An expert police witness has told the Derek Chauvin murder trial in Minneapolis that the accused former officer used a technique designed to deliberately inflict pain and subjected George Floyd to it for an extended period.
Sgt Jody Stiger, a Los Angeles police specialist on the use of force, said on Wednesday that video shows Chauvin applying a “pain compliance” procedure by pulling the 46-year-old Black man’s wrist into the handcuffs, which can be heard clicking tighter.
Stiger said the technique, which also involves squeezing the knuckles together, is normally used to inflict pain in order to persuade a person to comply with an officer’s commands – but at that point Floyd was not resisting and was lying prone on the ground.
The procedure was also used for much longer than was necessary, Stiger told the jury.
The prosecutor asked Stiger what the effect is of using the pain compliance procedure if there is no opportunity for compliance.
“At that point it’s just pain,” he said.
Chauvin, 45, who is white, has denied charges of second– and third–degree murder, and manslaughter, over Floyd’s death last May, which prompted mass protests for racial justice across the US and other parts of the world.
The officer and three others who assisted in the arrest of Floyd were fired the following day and Chauvin faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted of the most serious charge. He denies all the charges.
The prosecution continued to build the core of its case that the level of force used by Chauvin was illegitimate.
A succession of Chauvin’s colleagues, trainers and even the Minneapolis police chief, Medaria Arradondo, have testified that there was no justification for Chauvin to keep his knee on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and that it endangered his life.
Most have said there was no reason to put it there in the first place, although the defence was able to muddy the waters about the Minneapolis police department training on the use of neck restraints before they were barred following Floyd’s death.
On Wednesday, the eighth day of testimony in the trial, Stiger told the court that video showed Chauvin had one knee on Floyd’s neck and the other on his back throughout the time he was pinned on the ground. The witness said this meant that all of the accused officer’s body weight was pushing down through his knees on to Floyd.
“The pressure that was being caused by the body weight would cause positional asphyxia, which could cause death,” said Stiger.
The officer said that Chauvin was justified in using force to try to get Floyd to sit in the squad car. But once the detained man was lying on his stomach on the ground, he ended his resistance and the level of force used against him “was excessive”.
“As the time went on in the video, clearly you could see Mr Floyd’s medical … his health was deteriorating. His breath was getting lower. His tone of voice was getting lower. His movements were starting to cease,” said Stiger.
The officer said that at that point Chauvin should have taken some action such as sit Floyd up or put him in the recovery position.
Earlier, Stiger questioned the use of any force, given the low-level offence Floyd was accused of - using an allegedly forged $20 bill in a store.
Chauvin’s defence lawyer, Eric Nelson, said that under a supreme court ruling the standard by which the accused officer should be judged is “objective reasonableness”.
In cross-examination, Nelson put it to Stiger that Chauvin’s actions were governed by being told by the police dispatcher who sent him to the scene that the incident involved a large, intoxicated man resisting arrest.
Stiger agreed that created “a heightened degree of expectation”, because force was already being used by fellow officers.
Nelson said that it was reasonable for Chauvin to be sceptical about Floyd’s claims not to be able to breathe, given the force he was using to resist being put in the squad car.
Stiger agreed that Floyd’s pleas might have been an attempt “to bargain” with the officers to stop the arrest.
The defence has claimed that Chauvin’s actions later were affected by a threat from the “chaos” of a growing crowd of hostile bystanders demanding the officer take his knee off Floyd’s neck because it was killing him.
Nelson suggested the accused officer faced “multiple threats” and that the one posed by the crowd distracted Chauvin from focusing on Floyd’s medical condition and caused him to use a level of force to prevent the prone man from resisting again.
Stiger said he heard name-calling and foul language but did not perceive the bystanders as a threat.
“They were only filming. Most of it was their concern for Mr Floyd,” he said.
A dispute arose during the testimony of James Reyerson, a senior investigator for the state into Chauvin’s use of force, over whether Floyd is heard to say on video “I ate too many drugs” or “I ain’t do no drugs”.
The defence claimed it was the former, the prosecution the latter.
Part of Chauvin’s defence hinges on the claim that Floyd was under the influence of drugs and that affected his behaviour and contributed to his death. The prosecution claims that Chauvin failed to offer appropriate medical care to a man having a medical crisis.
Susan Neith, forensic chemist, told the trial that she tested pills found in Floyd’s vehicle and in the back seat of the squad car. She detected a powerful and dangerous opioid, fentanyl, and methamphetamine – the drugs found in Floyd’s system by the state’s autopsy.
Three other officers involved in Floyd’s death are scheduled to be tried together later this year on charges of aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.
The trial continues.