of-force expert also stated that Floyd was not attempting to resist during the time he was in a prone position. When asked if the force used for nine minutes and 29 seconds would constitute deadly force, Stiger said it would. He adds the body position "would cause positional asphyxiation" and possible death. 

Stiger recalls being trained on the dangers of positional asphyxiation in 1995. He says the dangers exist even with no bodyweight. 

"When you add bodyweight, it just increases the possibility of death," Stiger said. Chauvin's bodyweight and plus the weight of former officer J Alexander Kueng "pressing down" would have added to the dangers. Stiger says former officer Thomas Lane was also holding Floyd's legs.

The attorney for the defense takes over questioning.

He also acknowledged that the bystanders surrounding the incident were not being hostile. Stiger agrees that Chauvin's 866 hours of paid training should have prepared him for any sort of distraction that was at the scene. 

The defense starts cross-examination of the witness. He was asked if he has ever testified in ant court as an expert on the police use of force, to which he responded, "no."

Stiger tells attorney Eric Nelson he has never been trained by the Minneapolis Police Department. His questioning is aimed at showing Stiger's areas of expertise and how it relates to MPD's policies.

He also acknowledged that the bystanders surrounding the incident were not being hostile. Stiger agrees that Chauvin's 866 hours of paid training should have prepared him for any sort of distraction that was at the scene. 

The defense starts cross-examination of the witness. He was asked if he has ever testified in ant court as an expert on the police use of force, to which he responded, "no."

Stiger tells attorney Eric Nelson he has never been trained by the Minneapolis Police Department. His questioning is aimed at showing Stiger's areas of expertise and how it relates to MPD's policies.

Nelson brings up MPD's use-of-force policy and asks Stiger about the Graham v. Connor case which set the standard for reasonableness regarding the use of force. 

Stiger agrees, sometimes, the use of force is instantaneous, but states: "not in this case." 

"Sometimes an officer will walk into a situation and have no sense of risk ... but they have to prepare for the unexpected. Agreed?" Nelson asked Stiger. 

"I wouldn't agree ... based on my training experience most officers once we put that uniform on and we respond to a call we know there's a risk factor," Stiger responded.

Stiger reiterated from yesterday that Floyd was actively resisting when he was in the backseat of the squad car. 

"In this context of assessing what someone is saying ... in comparison to their actions, you're also making assessments of their physical characteristics," Nelson questioned. Stiger agreed. He also agreed that someone who is handcuffed can continue to be a threat.

Stiger also agreed with Nelson that if someone is in the prone position and they continue to kick, it may require more force than if they were compliant. Body camera footage has shown Floyd kick once while in the prone position on the ground during the incident. 

Nelson asks Stiger if he is familiar with the swarm technique, to which Stiger replied "yes." Nelson  explains, "Where multiple officers are on top of resisting a suspect, trying to control the extremities right?"  Stiger responds "Yes, typically that's done prior to handcuffing."  Nelson asks if a handcuffed suspect no longer presents a threat to an officer, and Stiger replies, "It depends on the circumstances." Nelson asks if a handcuffed suspect can continue to present a risk, to which Stiger replies, "Based on that person's actions, yes."

Nelson noted the officers did not use a hobble device on Floyd. 

"So officers making a decision not to increase the level of force can be viewed as a de-escalation technique?"

"Yes," Stiger replied.

The court takes a short morning recess, and will resume at 11 a.m. The court has reconvened. Stiger retakes the witness stand with Nelson continuing to cross-examine. 

Nelson is asking Stiger questions regarding the threat of someone even if they are not actively fighting. 

Nelson then starts to go through the training on maintaining crowds, according to MPD's policy. 

Nelson asked about this previous testimony during the state's questioning. 

"In the context of ground defense or handcuffing ... control the head and control the body, right?" Nelson asked.

"Yes, when they are resisting," Stiger said.

Stiger also reiterated what Minneapolis Police Lt. Johnny Mercil said Tuesday, "officers are trained to avoid using any restraint on the neck area."

Nelson then went through photos and slowed down video of Chauvin's position on Floyd.

"While Mr. Floyd was in the prone position, there are points in time where he picks up his head," Nelson said. Stiger stated there were times early on when Floyd attempted to "I assumed he was attempting to try to breathe better."

The state then takes over to redirect.

Stiger says in respect to positional asphyxia is the risk related to the pressure on the neck or the pressure on the body, he said it matters more with the body. "Any additional pressure on the body complicates breathing," he added.

The sergeant from Los Angeles confirmed it was "excessive force" used on Floyd. He also believes it's important to take into account that Floyd may have been distressed in that situation. 

