DAY 8/Derek Chauvin Murder Trial in Death of George Floyd: Use of Force Expert

Jody Steiger testifies on Wednesday

By Ankita Joshi, Will McCurry, Mia Machado

MINNEAPOLIS, MN – Sgt. Jody Steiger of the Los Angeles Police Department, a use of force expert present on behalf of the state, continued with his testimony – along with other police and medical experts – Wednesday, April 7 in the Derek Chauvin murder trial.

On the previous day, Steiger had opined that the action taken by Chauvin in Floyd’s arrest was “excessive.”

Prosecutor Steven Schleicher began by presenting a composite photograph to Steiger of Chauvin leaning on Floyd’s neck, the prone position Floyd was placed in, and the position Floyd was in when the emergency medical staff arrived.

Steiger was asked to point out the position of the defendant’s knees in the photo, which were placed using body weight on Floyd’s neck and back area.

The photographs presented also displayed the pain compliance technique used by Chauvin on Floyd’s left hand in the beginning of the restraint.

“Pain compliance is a technique that officers use to get a subject to comply with their demands. As they comply, they are rewarded with a reduction of pain,” defined Steiger.

The positioning used by Chauvin could induce pain by squeezing the fingers and knuckles together, and pulling the wrist into the handcuff. The handcuffs were also described as not double locked, which would cause that to ratchet tighter if the victim moved.

Steiger continued by stating that Chauvin did not lessen/remove this pain compliance during the restraint period.

Schleicher asked Steiger about the Graham v. Connor case factors that the Minneapolis Police Department integrates into its policy and procedural manual.

The three main factors that were focused on were “severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arret by flight.”

Steiger denied that the first factor of the severity of the crime changed during the restraint period, which was “possession of a fake $20 bill.”

The second factor of whether Floyd posed an immediate threat to the officers or others during the restraint period was also refuted, as “he was in the prone position, he was handcuffed, he was not attempting to resist, he was not attempting to assault the officers.” No verbalization of threats were made to the officers as well.

Another factor that was considered when determining the use of force included the number of officers who were present at the scene. Five officers were present at the scene; three of whom were using body weight on Floyd, and two additional officers.

Steiger noted that Floyd did not present an “immediate threat” to any of the officers.

The third factor of whether Floyd was actively resisting arrest by flight was analyzed by Steiger and was determined to not be an issue, as “he was in the prone position, nor did he communicate to them that he was attempting to resist or evade them.”

Steiger was then asked to walk the jury through the concept of proportionality as it relates to use of force .

“An officer is only allowed to use a level of force that is proportional to the seriousness of the crime or the level of resistance that a subject is using towards the officers,” he said.

A force continuum graphic used by the Minneapolis Police Department was then displayed to the court in order for a clearer demonstrative example for the jury. Steiger went through the graphic and explained what the proportional response would be to different thresholds of resistance.

Schleicher then asked whether Steiger had an opinion about “how much force was reasonable for the defendant to use on Mr. Floyd after Mr. Floyd was handcuffed, placed in the prone position, and not resisting?”

“My opinion was that no force should have been used once he was in that position,” responded Steiger.

The definition of deadly force was then examined, which was determined as “ force which the actor uses with the purpose of causing or which the actor should reasonably know creates a substantial risk of causing death or great bodily harm.”

Steiger then opined that the force used by the defendant could be constituted as deadly force because “at the time of the restraint period, Mr. Floyd was not resisting, he was in the prone position…and the pressure that was being caused by the body weight could cause positional asphyxia which could cause death.”

Positional asphyxia was noted to be a known risk in law enforcement, the risks of which have been known for at least 20 years.

Steiger elaborated by stating that positional asphyxia could occur even if there is no body weight present. The added pressure of body weight increases the probability of death.

Schleicher confirmed that Floyd was being held down by three officers during the restraint period.

Next, the totality of the circumstances including the group of bystanders who were present during the restraint period was discussed.

Foul language and name calling were noted in the circumstance, but were not included in Steiger’s analysis because he determined they were not a threat.

While foul language and name calling could be considered a distraction, Steiger concluded that Chauvin’s 19 years of being a police officer, and his approximately 866 hours of paid training were enough to prepare the defendant for that distraction.

Steiger believes that no distraction occurred as, “In the body worn video, you can hear Mr. Floyd explain his discomfort and pain, and you can also hear the defendant responding to him.”

At this time, Schleicher played the video of the exchange between Floyd and Chauvin where it is clear that Chauvin responded to Floyd’s complaints.

It was then Nelson’s turn to question Steiger.

Nelson questioned the use of force policy of the Minneapolis Police Department by doubting the reasonable use of force. He questioned Steiger whether the reasonable use of force varies from department to department.

“Based on my training and experience, every agency that I’ve seen based their use of force policy on Graham v. Connor, so it’s pretty standard,” Steiger says. He testified that the use of force from his experience doesn’t show differences when it comes to their use of force policies.

Nelson moves to explain that large crowds, or any crowd, are dynamic creatures and can change rapidly. MPD has training based on dealing with large crowds and are taught to “never underestimate a crowd’s potential.”

“Ultimately, when an officer is on scene making a decision to use force and a crowd assembles, whether they’re peaceful or not peaceful, a reasonable officer has to be aware of what they’re doing and that can distract an officer,” Nelson asks. Steiger testifies that in certain instances, it could possibly distract an officer.

“If I start calling you names, that conveys a meaning… a reasonable officer can foresee that or perceive that as a threat,” Nelson asks, almost testifying now.

“Name-calling? I would say it depends on the officer’s training and experience” Steiger answers, adding “officers are typically trained that when it comes to verbal threats, that you can’t just use that to justify force.”

In a redirect from Schleicher, Steiger testifies the risk to positional asphyxia comes from the pressure on the body. “Any additional pressure on the body complicates breathing more so than if there was no pressure at all” states Steiger. Both of Chauvin’s knees were on Floyd during the entirety of the restraint.

Steiger confirms that, to a degree of professional certainty, the force applied by Chauvin was not objectively reasonable and that this is the basis for saying that it was excessive.

In the video, you can hear Chauvin tell Floyd to “relax” as a form of de-escalation. According to Steiger telling someone to relax while you’re sitting on top of them is not an effective use of de-escalation.

When an officer is reassessing and reevaluating a situation, one of the things they need to take into account is someone’s medical situation. Steiger testifies that once someone is taken into custody they are “obligated” to take care of the person.

As time passed while Chauvin was on Floyd’s neck, his health was deteriorating.

“As the time went on, you can see his health was deteriorating, his breath was getting lower, his voice was getting lower, his movements were starting to cease so at that point, as an officer on scene, you have a responsibility to realize that something is not right, something has changed drastically from what was occurring earlier so therefore you have a responsibility to take some type of action” Steiger said.

According to Steiger, after someone is handcuffed “they need to at least sit them up or them on their side, recovery position.”

The next witness to testify was Senior Special Agent James Reyerson with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. He is currently assigned to investigate use of force, conducting criminal investigations on use of force.

Reyerson was the lead investigator on this case and was involved in all aspects of this investigation.

On the scene, Reyerson spotted the two vehicles that were involved with the incident and called Twin Cities Towing to tow the vehicles to the BCA headquarters. Reyerson provided that at the BCA headquarters he ensured that the vehicles were secure in their crime scene garage where the crime scene team processed the two vehicles.

In a manilla folder containing evidence from Floyd’s vehicle, Reyerson obtained a pipe, two $20 bills, cigarettes, and a card.

Reyerson testified that no one from their agency was able to attend the autopsy of Floyd for COVID-19 reasons and they were requested to not attend the autopsy. Reyerson obtained a blood sample and the autopsy report, which included the toxicology report.

“We had preliminary evidence but nothing concrete,” Reyerson said about Floyd using drugs. He claims they had obtained this preliminary evidence from the audio files of the radio traffic. He was unaware of what kind of substance or any suspected drug use at the scene.

Defense attorney Nelson, who, after establishing that Reyerson has seen all of the body camera footage, asked if he had attempted to “understand and hear what various parties were saying at various times.”

After Reyerson confirmed he had, Nelson asserted “did you ever hear Mr. Floyd say, ‘I eat too many drugs?’” Reyerson explained that he had not. Attorney Nelson then displayed the short 10 second clip of Floyd, asking him to listen to Floyd’s voice.

He asked Reyerson again, “did it appear that Mr. Floyd said, ‘I eat too many drugs?’” Reyerson confirmed that it did.

When questioning switched back to Blackwell, he affirmed with Reyerson that it was the first time he had reviewed the clip presented by Nelson. “Were you played before that, what questions were asked or things said by the officers before Mr. Floyd says that,” Blackwell asked.

