State vs. Chauvin: Testimony to focus on training, first response

State vs. Chauvin: Testimony to focus on training, first response Photo: WDIO File

WDIO/KSTP
Updated: April 06, 2021 04:39 PM
Created: April 06, 2021 10:33 AM

Testimony got underway on Tuesday in the criminal trial of Derek Chauvin. Jurors have been told that Chauvin received extensive training in how to recognize someone in crisis and calm them down.

The judge overseeing the trial of Derek Chauvin will consider a motion from a witness. According to Hubbard sister-station KSTP, Judge Peter Cahill will hear the motion after Morries Hall, who was seen in George Floyd's vehicle the night Floyd died, told a Minneapolis court he will refuse to testify if he's called to the witness stand.

— Ana Lastra (@AnaViLastra) April 6, 2021

It comes after a key day in the trial, as an emergency room doctor and two Minneapolis Police Department supervisors took the stand, including Police Chief Medaria Arradondo.

RELATED STORY: State vs. Chauvin proceeding Monday, April 5

Trial Proceedings of Derek Chauvin: Streaming while court is in session

Here is the court proceedings for Tuesday, April 6: 

The first witness is called to the stand Tuesday, beginning with Minneapolis Police Sgt. Ker Yang, who works as the prevention training coordinator for the department. State prosecutor Steve Schleicher calls him to the stand and begins questioning.

Yang says he has been with the department for 24 years. He tells the court he has a doctorate in general psychology, and a master's degree in counseling psychology.

Regarding the critical decision-making model, Yang says information gathering is crucial and listening is key. He adds as information becomes available, they are taught to adjust the technique they are using. 

The defense starts their cross-examination of this witness. 

Nelson asked Yang, "part of the whole goal of the risk intervention techniques ... is to not only deal with the suspect but people who may be watching?" Yang agreed. 

The defense also presented Yang training materials in court. Yang clarified it was training he created to "really target and recruit and cadet academies" and said it is separate from the training Chauvin went through. Yang states he trains cadets, recruits and veteran officers. 

After some questioning from the state and a follow-up from the defense, Yang has been excused. 

The next witness — Minneapolis Police Lt. Johnny Mercil — is next to testify. He is called by the state. He was hired by the department in 1996. He is currently on medical leave. 

Mercil says he was on the community response team, responding to community concerns before he went to mounted patrol on horse and then patrol on downtown "middle watch" until 2006 when he was promoted to sergeant. He said he also has worked in gang enforcement, then patrol on North Side for a while, then back downtown to the community response team before he took a lieutenant's exam and was put in charge of use-of-force training.

Mercil also is trained in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He says it's focused on leverage and body control. 

"True Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu there aren't strikes, no punching or kicking. It's using your body weight, kind of like wrestling and joint locks, manipulation, neck restraints," he said. 

The lieutenant helped develop and approve the training curriculum.

He confirmed in court that the use of force and restraints need to be used when "reasonable."

Mercil stated, "you want to use the lowest level of force possible to meet those objectives."

He confirmed the photo of Chauvin holding Floyd down was an act of use of force. He was asked about neck restraints.

"We go over the techniques, definitions of neck restraints and then we go through different reps," he said, explaining neck restraints restrict blood flow to the brain. He also demonstrated to the court with his hands what a neck restraint is and how it is used. He also explained on how a neck restraint is used with a leg. 

"The knee creates a gap to protect the throat. The person's leg is on one side and the subject's arm is on the other side, choking from both sides of the neck," he said.

He also testified that the restraint Chauvin held Floyd in was not an approved neck restraint. 

After a short recess, the court has reconvened. Lt. Mercil is still on the witness stand with the state questioning. Mercil is asked about handcuffing. 

When asked if he believes if people should always be released from the knee-in-shoulder move while they are handcuffed, he said: "not always." 

Lt. Johnny Mercil is not the first MPD officer to testify against the technique used by Derek Chauvin. Chief Arradondo, Inspector Blackwell and Lt. Zimmerman all testified to that over the last few days.

The state asked Mercil why an officer needs to put a subject in the recovery position after placing them in the maximal restraint technique (MRT).

"Because when you further restrict their ability to move it can further restrict their ability to breathe," he replied. 

The defense takes over questioning of Mercil.

Nelson asked Mercil if a chokehold is considered lethal force because it blocks the trachea or the airway from the front. He then demonstrated that "it's what you would kind of think of as almost strangulation putting your hands around someone's neck." Nelson followed up that by asking if Mercil saw video of the incident and if at any point he saw Chauvin use a chokehold. Mercil replied, "in this case, no."

The defense also asked if "officers are specifically trained to put a knee across the shoulder blade of the suspect" when handcuffing someone. 

"It is trained, but used situationally," Mercil said. 

Nelson then displays multiple photographs, with Mercil confirming that Chauvin's knee placement was between Floyd's shoulder blades. 

Mercil clarifies that the still-frame photo does not show a neck restraint, showing Chauvin's knee between Floyd's shoulder blades. He also states that this is an action an officer might apply as a prone hold.

