“I would say no,” lieutenant Johnny Mercil, who trains officers in the use of force, said when asked about whether the move was allowed under department policy. “We tell officers to stay away from the neck, when possible,” he added.
Officers are trained to use neck holds on subjects, but are generally taught to do so with their arms, Mr Mercil said, demonstrating to the court by bending his arm around someone in an imagined head lock. Court documents reveal that Mr Mercil directly trained Mr Chauvin in the use of force.
The lieutenant added that there are times when an officer’s leg might be pressed into a suspect’s upper back to control them or get them into handcuffs as part of a “transitory position”, but “as far my knowledge, we never have” trained someone to kneel directly on someone’s neck once they’ve already been handcuffed.
Mr Chauvin faces two murder charges, carrying the potential for decades in prison, after Mr Floyd, an unarmed Black man, died last year amid an arrest for using a counterfeit $20 bill.
Eric Nelson, the former police officer’s defence attorney, highlighted portions of Minneapolis police training that allow officers to continue detaining someone as they wait for an ambulance to arrive, which occurred during Mr Floyd’s arrest.
“Sometimes an officer may hold a person, using their body weight restrain them, awaiting the arrival of EMS?” Mr Nelson asked Mr Mercil.
“As long as needed to control them, yes,” he responded.
These two questions, whether the force used was permitted under department policy, and whether it was responsible for Mr Floyd’s death, are central to the trial.
Three officers held Mr Floyd on the ground for more than nine minutes once he’d already been handcuffed, including as he plead that he couldn’t breathe 27 times and eventually fell unconscious. Police called an ambulance to the scene on high-alert soon after they began detaining him, but Mr Chauvin remained pressed into his back and neck until paramedics moved Mr Floyd’s limp body onto a stretcher.
Mr Mercil’s comments in court on Tuesday echo testimony yesterday from Minneapolis police chief Medaria Arradondo.
“There’s an initial reasonableness in trying to get him under control in the first few seconds,” Mr Arradondo testified on Monday. “Once there was no longer any resistance, and clearly when Mr Floyd was no longer responsive and even motionless, to continue to apply that level of force to a person proned out, handcuffed behind their back, that in no way shape or form is by policy, is not part of our training, and is certainly not part of our ethics or values.”
Mr Chauvin hasn’t taken the stand yet, and may not do so at all during the trial, but said at the time of the arrest he thought the force seemed necessary to subdue the large and athletic Mr Floyd, whom he believed to be on drugs.
“We’ve got to control this guy because he’s a sizable guy,” Mr Chauvin told a bystander, Charles MacMillian, in an exchange captured on body camera video. “It looks like he was probably on something.”
As various officers have testified, Minneapolis police are allowed to use force on the neck if suspects are actively and aggressively resisting arrest, or putting officers or the public at risk.
“When I look at the facial expression of Mr Floyd, that does not appear in any way shape or form, that that is light to moderate pressure,” the chief testified. “Matter of fact, as I saw that video, I didn’t even know if Mr Floyd was alive at that time,” he added.
Last week two other officers who arrived at the scene of George Floyd’s fatal arrest for an initial use of force review had similar conclusions.
“Totally unnecessary,” lieutenant Richard Zimmerman said when asked whether that sort of move was justified in the situation. “First of all, pulling him down to the ground face-down and putting your knee on a neck for that amount of time is just uncalled for. I saw no reason why the officers felt they were in danger, if that’s what they felt, and that’s what they would have to have felt to use that kind of force.”
“That would be the top tier: the deadly force … because of the fact that if your knee is on somebody’s neck, that could kill him,” he added.
During Tuesday’s testimony, the defence also argued that from certain angles, it appeared that Mr Chauvin’s knee was actually closer to Mr Floyd’s shoulder blades than his neck.
“It appears the knee is placed in the center, between Mr Floyd’s shoulder blades,” attorney Eric Nelson argued, citing police body camera footage.