Justice For George – Derek Chauvin Trial, Day 7

Day 7 of testimony started with a hearing regarding the potential testimony of Morries Hall. Hall, who was in the vehicle with George Floyd on May 25, 2020, appeared via Zoom in front of Judge Peter Cahill this morning to determine if he will testify in Chauvin’s trial.  Hall is on the prosecution’s potential witness list. However, his lawyer says he will invoke his Fifth Amendment rights if called to testify, because some topics of his testimony could incriminate him. Last week, the public defender filed a motion requesting that his subpoena be quashed, as he will refuse to answer questions.

Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

In layman’s terms, the Fifth Amendment prohibits self-incrimination and double jeopardy. If a witness is being called to testify in a criminal trial, that witness can refuse to answer certain questions that would implicate them in a separate crime.

Judge Cahill did not rule on the motion yet, stating “I think we have pretty much established that there is really a very small narrow topic that might be permissible.” He asked defense attorney Eric Nelson to draft some written questions that he would like to ask, and then Hall can meet with his lawyers to discuss whether he will answer them. The questions are supposed to be submitted by Thursday.

Today’s testimony included more procedural information from other police officers. First on the stand was Minneapolis Police Department Sgt. Ker Yang. Yang is the crisis intervention training coordinator for the training unit and has been with the department for about 24 years. When asked about his role, Yang stated, “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.” He then went on to define a crisis as “any event, situation that is beyond a person’s coping mechanisms.”

Much of Sgt. Yang’s testimony was spent discussing the “Critical-Decision Making Model” that officers use to assess, re-assess, and de-escalate situations. “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, also stating that goals and actions can be adjusted after this point. When asked about medical intervention, Sgt. Yang said “If a person being arrested needs medical attention, that would be an “immediate goal for us. If somebody is needing attention, then we give them medical attention,”

Eric Nelson again spent most of his time during cross-examination trying to set the scene as a whole, questioning every witness about how the surrounding circumstances affect the decision-making process for the officers. Nelson specifically questioned Sgt. Yang on what signs of aggression officers should be looking for when dealing with suspects. Citing a training document, Yang said these signs could be things like “raised voice, rapid breathing, muscle tension, agitation, pacing.” He also testified that “the critical decision-making model is not limited to just the suspect, but the totality of the circumstances, including citizen bystanders.” 

Next to take the stand was Lt. Johnny Mercil, use of force instructor in department’s training unit. Upon seeing photos of Chauvin’s use of restraint, he said the kneeling on Floyd’s neck is not a trained neck restraint tactic. While neck restraints may be allowed on suspects actively resisting, they are not to be done with the knee and they would not be authorized on a suspect who is handcuffed and under control, he said. Officers are taught to only use force that is proportional to the threat. He also testified that handcuffed suspects can have difficulty breathing on their stomachs. He said officers are trained to move suspects into a side recovery position — “the sooner the better. On cross-examination he did acknowledge that the position might have also been considered as “using body weight to control.” Nelson again brought up the piece of footage a little over 9 minutes in, where from a different angle it appears that Chauvin’s knee was on Floyd’s shoulder, rather than his neck. He said that yes, it could be considered that, but finished with “However, I will add that we tell officers to stay away from the neck when possible, and if you’re going to use body weight to pin, to put it on their shoulder and be mindful of position.”

Nelson then began a line of questioning asking Lt. Mercil to testify to things suspects will do to get out of being arrested, and asked if saying they had a medical emergency would be one of them. He answered “yes.” He also asked if it’s possible that even a suspect that is rendered unconscious could wake up and potentially be more of a threat than before, to which he also answered “yes.” On redirect, Lt. Mercil was asked if “Have you ever had a situation where a subject has lost his pulse and come back to life and become violent?” to which he answered, “no sir.”

The next witness called was Minneapolis PD Officer Nicole Mackenzie, a medical response coordinator and CPR instructor. She testified that officers are required to render first aid and request emergency services when someone needs medical help. The department teaches officers to determine the level of responsiveness for a person needing help. If the person is unresponsive, then the officer is required to check their airway, breathing and circulation, and if the person has no pulse, the officer should start CPR immediately. She also said it’s not accurate to say if someone can talk then they can breathe. On cross-examination, she did acknowledge that a hostile crowd could make it difficult to focus on a patient.

And lastly, we heard from LAPD Sgt. Jody Stiger, a use of force expert. He testified that he believed Chauvin’s actions were excessive. “My opinion was that the force was excessive,” he told the court. Stiger reviewed materials from the incident after Floyd’s death and has conducted approximately 2,500 use-of-force reviews during his career.

My take: I think it’s a smart move for Morries Hall to plead the Fifth Amendment. Given that he was involved in the crime Floyd was accused of, that he is currently serving time on an unrelated charge, and that he was Floyd’s friend, I don’t think his testimony would hold much credibility with the jury.

At this point, I still don’t fully understand why Nelson is so hell bent on proving that Chauvin’s knee may have been on Floyd’s shoulder, and not his neck, at about the 9 minute mark. He was already dead by then, what difference does it make if his knee moved slightly? IMO, it would make his case stronger if he could show that earlier in the interaction, but it can’t. Because it didn’t happen.

I also think it was a mistake on the part of the defense to suggest that Floyd “used a medical emergency as an excuse to not get arrested.” Given the fact that, we all know now that he was, in fact, having an actual medical emergency, it seemed like a foolish point to try and make.

All of the testimony we heard today, again, speaks to the excessive use of force by Chauvin. I’m pleasantly surprised that so many officers are coming out to speak against his actions.

The defense is grasping at straws at this point. Nelson’s entire lines of questioning revolve around hypothetical situations and “what ifs.” I don’t know what he will have in store when it’s his time to call witnesses, but for now, he doesn’t have much.

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