The lieutenant confirms "it's been said" within the department that if a person can talk, they can breathe.

The court has excused Mercil from the witness stand. The court is in recess until 1:30 p.m.

The court has reconvened. The state calls Minneapolis Police officer Nicole McKenzie to the witness stand. She works as the medical support coordinator for the police department.

She knows Chauvin from training. She tells Schleicher her role is "primarily going to be the first aid education ... I do the training for the academy," she noted, adding she also trains on Narcan. 

She says she trains cadets, recruits and current officers on first aid and the use of Narcan. McKenzie adds POST board requires officers to have an Emergency Medical Responder certification, which Chauvin had. 

The state walked through CPR training provided by the police department with MacKenzie. She says checking the carotid pulse is the most important, but there are multiple places to check for a pulse. She adds that if no pulse is detected, CPR must be started immediately. 

MacKenzie noted that an officer is supposed to stop administering CPR when they have been relieved by somebody with a higher level of training, or feeling some obvious signs of death. She also adds the officer can stop if they feel "absolutely physically exhausted."

The defense starts their cross-examination of this witness. MacKenzie tells him she has been with the department for six years. Prior to that, she worked as an EMT. She noted that the police EMR training is lower than a paramedic's training level. 

MacKenzie agreed with Nelson that EMTs do not arrive at a scene until they are given a Code 4, making sure the scene is safe.

Nelson is addressing Narcan training. Nelson asks, "In your experience ... have you experienced individuals who take combinations of drugs?"  MacKenzie answers, "Yes."

"Have you heard the term speedball ... the combination of a stimulant ... and a depressant," Nelson asks?  MacKenzie responds, "Yes."

Nelson also asked the officer about excited delirium training. 

MacKenzie describes it as having a "wide variety of things you might see in the person or rather bizarre behavior," such as hypothermia, agitation, superhuman strength, elevated heart rate and lack of pain. 

"I know it sounds unreasonable, but bystanders do occasionally attack EMS crews. So sometimes just getting out of the situation is kind of the best way to defuse it," she said. MacKenzie added it is "extremely difficult" to assess a patient when there is a chaotic crowd at the scene. 

She stated that the biggest threat would come if someone was preventing the officer to administer aid.

Nelson also asked MacKenzie if she had ever had to perform emergency services in a loud, excited crowd? Nelson asked about the level of difficulty. Mackenzie answered "It's incredibly difficult", describes the challenge of focusing and assessing the patient.

MacKenzie has been excused from the stand, but she will be brought back to the witness stand at a later time. The court is in recess until 2:35 p.m.

The court was having a dispute over the topic of excited delirium. The state said they didn't want the defense to be able to present the information at the current time, instead wanting it reserved for the defense case in chief. She will be called back next Tuesday. 

According to KSTP reporter Ana Lastra, Judge Cahill came back in saying to the jury that they "all need to stay well" and reassures jurors they'll have another short break. Lastra was reading the pool reporter's notes earlier and they say it appeared one of the jurors may have been asleep earlier.

The state calls their first expert witness, Los Angeles Police Department Sgt. Jody Stiger takes the witness stand next. He is considered an expert on use of force. He served on the use of force board with the LAPD from 2003 to 2007.

"Basically we review all the information that was gathered during the investigation and we make recommendations to the chief of police," Stiger said. 

Stiger addressed some areas of higher rates of crime that he worked in while in Los Angeles. He also has reviewed use of force tactics used around the nation and compares them to his department as well.

He says he approximately has done 2,500 use of force reviews in his career.

Stiger said he charges a fee for his services that starts at a flat rate of $10,000. He also charges a trial fee of about $2,900. 

He says his initial opinion on the Minneapolis incident was that Chauvin's use of force was "excessive."

Stiger adds that someone using a counterfeit bill typically doesn't result in a use of force being used. He was asked if he made an assessment on whether or not Floyd was offering resistance in the incident.

"Initially when Mr. Floyd was being placed in the backseat of a vehicle he was actively resisting the officers ... however once he was placed in the prone position on the ground, he slowly ceased resistance," he said, adding at that point, "they should have de-escalated the situation ... they continued the force they were utilizing." 

He said when he was asked about what he remembered from the incident that happened on May 25, 2020. 

Stiger said he remembered Floyd saying he was afraid numerous times, stated he had COVID-19 before and he couldn't breathe. He also said he had anxiety and was claustrophobic, Stiger said. 

A body camera video was shown in court, showing Floyd's struggle with officers. He noted Floyd said "thank you" to the officers when they brought Floyd to his knees. He also noted he didn't see any other active aggressive behavior other than when Floyd kicked his legs when officers had him in a prone position. 

They also showed what the use of a hobble restraint looks like. That restraint was available to use on May 25, 2020, on Floyd, but they did not.  

Stiger said the tactic is typically used when someone is "actively aggressive toward police." The person is put in the side recovery position to help them breathe better when using this restraint. 

At 3:25 p.m. Judge Cahill puts the court in recess until Wednesday morning. The court will reconvene with Stiger taking the witness stand at 9:15 a.m.

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