So far, much of this week’s testimony has been on policy, a shift from the emotional testimonies of week 1.
LAPD Sgt. Jody Stiger took the stand again, lending his knowledge as a use-of-force expert for the prosecution. Yesterday, he testified that he has reviewed more than 2,500 use-of-force incidents in his career.
Sgt. Stiger testified that no force should have been used by Chauvin, once George Floyd was handcuffed and lying on his stomach on the ground. He also added that his assessment of the situation was that Chauvin was “pushing down from his knee area” on to Floyd’s neck.
Because he was in the prone position, he was not resisting, he was handcuffed, he was not attempting to evade, he was not attempting to resist. And the pressure that he was –that was being caused by the body weight could cause positional asphyxia which could cause death.”
Stiger was asked by the prosecution to define a “hostile crowd” based on his experience as a police officer. He replied, “I would define a hostile crowd in the situations I’ve been in where the crowd or members of the crowd were threatening and/or throwing bottles and rocks at the police.” When asked if he factored in “name calling” and “foul language” directed at police by the bystanders, he said he did not, because he didn’t perceive them as being a threat.
He added, “They were merely filming, and they were – most of it was their concern for Mr. Floyd.”
Stiger also testified that officers are trained that they can put their knee in between the shoulder blades at the base of the neck of a suspect to hold them on the ground. Asked by Nelson if this was standard police practice, Stiger, said yes.
Also during cross-examination, Eric Nelson showed body camera video of George Floyd. Nelson asked Stiger if he could interpret what Floyd was saying at that time, saying, “Does it sound like he says ‘I ate too many drugs’?” Stiger said he could not make out what Floyd was saying.
Next to testify was James Ryerson, a senior special agent with the Minnesota Department of Criminal Apprehension. He was the lead investigator on the case. Ryerson testified that Chauvin weighed about 140 pounds and was carrying about 30 to 40 pounds of equipment, including a bulletproof vest and a utility belt containing a gun, a pepper spray canister, ammunition and a radio, while kneeling on Floyd’s neck. He also stated Chauvin’s knee and most of his weight was on Floyd’s neck for the majority of the time he was being held prone on the ground.
He said that 50 agents from the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension were involved in the investigation, as well as up to 26 FBI agents. “I believe our investigation was very thorough,” Reyerson testified.
He was also questioned about the same nearly inaudible video clip that Sgt. Stiger was asked about. After playing a 10-second part of the video, Nelson asked Reyerson if it sounded as if Floyd was telling the officers, “I ate too many drugs.” Reyerson, hearing that clip for the first time, said yes.
On redirect, prosecutor Matt Frank called him back to the witness stand and asked if he was able to review the video again when he left the courtroom. He said he viewed a longer portion of the video that included a discussion by police about possible drugs Floyd had ingested prior to his arrest. After reviewing the video, Reyerson changed his answer to what he thought Floyd said. “I believe Mr. Floyd was saying, “I ain’t do no drugs.”
Also testifying were McKenzie Anderson and Breahna Giles, both forensic scientists for the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. They testified about evidence from the crime scene, Floyd’s SUV, and the cruiser the police were trying to put Floyd in.
Anderson tested blood droplets found in the squad car, which she determined to be Floyd’s. She also testified that Ryerson asked her to process the SUV again in December of 2020, specifically looking for drugs.
She said that during the December search, investigators found a box of Suboxone, a prescription medication to treat opioid addiction. She also said two other pills were discovered in the center console. Giles said she tested the pills from the console and determined they contained methamphetamine and fentanyl.
The final witness was Susan Neith, a forensic chemist at NMS Labs in Pennsylvania.
Neith said she performed tests on three pills that had been retrieved from the console of a Mercedes during the investigation into the May 25, 2020 incident.
“They were not complete tablets,” she stated. “They had a portion that appeared to be cut off, so I couldn’t read the exact monogramming on either tablet. They appeared to be round tablets, nothing out of the ordinary.”
My take: The prosecution should have immediately objected to Eric Nelson’s questioning regarding what Floyd may or may not have been saying in the video. Both witnesses heard that for the first time right there, and Nelson put the words in their mouths. Since the defense is basing their case on claiming that Floyd died from a drug overdose, that statement could be a very important one. Luckily, I think the redirect worked well for them on that one.
Nelson tried to argue during Sgt. Stiger’s testimony that Chauvin actually showed restraint at times. He said, for instance, that he didn’t use a taser on Floyd. He asked Stiger if he would have been within protocol to do that, and Stiger said yes. I think that could backfire, because I would argue that tasing him would have been way more reasonable than the course of action he ultimately took.
Nelson’s questioning often times comes across as condescending , sarcastic and sometimes combative. I don’t think he’s making any friends in the jury box. I could be completely wrong, but that’s my take on it.
Nelson again today used the crowd reactions to show that Chauvin was distracted and/or felt threatened. One of the problems with this line of defense is that the only thing the crowd did was yell at him. Nelson talks about how the as the language from the crowd escalated, so Chauvin’s level of force. My question is, how does people in a crowd yelling at you have an effect on the level of restraint you are using on a suspect detained on the ground? It just doesn’t make sense.
I think the scientific testimony is going to be extremely compelling. I do wonder if the defense and prosecution will cancel each other out with those witnesses though. Stay tuned for coverage of day 9 testimony.