A use-of-force expert with the Los Angeles Police Department testified on Wednesday that Derek Chauvin had used “deadly force” on George Floyd at a time when it was not appropriate to use any force.
Sgt. Jody Stiger, who works with the L.A.P.D. Inspector General’s Office to investigate wrongdoing in the department, reviewed evidence in the Chauvin case for prosecutors and said Mr. Chauvin had put Mr. Floyd at risk of positional asphyxia, a key point for prosecutors who have argued that Mr. Floyd died of asphyxia, meaning a loss of oxygen.
Sergeant Stiger said that even being handcuffed and in a prone position can make it harder to breathe.
“When you add body weight to that, it just increases the possibility of death,” he said.
The testimony from Sergeant Stiger came on the eighth day of the trial of Mr. Chauvin, who has been charged with murdering Mr. Floyd. The sergeant has said that the officers who arrested Mr. Floyd were initially justified in using force to try to put him in the back of a police car and put him in the prone position, but “should have slowed down or stopped their force” once Mr. Floyd was on the ground.
Sergeant Stiger said on Wednesday that while Mr. Chauvin knelt on Mr. Floyd, he had appeared to use a “pain compliance” technique on one of Mr. Floyd’s hands. Sergeant Stiger said Mr. Chauvin could be seen, in body camera video, either pushing Mr. Floyd’s knuckles together or pulling his wrist against his handcuffs to hurt him. The sergeant said he could hear the handcuffs ratcheting tighter in one of the videos.
Those techniques may be appropriate to get a person to comply with police commands, Sergeant Stiger said, but he indicated that there was no opportunity for Mr. Floyd to comply.
“At that point, it’s just pain,” Sergeant Stiger said.
In response to a prosecutor’s question about the bystanders who filmed Mr. Floyd’s arrest and shouted at the officers who were there, Sergeant Stiger said he did not find them to be a threat, rebutting one of the defense’s arguments that the bystanders may have diverted Mr. Chauvin’s attention from Mr. Floyd’s condition.
But in the cross-examination of Sergeant Stiger, the lawyer for Mr. Chauvin, Eric J. Nelson, played a short video of Mr. Floyd handcuffed on the ground and asked the sergeant if it sounded like Mr. Floyd was saying, “I ate too many drugs.” Sergeant Stiger said he could not make out what Mr. Floyd had said, at which point Mr. Nelson asked him if things can be “missed” in a chaotic scene. The sergeant agreed that they could.
Sergeant Stiger also agreed, in response to Mr. Nelson’s questioning, that it would have been appropriate for Mr. Chauvin to use a Taser on Mr. Floyd when he first arrived on scene, given that Mr. Floyd appeared to be resisting officers’ efforts to get him into a police car. Still, the jury has heard from many experts — including Sergeant Stiger — who said that the appropriate level of force changed once Mr. Floyd was on the ground and no longer resisting.
Mr. Nelson also emphasized that the sergeant was an outside expert who worked for the Los Angeles Police Department, which he joined in 1993, and might not be as familiar with Minneapolis police policies.
Mr. Nelson also highlighted that the Minneapolis Police Department’s policies on using force give discretion to officers. He read from one portion of the department’s policy that says that the reasonableness of an officer’s use-of-force has to be judged “from the perspective of the reasonable officer on the scene rather than with the 20-20 vision of hindsight.”