A Minneapolis police trainer who instructed Derek Chauvin in the use of force said Tuesday at the former officer’s murder trial that placing a knee on a suspect’s neck when he is already in subjection “is not authorized.”
Lt. Johnny Mercil told the court that when George Floyd was arrested last May, police department policy still allowed the use of neck restraints on one arm or the side of one leg when a suspect was being “aggressive.”
But he said the training did not include the use of a knee, as Chauvin used it for more than nine minutes with the 46-year-old African-American man in his custody.
Mercil said putting a knee to the neck “is not unauthorized” to make an arrest, but that it is not allowed if the suspect is handcuffed or otherwise restrained. Floyd was handcuffed for several minutes before being forced face down on the floor and Chauvin applied his knee.
Chauvin, 45, has denied charges of second- and third-degree manslaughter and manslaughter in Floyd’s death, which sparked mass protests for racial justice in the United States and other parts of the world. He faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted of the most serious charge. Three other officers face charges of complicity and complicity in the murder and manslaughter.
Mercil, a martial arts expert specializing in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, said he trained officials that the use of force must be reasonable when it starts and when it stops.
The prosecution seeks to show that even if Chauvin felt he was using a legitimate level of force when he put Floyd on the ground, keeping his knee on the detainee’s neck for more than nine minutes was not reasonable. There came a time when he should have gotten up.
Mercil said officers are trained to use force in proportion “to the level of resistance they are getting.” He agreed that it should be reduced as the threat from a suspect diminishes.
The prosecutor showed Mercil a photo of Chauvin holding Floyd as he lay face down and asked if that level of force would be authorized “if the subject was under control and handcuffed.”
The police lieutenant replied: “I would say no.”
The defense tried to convince Mercil that a training manual showed an officer placing his knee behind the neck while handcuffing him. But Mercil said the image showed the knee was at the shoulder and the shin was across the neck. The distinction is crucial because it means that the pressure point is far from where it is most dangerous.
Mercil was the last of a succession of former Chauvin colleagues to testify for the prosecution. Earlier Tuesday, Sgt. Ker Yang, a 24-year-old Minneapolis police veteran who now leads crisis intervention training, said Chauvin was instructed to recognize whether a detained person is in crisis and needs medical assistance. He agreed that drug or alcohol intoxication “can be a crisis.”
Floyd’s girlfriend has testified that he was addicted to opioids and another witness said he appeared to be high shortly before his arrest.
Nicole Mackenzie, the police department’s medical support coordinator, testified that Chauvin was trained to deal with drug overdoses and administer CPR. She said officers are required to provide immediate first aid in a critical situation and not simply wait for an ambulance to arrive.
Mackenzie said officers are instructed on how to recognize and respond to an unresponsive person, including taking their pulse and taking steps to get them to breathe again.
Video of Floyd’s arrest shows one of the police officers dismissing his pleas that he cannot breathe on the grounds that it takes a lot of oxygen to speak. “Just because they’re talking doesn’t mean they’re breathing properly,” Mackenzie said.
One of the challenges for the prosecution is persuading the jury that Chauvin, and not the Minneapolis Police Department, is responsible for the methods he used.
On Monday, the city’s chief of police, Medaria Arradondo, tried to paint Chauvin as a rogue officer who went far beyond his training and regulations on the use of force.
“To continue applying that level of force to a person on the point, handcuffed behind the back, which in no way, shape or form is something that is political,” Arradondo said at the trial.
The defense suggested that Chauvin was simply following his training by the Minneapolis police. Nelson told Arradondo that his department’s policies allowed neck restraints under certain circumstances at the time of Chauvin’s death.
These included the “unconscious neck restraint” which is used to cut off blood flow to the brain. However, that hold was only supposed to be used on individuals who “exhibited active assault” or sustained resistance to arrest.
Arradondo said there had been such a policy, but there was no justification for the continued pressure on Floyd’s neck after he stopped resisting.
The day began with an attempt by Morries Hall, the passenger in the vehicle with Floyd at the time of his arrest, to invoke his fifth amendment right against self-incrimination and not testify.
Previous witnesses testified that Hall supplied Floyd with drugs. The prosecution objected to the request that Hall be granted a general right not to testify on the grounds that there are relevant questions that do not run the risk of self-incrimination. The judge asked for a list of questions that could be asked.
Three other officers involved in Floyd’s death are scheduled to stand trial together later this year on charges of aiding and abetting manslaughter.
The trial continues.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism