US police lieutenant tells Derek Chauvin trial that officers are told ‘to stay away from the neck when possible’.
The restraint former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin used on Black American George Floyd was unauthorised, an official with the city’s police department has said, on the latest day of testimony in Chauvin’s murder trial in the United States.
Prosecutors on Tuesday showed Lieutenant Johnny Mercil a photograph of Chauvin using his knee to pin Floyd’s neck to the ground and was asked if the officer was using an authorised neck restraint under the circumstances.
“I would say no,” said Mercil, who teaches the proper use of force for the department.
Mercil said officers are trained in some situations to use their knee across a suspect’s back or shoulder and employ their body weight to maintain control but added: “We tell officers to stay away from the neck when possible.”
Chauvin has pleaded not guilty to second-degree manslaughter and second-degree unintentional murder charges, as well as a third-degree murder charge, in relation to Floyd’s death in May 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The former officer, who was fired from the police force last year after the incident, kept his knee against Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes.
Video footage of what happened was shared around the world, sparking widespread condemnation and protests demanding racial justice and an end to police violence in the US and abroad.
The second week of Chauvin’s trial began on Monday with Minneapolis Police chief Medaria Arradondo testifying that Chauvin’s actions violated departmental policy and ethics. Earlier that day, an emergency room doctor who pronounced Floyd dead after trying to resuscitate him testified that he believed at the time that Floyd most likely had died of suffocation.
Chauvin’s defence team has argued the former officer “did exactly what he had been trained to do over his 19-year career” and suggested that illegal drugs in Floyd’s system and his underlying health conditions are what killed him, not Chauvin’s actions.
Day ‘filled with nuance’
Al Jazeera’s John Hendren, reporting from Minneapolis, said Tuesday was a day “filled with nuance, not a lot of fireworks, not huge gains for either side”.
Hendren said that while Mercil’s testimony supported the prosecution’s argument that Chauvin did not use a normal police tactic in his restraint of Floyd, the police lieutenant also provided some information that could be considered helpful for the defence.
Chauvin’s lawyers showed Mercil a freeze-frame clip of the video of Floyd’s arrest, and asked him where Chauvin’s knee was located. “He said, ‘Between the blades of his back.’ In other words, he had moved it off of George Floyd’s neck,” Hendren said.
“Well, that’s harmful to the prosecution’s case because they’ve been arguing all along that Chauvin had his knee on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds consistently.”
Mercil told the court that officers are trained to use a proportional amount of force and how to properly use neck restraints, handcuffs and straps. He said a neck restraint is allowed only when a suspect is actively and aggressively resisting arrest.
“If you can use the least amount of force to meet your objectives, it is safer and better,” Mercil said.
Key points for defence
Ronald Sullivan, a professor at Harvard University Law School and director of the Harvard Criminal Justice Institute, said the defence was able to get “key points” in their theory on the case through prosecution witnesses on Tuesday.
“I really think this was a bad day for the government,” Sullivan told Al Jazeera.
“The defence is going be able argue based on today that it’s discretionary what officers do on the scene, that several variables indicate the degree of pressure that an officer might apply on this continuum of force, and that it’s from the perspective of the officer on the ground.”
But Sullivan added that trials tend to go up and down and last week – which saw 19 people, including one child and four teenagers, testify in court – was a good week for the prosecution.
Chauvin’s trial is expected to last four weeks but there are indications the jury could be sent to deliberate earlier than that.
“Right now they’re arguing about narratives, stories – who’s telling the best story?” Sullivan said. “Is it a case about excessive force, or is it a case about [a] drug overdose? Whichever one the jury believes, that’s who wins.”
Al Jazeera and news agencies