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Chauvin trial: Witnesses questioned about audio clip, placement of officer's knee on Floyd

Derek Chauvin trial
Posted at 4:55 AM, Apr 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-07 18:08:49-04

Derek Chauvin’s defense attorney introduced lines of questioning Wednesday that started to outline their argument against the former officer being charged with the murder of George Floyd.

WARNING: The video clips above contain language and descriptions of situations that may be difficult for some to hear.

Floyd died on May 25, 2020 outside Cup Foods store in Minneapolis. Video recorded at the scene showed Chauvin, and other officers, holding Floyd on the ground. Chauvin was shown in the video recorded by bystanders with his knee on Floyd’s neck and back for almost nine minutes.

Chauvin is facing second- and third-degree murder and manslaughter charges in Floyd’s death.

Defense attorney Eric Nelson argued that Floyd saying “I can’t breathe” while officers were struggling with him and holding him down was a form of resisting arrest.

Later, Nelson played a short 10-second clip of body-worn camera footage that included a muffled statement from Floyd for two witnesses to get their take. A paid witness for the state on use of force, Sergeant Jody Stiger, said the audio was not clear enough to make out.

Nelson asked a special agent with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, James Reyerson, if it was possible Floyd said “I ate too many drugs.”

Reyerson responded it was possible but later under re-questioning and after hearing a longer part of the clip in context, said it sounded more like Floyd responding to officers’ questions with “I ain’t do no drugs.”

Nelson also continued to ask witnesses to identify if Chauvin’s knee was on Floyd’s neck or shoulder blade during cross examinations. At one point, he introduced images from a training document that seemed to show a maneuver that included an officer placing a knee on a subject upper back.

Earlier in the day, Stiger said in his expert opinion, “no force should have been used” on Floyd after he was handcuffed and on the ground, because of the risk of injury or death. He also repeatedly answered that he believed Chauvin’s knee was on Floyd’s neck, “above the shoulder blade,” he told Nelson.

A statement that was echoed by Reyerson.

He testified that in his opinion, and as part of the investigation he led, Chauvin's knee "appears as though it's on the back of Mr. Floyd's neck."

Forensic scientists testified later in the afternoon, and outlined what they found at the scene and inside both the squad car and the car Floyd arrived at the store in.

They said pills and a glass pipe were among the items recovered. Some of the pills tested contained methamphetamine and fentanyl.

Chauvin trial will continue Thursday morning at 10:15 a.m. ET.

Below is a live blog of Wednesday's court proceedings.

Court TV will be the only network with cameras in the courtroom and will provide live, gavel-to-gavel coverage.

The entire trial will be on live TV as well as available online at CourtTV.com, and the Court TV app for Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Android and Apple devices.

Find Court TV's full coverage of MN v. Derek Chauvin here.

UPDATE, 5:30 p.m. ET: Prosecutors called Susan Neith, a forensic chemist at NMS Labs in Pennsylvania. She briefly described some of the testing she did on the pills recovered from the vehicles before court was adjourned for the day.

WATCH coverage of the Derek Chauvin trial HERE

UPDATE, 5:15 p.m. ET: Prosecutors called Breahna Giles, a chemical forensic scientist with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. She was asked about testing a glass pipe found inside the Mercedes George Floyd arrived at the Cup Foods store in.

Giles said the pipe had traces of THC, but there was no marijuana on the pipe.

She also described testing pills found inside the Mercedes and squad car. One of the pills found in the Mercedes contained acetaminophen and oxycodone, another tablet contained methamphetamine and fentanyl.

Court TV will be the only network with cameras in the courtroom and will provide live, gavel-to-gavel coverage.
The entire trial will be on live TV as well as available online at CourtTV.com, and the Court TV app for Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Android and Apple devices.

Find Court TV's full coverage of MN v. Derek Chauvin here.

UPDATE, 4 p.m. ET: Prosecutors called Mckenzie Anderson, a forensic scientist with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

Anderson walked through how they processed the scene, and in particular, the Mercedes that Floyd arrived at Cup Foods in and the squad car.

She described finding Floyd's DNA in the squad car in several places, including his blood. She also said cash was found inside the Mercedes.

Anderson explained that months later, in December, the defense requested another search of the vehicles to look specifically for pills and other items. She detailed pills were recovered from the Mercedes and the squad car.

Defense attorney Eric Nelson did not question Anderson.

Court TV will be the only network with cameras in the courtroom and will provide live, gavel-to-gavel coverage.
The entire trial will be on live TV as well as available online at CourtTV.com, and the Court TV app for Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Android and Apple devices.

Find Court TV's full coverage of MN v. Derek Chauvin here.

UPDATE, 1 p.m. ET: Prosecutors called senior special agent James Reyerson, he serves on a team with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension that does criminal investigations into use-of-force situations.

He was an officer in New York for awhile, before eventually joining the Minnesota BCA. He was called on the evening on May 25, 2020 to report to the scene of an "incident."

Reyerson described coming to the scene, gathering evidence and asking area businesses for their security camera footage.

He testified that in his opinion, and as part of the investigation he led, Chauvin's knee "appears as though it's on the back of Mr. Floyd's neck."

The placement of Chauvin's knee has been a point of dispute between prosecutors and defense, with defense attorney Eric Nelson questioning witnesses whether the knee was on Floyd's shoulder blade.

Under cross examination, Nelson played a clip of body camera footage.

"Did it appear that Mr. Floyd said, 'I ate too many drugs?'"

Reyerson responded, "Yes, it did."

Prosecutors questioned Reyerson immediately after the asked if he had heard that response before or only when Nelson suggested it. Reyerson says he didn't notice it before.

