Chauvin 'trained to avoid neck pressure'

·3-min read

Minneapolis police are taught to restrain combative suspects with a knee on their back or shoulders if necessary but are told to "stay away from the neck when possible", a police instructor has told the jury at Derek Chauvin's trial for the murder of George Floyd.

Lieutenant Johnny Mercil became the latest member of the Minneapolis police force to testify as part of an effort by prosecutors to dismantle the argument that Chauvin was doing what he was trained to do when he put his knee on Floyd's neck last May.

Several experienced officers have testified that Floyd should not have been kept pinned to the pavement by his neck for more than nine minutes, by prosecutors' reckoning, as the black man lay face-down with his hands cuffed behind his back.

According to testimony and records submitted on Tuesday, Chauvin took a 40-hour course in 2016 on how to recognise people in crisis, including those suffering mental problems or the effects of drug use, and how to use de-escalation techniques to calm them down.

Sergeant Ker Yang, the Minneapolis police official in charge of crisis-intervention training, said officers are taught to "slow things down and re-evaluate and reassess".

Records show Chauvin also underwent training in the use of force in 2018.

Mercil said those who attended were taught that the sanctity of life is a cornerstone of the department's use-of-force policy and that officers must use the least amount of force required to get a suspect to comply.

Under cross-examination by Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson, Mercil testified that officers are trained to use their knee across a person's back or shoulder and employ their body weight to maintain control.

But Mercil added: "We tell officers to stay away from the neck when possible."

Nelson has argued that the now-fired white officer "did exactly what he had been trained to do over his 19-year career," and he has suggested that Floyd's use of illegal drugs and his underlying health conditions are what killed him, not Chauvin's knee.

In fact, Nelson sought to point out moments in the video footage when Chauvin's knee did not appear to be on Floyd's neck.

Nelson showed Mercil several images taken from officers' body-camera videos, asking after each one whether it showed Chauvin's knee appearing to rest more on Floyd's back, shoulder or shoulder blades than directly on Floyd's neck. Mercil often agreed.

Nelson acknowledged the images were difficult to make out. They were taken at different moments during Floyd's arrest, starting about four minutes after he was first pinned to the ground, according to time stamps on the images

Chauvin, 45, is charged with murder and manslaughter in Floyd's death May 25.

Floyd, 46, was arrested after being accused of trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill. Floyd, who had taken drugs, frantically struggled with officers who tried to put him in their squad car, saying he was claustrophobic.

Bystander video of Floyd crying that he couldn't breathe as onlookers yelled at Chauvin to get off him sparked protests around the US that descended into violence in some cases.

Mercil testified that in his experience, it takes less than 10 seconds for someone to be rendered unconscious with a neck restraint. He said someone having a rush of adrenaline or a higher breathing or heart rate can be affected even faster.

Prosecutor Steve Schleicher asked Mercil if any additional body weight on the neck or back would make it more difficult for someone to breathe if the person were handcuffed behind the back and lying face-down. Mercil said yes.

"Have you have ever had a circumstance where an individual has lost their pulse and suddenly come back to life and become more violent?" Schleicher asked, suggesting that Floyd was held down long past the point where he might be threat.

"Not that I'm aware of, sir," Mercil replied.