When Reyerson disclosed that he had not seen the footage preceding the presented clip, Blackwell asserted that it was then an “exercise that Mr. Nelson asked [Reyerson] to do for the first time sitting there… without reviewing the conversation beforehand.” Reyerson confirmed.

Following a short recess, when Reyerson was provided the opportunity to review expanded clip of the incident presented by Nelson from officer King’s body camera footage, he expressed that he was better able to understand what Floyd might have been saying in the video.

Having heard it in context, Reyerson stated that he believed Floyd was saying “I ain’t do no drugs,” now inconsistent to Nelson’s assertion that Floyd said, “I ate too many drugs.”

Questioning proceeded to the next witness Mckenzie Anderson, who works for the Bureau of Apprehension (BCA) in the forensic science laboratory. She has been conducting DNA testing and body fluid identification since October of 2009.

When she and her team were responsible for towing and processing the two vehicles found at the scene, The Mercedes Benz that Floyd was in, and the squad car. The cars were then processed a second time on December 9, 2020, due to a request from the Attorney General’s office to collect additional items from the Mercedes.

In discussing various images taken of the inside of the vehicle at the time of the second processing, Anderson confirmed that an opened packet of suboxone that was found on the driver side floor.

Anderson explained that suboxone is a “prescription medication used for adults with an opioid addiction.” She confirmed that a second “unopened packet of suboxone” was also discovered on the driver’s seat. Two additional unknown pills were found on the center counsel of the vehicle.

In discussing evidence collected from the back of the squad car, Anderson explained that a pill “round in shape” but “rough texture in appearance” was collected from the floor of the backseat. Small, irregular shaped pieces “that could’ve been a portion of a pill,” were also collected.

All pill paraphernalia found in both cars were processed by the drug chemistry portion of the BCA lab.

After finding a component of saliva on the larger textured pill, Anderson compared it to a known DNA sample of George Floyd, confirming it as a match. She confirmed that she “obtained a single source male profile” that “would not be expected to occur more than once among unrelated individuals in the rural population.”

Anderson also found seven different positive tested blood stains on the rear passenger side of the squad car that she confirmed also matched Floyd’s DNA

Prosecution attorneys then moved to question Breahna Jiles, a forensic scientist in the drug chemistry section of the BCA.

Jiles tested the “apparent glass pipe” from the scene, finding that “there was no visible plant material that was able to be identified as marijuana,” but that THC was present.

She was also asked to test the pills found in the center counsel of the Mercedes that had “apparent pharmaceutical markings” that she did not recognize. After researching the markings on the pills, she found that the pills were said to oxycodone and acetaminophen.

However, in testing the pill, she discovered “the tablets contained methamphetamine and fentanyl.” On a separate piece of pill found in the back of the squad car, she discovered methamphetamine.

When Chauvin’s attorney, Nelson, questioned Jiles he asked if it was “fair to say that there was some evidence that didn’t meet your laboratory scientific threshold,” but that a different controlled substance was potentially present in some of the other samples.

Jiles states that “there were indications of other substances,” but that she could not speak to whether they were controlled or non-controlled.

“Okay and that was fentanyl,” Nelson asserted.

“I can’t confirm,” Jiles explained.

For the last witness of the day, prosecutor Erin Eldrige questioned Susan Neith, a forensic chemist from the MMS labs in Pennsylvania. Neith analyzes substances for the purpose of finding the presence of controlled substances or other pharmaceutical drugs using quantitative analysis.

In a quantitative analysis of the three pills she received from the BCA, she was able to identify the presence of both methamphetamine and fentanyl.

When she received the two tablets found in the center counsel of the Mercedes, she could not read the monogramming on them because they were not full tablets and “had a portion that appeared to be cut off of it.”

In the two pills from the Mercedes, Neith found a quantitative level of fentanyl that was less than one percent, and a quantitative level of 1.9 percent methamphetamine. In her analysis of the pills from the back of the squad car, she found that they contained less than one percent fentanyl, and 2.9 percent methamphetamine

Eldrige said the amount of less than 1 percent compares to “what you expect to see in street fentanyl.”

Neith confirmed that a normal concentration of fentanyl are “levels that are low in less than 1 percent or slightly above one percent.” However, for methamphetamine, it is more common to find levels as high as 90-100 percent.

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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