"His breath was getting slower, his tone of voice was getting lower, his movements were starting to cease. As an officer on scene, you have a responsibility to realize that okay, something is not right ... you have responsibility to take some type of action," Stiger said. 

He added, "you can have a situation where ... it looks horrible to the common eye, but based on the state law, it's lawful." 

The witness has been excused from the witness stand. The next person, called by the state, takes the witness stand. He is identified as BCA Senior Special Agent James Reyerson.

Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank is questioning. Reyerson says he has about 4 1/2 years of experience at MPD. He is assigned at the BCA to the newly formed use of force investigation unit.  He also spent with the DEA, Metro Transit and the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

Reyerson says his supervisor called him at around 9:45 p.m. on May 25, 2020, about an incident in Minneapolis. He and other agents went to city hall shortly thereafter. He was the case agent for the Floyd case.

"We knew that some form of critical incident had occurred, but at that point, we didn't have a huge amount of information," he said in court.

Reyerson said Deputy Chief Erick Fors notified him of a video that surfaced on Facebook.  

Judge Cahill dismissed the court for lunch. The court is in recess until 1:15 p.m.

The state is asking Reyerson about what was recovered at the scene that day on May 25, 2020. Two $20 bills were shown in a photo, and Reyerson adds that a pipe and pill were also found at the scene.

He testified that Floyd's SUV and the squad car at the scene were processed on May 27 by the BCA Crime Scene team. 

Reyerson says the prosecution requested Floyd's vehicle be re-processed "with a particular focus on additional few specific items to include a potential pill." This was in December 2020.

Reyerson was asked if it's typical for a BCA agent to attend the autopsy, He responded "yes," but added they couldn't in this case because of COVID-19 restrictions. 

Reyerson states Dragon Wok, located across the street from Cup Foods, did not want to give their own footage from their viewpoint of the incident. A warrant was issued by the BCA to obtain that footage. 

Frank goes through body camera footage with Reyerson. Frank asks "Is this the moment in the encounter between Mr. Floyd and Mr. Chauvin when Mr. Floyd appears to stop making verbal sounds, talking?" Reyerson replies, "Yes, sir."

The state wraps up their questioning. The defense takes over.

"It's fair to say that the BCA's investigation into this case was fairly extensive," Nelson asked the BCA agent.

"Yes," Reyerson responded.

Reyerson said there were about 200 citizen witnesses interviewed. He also confirmed that 440 individual police reports were written and submitted regarding the case.

Reyerson said he heard Floyd say in one of the body camera's footage, "I took too many drugs." This is a different answer heard from Sgt. Stiger earlier this morning.

The defense believes the liquid seen coming from under the car is condensation from the vehicle. The court takes a short break to discuss an exhibit to be shown in court.

Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension forensic scientist McKenzie Anderson was called to testify and prosecutors began asking her questions about evidence documented in both the vehicle Floyd was in and a Minneapolis Police squad car at the scene.

The court is shown a number of images of evidence inside the vehicle. Anderson describes item 46 as a suboxone packet that was opened. 

The court is shown images of Squad 320. Anderson says "... we document all of it, regardless of the circumstances..." She says the photos were taken, "for future reference if needed."

Frank asks Anderson, "With regard to item 51, what did you find?" Anderson replies, "it was positive" indicating the presence of saliva. She confirms she did DNA testing on it. She says "From item 51... I obtained a single source maile DNA profile that matches George Floyd."

The court takes a 10-minute break. Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension forensic scientist Breahna Giles was called to testify and prosecutor Matthew Frank began with questioning.

Susan Neith, a forensic chemist with NMS Labs in Pennsylvania, was called to the stand to testify and prosecutor Erin Eldridge began questioning her. Neith says she does quantitive analysis of controlled substances and pharmaceutical drugs.

Eldridge asks "Did you receive 3 pills from the BCA to perform testing on?" Neith answered, "Yes." Neith confirmed the evidence were 48 and 51.

According to KSTP reporter Callan Gray, Neith confirms she tested items 48 and 51 for fentanyl, meth. Eldridge asked if she issued a report? Neith says "yes."  Eldridge asks "Do you recall the details...?"  Neith says, "I would have to read the report again."  Eldridge hands Neith the report.

Item 48 Neith says, "in both of those cases the fentanyl concentration was less than 1%, says meth about 1-2% depending on pill.  Item 51 Neith says, "Fentanyl was less tha 1% and meth was 2.9%
 

Prosecutors finished questioning Neith and defense attorney Eric Nelson declined the opportunity to question her. Judge Peter Cahill then announced the court was in recess until Thursday morning at around 9:15 a.m.

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