Derek Chauvin had a responsibility to re-evaluate pressing his knee into George Floyd’s neck during their fatal encounter as the health of the 46-year old Black man was clearly “deteriorating,” a use-of force expert testified Wednesday as the former police officer’s murder trial continued in Minneapolis.
Jody Stiger, a Los Angeles Police Department sergeant, serving as a paid prosecution witness as a use-of-force expert, appeared for his second day of testimony at Chauvin’s trial.
Stiger had testified the day before that the pressure being exerted on Floyd was excessive, and could cause positional asphyxia and lead to death. On Wednesday he reaffirmed that the force Chauvin used on Floyd was “not objectively reasonable.”
Prosecutor Steve Schleicher asked Stiger whether Chauvin had an obligation to take into account the distress Floyd was displaying when considering whether to continue the type of force he was applying.
“Absolutely. As the time went on, clearly in the video you could … his health was deteriorating,” Stiger said. “His breath was getting lower. His tone of voice was getting lower. His movements were starting to cease.
“So at that point, as on officer on scene, you have a responsibility to realize ‘OK, something is not right, something has changed drastically from what was occurring earlier.’ So therefore you have responsibility to take some type of action.”
Chauvin, 45, who is white, faces two murder charges — second-degree unintentional murder and third-degree murder — in Floyd’s death. Floyd died on May 25, 2020, after Chauvin pressed his knee against the back of Floyd’s neck for around nine minutes as other officers held him down. Chauvin’s trial is now in its second week.
Video captured by a bystander and from police body cameras show the handcuffed Floyd repeatedly say he couldn’t breathe. The footage of the arrest prompted widespread outrage, setting off protests across the U.S. and around the world.
Floyd had been detained outside a convenience store after being suspected of paying with a counterfeit bill. All four officers were later fired.
During cross-examination, Chauvin’s lawyer Eric Nelson, asked a question he has posed to other witnesses — whether there are times when a suspect can fake the need for medical attention. Stiger agreed.
But when asked by the prosecutor whether an officer can “opt not to believe” a suspect, Stiger said an officer is still obligated to believe.
“That’s part of our duty,” he said.
Stiger also testified that Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck or neck area from the time officers put Floyd on the ground until paramedics arrived.
“That particular force did not change during the entire restraint period?” Schleicher asked as he showed the jury a composite image of five photos taken from the various videos of the arrest.
“Correct,” Stiger replied.
The prosecution says Chauvin pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck caused his death. But the defence argues Chauvin did what his training taught him and that it was a combination of Floyd’s underlying medical conditions, drug use and adrenaline flowing through his system that ultimately killed him.
On Wednesday, Nelson played a snippet of then-Officer J. Kueng’s body-camera video and asked whether Stiger could hear Floyd say, “I ate too many drugs.”
Stiger replied that he could not make out those words in the footage.
But Nelson was able to get Stiger to agree with a number of his propositions. Stiger agreed with Nelson, for example, that an officer’s actions must be viewed from the point of view of a reasonable officer on the scene, not in hindsight.
He also agreed that a not-risky situation can suddenly escalate and that a person in handcuffs can still pose a threat to an officer.
Stiger also agreed that when Chauvin arrived at the scene, and saw officers struggling to get him in the back seat of the squad car, it would have been within police policy guidelines for Chauvin to have stunned Floyd with a Taser.
And he agreed with Nelson that sometimes the use of force “looks really bad” but is still lawful.