Use of Force Experts Made Up the Majority of Testimonies During Day 7 of the Chauvin Trial

Minneapolis Police Officer Nicole Mackenzie testifies as Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill presides Tuesday, April 6, 2021, in the trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin
Minneapolis Police Officer Nicole Mackenzie testifies as Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill presides Tuesday, April 6, 2021, in the trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin
Image: Court TV-Pool (AP)

As day 7 of Derek Chauvin’s trial went on, we heard numerous use of force experts testify about what was proper protocol and how Chauvin’s actions may have gone against what he was trained to do.

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According to CNN, the day opened with Sargeant Ker Yang, a crisis intervention coordinator with the Minneapolis Police Department, taking the stand. The questions from Steve Schleicher, the attorney for the prosecution, were focused on outlining the various ways Chauvin had been trained to respond to crisis situations, and if he should’ve known when to go from applying force to giving medical attention.

“As the crisis training coordinator, I’m responsible for collaborating and coordinating with mental health professionals and community members and civilians to come and teach our officers about crisis and crisis de-escalation. And at times, I also train our officers, too,” Yang explained on the stand.

Yang outlined the various ways officers in the MPD have been trained to de-escalate a situation, and broke down a 40-hour training session from 2016 that MPD officers, Chauvin included, participated in that centered on crisis intervention and de-escalation.

From CNN:

Officers are trained in a critical decision-making model to address people who are in crisis.

“Does that person need to go to the hospital? Can the person be turned over to somebody that has the authority to watch over that person? So it’s really for somebody to take over in crisis is determined to see if that person needs help,” Yang told prosecutor Steve Schleicher the model includes.

The sergeant discussed a part of the critical decision-making model labeled “review and re-assess.”

“We assess the situation to see if our technique on the de-escalation or other technique is working. If it’s not working, then we adjust our technique and our strategies,” Yang said, noting that goals and actions can be adjusted after this point.

If a person being arrested needs medical attention, the sergeant said, that would be an “immediate goal for us.”

Yang also reiterated that the neck restraint Chauvin used with his knee was not one he was trained to use by the MPD. Eric J. Nelson, Chauvin’s attorney, cross-examined Yang, and focused on how the crowd of bystanders telling Chauvin to get his knee off Floyd’s neck could have colored Chauvin’s decision making. “It’s not just one small thing that you’re focused only on the subject that you’re arresting,” Nelson said. “You’re taking in a lot of information and processing it all kind of simultaneously through this critical decision-making model.” Yang agreed with Nelson’s assessment.

Lieutenant Johnny Mercil, a use of force instructor within the MPD, took the stand after Yang. He was brought on to explain how the MPD defines force, the circumstances for which the use of force is appropriate, and how force should be used in proportion to the level of resistance an officer is facing.

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From CNN:

Mercil went on to confirm to prosecutors that “restraint is a form of force” and that both applying force or applying restraint needs to be proportional.

“In general, without using the slide for a moment, just explain to the jury as you would a group of trainings. What is proportional force?” prosecutors asked.

“You want to use the least amount of force necessary to meet your objectives, to control. And if those lower uses of force do not work, would not work or are too unsafe to try, then you increase the level of force against that person,” Mercil said.

“You said that you want to use least amount of force as necessary? Why is that?” the prosecution continued.

“Because if you can use the least amount of — lower level of force to meet your objectives, it’s safer and better for everybody involved,” Mercil added.

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Mercil added that when people are handcuffed and put on the ground, they should be put on their side in “recovery position” to prevent them from facing “positional asphyxiation,” while laying on their stomach. Additionally, he said that MPD officers are trained to avoid restraining the neck if they have to use force.

Officer Nicole Mackenzie, a medical response coordinator with the MPD, was brought to the stand after Mercil, and went into detail about the first aid training all officers are given when they enroll in the force. She said that officers receive some form of CPR training every year, and that officers are trained to begin CPR as soon as they can’t feel a pulse on a person. She added that they are expected to continue CPR until an ambulance arrives, they’re relieved by someone with more training, or if they are “absolutely physically exhausted from doing CPR.”

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Mackenzie was unexpectedly a boon for the defense, as her testimony strengthened the defense’s narrative that the crowd of bystanders could have played into Chauvin’s decision making during the incident. Mackenzie agreed with the defense’s assertion that the noise from the crowd could’ve caused Chauvin to miss signs Floyd was in distress.

From the New York Times:

Officer Mackenzie said it could be “incredibly difficult” to provide medical treatment in front of a loud crowd, even if they were not interfering physically.

“If you had a very hostile or volatile crowd — it sounds unreasonable — but bystanders do occasionally attack E.M.S. crews,” she testified.

Prosecutors have argued that the people who witnessed Mr. Floyd’s arrest presented no threat to the officers and were simply distraught over what they saw. They called Officer Mackenzie to the stand to bolster their argument that Mr. Chauvin, who was fired from the department and is facing charges including murder, violated police policies that required him to administer care to people in his custody when it was safe to do so.

But when Mr. Nelson asked if the police policies that require officers to administer care are “contingent upon what’s going on at the scene at the time,” Officer Mackenzie agreed.

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Use of force expert Sgt. Jody Stiger of the Los Angeles Police Department was the last person brought to the stand on Tuesday. After detailing his bonafides as an expert, Stiger was asked if he thought that Chauvin’s use of force was excessive, to which Stiger replied, “My opinion was that the force was excessive.”

Judge Peter Cahill adjourned for the day an hour earlier than expected and Stiger will continue his testimony tomorrow.

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As of now a clear narrative is emerging between both the prosecution and the defense. The prosecution is arguing that Chauvin should’ve known better and that his actions on May 25 last year went against what he was trained to do.

The defense, on the other hand, is arguing that it was the drugs in Floyd’s system and the noise from the crown that contributed to his death. Essentially, shifting blame to everything but the most obvious answer for why a father of five is now dead. 

The stylin', profilin', limousine riding, jet flying, wheelin' and dealin' nerd of The Root.

DISCUSSION

The defense is saying it was Floyd’s fault for being on drugs, and the crowd’s for saying “stop killing him”; and not Chauvin’s for using a hold that his own training officer said he didn’t train MPD officers to use as it was too dangerous.