USA TODAY International Edition
Tuesday’s testimony on use of force, giving aid
A police lieutenant who taught training attended by Derek Chauvin in 2018 said kneeling on a neck wasn’t part of it.
MINNEAPOLIS – Police Lt. Johnny Mercil, who taught use- of- force training attended by Derek Chauvin in 2018, told jurors in the former officer’s murder trial that placing a knee on a neck was not a department- trained restraint.
Mercil, who took the stand Tuesday, is a key witness because he’s the first use- of- force expert jurors have heard from, and he carries additional credibility because he is specifically familiar with and teaches Minneapolis Police Department use- of- force policies.
Chauvin faces murder and manslaughter charges in the death of a handcuffed George Floyd after he pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes during an arrest in May. Chauvin and other officers who responded did not render medical aid, and Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than two minutes after officers realized Floyd did not have a pulse, according to court records.
Mercil said using a knee on the neck or back can be an authorized use of force, but it’s usually transitory and depends on the time frame and type of resistance. If the subject is handcuffed and not resisting, it is not authorized, Mercil said. Once the subject is handcuffed and compliant or not resisting, then it’s “an appropriate time” for the officer to move their knee, Mercil said.
“There’s the possibility and risk that some people have trouble breathing when they’re handcuffed ( to their back) and on their stomach,” Mercil said. A person is rolled on their side to prevent positional asphyxia, Mercil said. The officer should turn the person to that position “sooner the better.”
“If you can use a lower level of force to meet your objectives, it’s better and safer for everyone involved,” Mercil said.
Under questioning by Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, Mercil acknowledged that use- of- force techniques do not have a strict application in every instance and that officers are taught to react to the circumstances they face.
Nelson, as he has done throughout the trial, painted the crowd of onlookers faced by the officers as a threat, and Mercil agreed the crowd’s words could be considered threatening and would be a factor officers might consider.
Mercil also agreed under questioning that some people make excuses to avoid arrest and that he has had suspects say “I can’t breathe” during an arrest.
Nelson posited that an officer could hold a neck restraint after rendering someone unconscious, perhaps to wait for another officer. Mercil agreed with that. Mercil declined to agree with the argument that Chauvin could hold the neck restraint while waiting for emergency medical services to arrive.
On Monday, Police Chief Medaria Arradondo told jurors Chauvin’s restraint “absolutely” violated department policy. He said the restraint should have stopped “once Mr. Floyd stopped resisting” and “once he was in distress and verbalized it.” The chief said Chauvin and his fellow officers violated policy by failing to provide medical care to Floyd once he lost his pulse.
Nelson showed Mercil an image of Chauvin kneeling with his knee on Floyd’s neck. Mercil restated that the restraint is not taught to officers but that it can be similar to using body weight to control technique.
“However, we tell officers to stay away on the neck, and we tell officers to put it on their shoulder and be mindful of the position,” Mercil said.
Also Tuesday, the EMT who leads the department’s emergency medical response training told jurors that officers are trained to call for an ambulance and provide aid if a situation is “critical.”
“If you don’t have a pulse on a person, you immediately start CPR,” Officer Nicole Mackenzie said. “If it’s a critical situation, you have to do both” CPR and call for an ambulance.
Sgt. Ker Yang answered prosecution questions focused on showing that Chauvin received training for the type of confrontation he faced with Floyd. Yang confirmed records that show Chauvin completed 40- hour crisis intervention training in 2016. The goal of such training, he said, “is to see if that person needs help,” from medical personnel or other assistance.
During cross- examination, Nelson repeated a line of questioning that reminded jurors that the officers struggled with Floyd and simultaneously received criticism from bystanders. Nelson drew Yang to acknowledge that “sometimes police actions can look pretty bad.”