When a longer clip of the video was played for Reyerson, he said it appeared Floyd was responding to statements from officers asking if he was on drugs, and Reyerson said he believes Floyd said, "I ain't do no drugs."

Nelson also brought up liquid that was seen on Floyd's pants when he was put on the gurney and taken to the ambulance. Earlier witnesses had testified they believed it was urine, and what they believed to be a sign that Floyd had died and lost control of his bladder.

Nelson suggested during questioning Reyerson it could be condensation from a car running, since Floyd was lying on the ground near the squad car. He asked Reyerson if the car was running, or if was running on battery at the time.

Court TV will be the only network with cameras in the courtroom and will provide live, gavel-to-gavel coverage.
The entire trial will be on live TV as well as available online at CourtTV.com, and the Court TV app for Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Android and Apple devices.

Find Court TV's full coverage of MN v. Derek Chauvin here.

UPDATE, 10:15 a.m. ET: Sergeant Jody Stiger with the Los Angeles Police Department returned to the stand Wednesday morning. Stiger has extensive experience as an officer and served on a board overseeing use-of-force cases in Los Angeles. He was asked to review the use-of-force in the death of George Floyd and make determinations of former officer Derek Chauvin's actions.

Wednesday morning, prosecutors showed several images from police officers' body worn cameras and had Stiger point out where Chauvin's knees were on Floyd. Stiger pointed out Chauvin's knee on Floyd's neck and back, and said his knee did not move from Floyd's neck for several minutes.

He also said given the call was originally about a possible counterfeit bill, the needed force should have been low. He also said given how many officers were there, the need for force should have been low.

Stiger said Floyd "was not actively resisting at the time when he was in the prone position," based on his review of all of the footage from the scene, including a police department camera from the intersection, body-worn cameras from the officers and bystander video. "My opinion is no force should have been used when he was in that (prone and handcuffed) position."

Stiger also talked about how positional asphyxia has been known to officers and been part of training since the mid-90s.

Under questioning from defense attorney Eric Nelson, Stiger admitted that in some cases use-of-force decisions are made very quickly and happen fast.

Stiger also said officers were reasonable in their use of force getting Floyd into the back of the police squad car.

"A person in handcuffs can continue to be a threat, right?" Nelson asked Stiger. "Yes," Stiger responded, acknowledging under questioning a handcuffed suspect could attack an officer or others.

"Sometimes, the use of force, it might be caught on video, might be OK but it looks awful," Nelson points out. "Police use of force, sometimes, has the tendency to attract bystanders."

Stiger says this is true, and there is training he has attended that talks about acts that are lawful, "but awful" to look at.

Nelson shared images with the court showing officers holding down subjects using their legs and knees. The image was from a printed training paper, with images of an officer using his knees on a person's upper back, called "prone arm control" in the image.

Prosecutors pointed out the subject in the photos was not handcuffed at the time, and they argue the maneuver was being done to hold the subject so they could be handcuffed.

Floyd was handcuffed while lying prone on the ground with officers on top of him.

As the prosecution re-questioned Stiger, he said his professional opinion is that force applied on George Floyd during the May 25, 2020 incident was "not objectively reasonable."

Nelson also asked Stiger about ways subjects may sometimes try to evade arrest, potentially lying about their condition or situation to get officers to lighten their restraint or let them go. While Stiger agreed he had been in situations like that, when subjects say things to get away from officers, he still maintained the force used against Floyd, and the length of time it was applied, was not appropriate once he was handcuffed and on the ground.

Court TV will be the only network with cameras in the courtroom and will provide live, gavel-to-gavel coverage.
The entire trial will be on live TV as well as available online at CourtTV.com, and the Court TV app for Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Android and Apple devices.

Find Court TV's full coverage of MN v. Derek Chauvin here.

Original story below

State witness testimony will continue Wednesday in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, and will likely again focus on the training he received as a police officer as prosecutors attempt to prove that he was responsible for the death and murder of George Floyd.

This week, prosecutors have called several first responders to the stand and asked for their thoughts on Chauvin’s actions on the night of May 25, 2020 — the night Floyd died in police custody. Among those witnesses on Tuesday was Sgt. Johnny Mercil, a police official who focuses on use-of-force training.

On Tuesday, Mercil said officers are typically trained to avoid pressure to the neck. Bystander video shows Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for several minutes during an arrest that proceeded his death.

"If you can use a lower level of force to meet your objectives, it's safer and better for everybody," Mercil said.

Also on Tuesday, the state called a medical support officer who walked prosecutors through the first aid training officers received and asked for her expert testimony in Chauvin’s response. Prosecutors also called a LAPD sergeant to the stand as an expert witness.

Throughout the week, lawyers for Chauvin have questioned these witnesses as to the placement of Chauvin’s knee, pointing out that Chauvin briefly moved his knee from Floyd’s neck to his shoulder blade at points during the arrest. They’ve also questioned the role Floyd’s drug use has played in his death.

On Monday, prosecutors questioned Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo on Chauvin’s actions, who testified that the former officer did not follow department policies on de-escalation prior to the arrest.

"Absolutely that violates our policy," he said. "Once Mr. Floyd had stopped resisting, and certainly once he was in distress and trying to verbalize that, that should have stopped."

Proceedings in the trial will resume Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. ET.

WATCH coverage of the Derek Chauvin trial HERE.

Court TV will be the only network with cameras in the courtroom and will provide live, gavel-to-gavel coverage.

The entire trial will be on live TV as well as available online at CourtTV.com, and the Court TV app for Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Android and Apple devices.

In addition to in-depth reporting and expert analysis from veteran legal journalists — most of whom are lawyers — Court TV’s extensive coverage will include new virtual recreations, and insights and discussions from attorneys, investigators and forensic experts.

Find Court TV's full coverage of MN v. Derek Chauvin here.