The New Zealand Herald
Police official: Chauvin was trained to avoid neck pressure
Minneapolis police are taught to restrain combative suspects with a knee on their back or shoulders if necessary but are told to “stay away from the neck when possible”, a department use-of-force instructor testified yesterday at former officer Derek Chauvin’s murder trial.
Lieutenant Johnny Mercil became the latest member of the Minneapolis force to take the stand as part of an effort by prosecutors to dismantle the argument that Chauvin was doing what he was trained to do when he put his knee on George Floyd’s neck last May.
Several experienced officers, including the police chief, have testified that Floyd should not have been kept pinned to the pavement for close to 91⁄ minutes by prosecutors’ reckon
2 ing as the black man lay face-down, his hands cuffed behind his back.
According to testimony and records submitted yesterday, Chauvin took a 40-hour course in 2016 on how to recognise people in crisis — including those suffering mental problems or the effects of drug use — and how to use deescalation techniques to calm them down. Records show Chauvin also underwent training in the use of force in 2018.
Mercil said those who attended were taught that the sanctity of life is a cornerstone of departmental policy and that officers must use the minimum force required to get a suspect to comply.
Under cross-examination by Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson, Mercil testified that officers are trained in some situations to use their knee across a suspect’s back or shoulder and employ their body weight to maintain control. But Mercil added: “We tell officers to stay away from the neck when possible.”
Nelson has argued the now-fired white officer “did exactly what he had been trained to do over his 19-year career”, and he has suggested that the illegal drugs in Floyd’s system and his underlying health conditions are what killed him, not Chauvin’s knee.
Nelson sought to point out moments in the video footage when he said Chauvin’s knee did not appear to be on Floyd’s neck.
Nelson showed Mercil several images taken from officers’ bodycamera videos, asking after each one whether it showed Chauvin’s knee appearing to rest more on Floyd’s back, shoulder or shoulder blades than directly on Floyd’s neck. Mercil often agreed.
Nelson acknowledged the images were difficult to make out. They were taken at different moments during Floyd’s arrest, starting about four minutes after he was first pinned to the ground, according to time stamps on the images.
In other testimony, Jody Stiger, a Los Angeles Police Department sergeant serving as a prosecution useof-force expert, said officers were justified in using force while Floyd was resisting their efforts to put him in a squad car. But once he was on the ground and stopped resisting, “at that point the officers . . . should have slowed down or stopped their force as well.”
Stiger said that after reviewing video of the arrest, “my opinion was that the force was excessive”.
Chauvin, 45, is charged with murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death May 25. Floyd, 46, was arrested outside a neighbourhood market after being accused of trying to pass a counterfeit US$20 bill.