Week Two Testimonies Hurt Chauvin’s Case
Olivia Allery, staff writer & Danny Reinan, news editor
The trial of Derek Chauvin, the ex-Minneapolis police officer charged with the murder of George Floyd, is moving forward into its second week of arguments, continuing to draw the eyes of all across the country as one of the most high-profile cases in recent memory. Last week’s proceedings were intense, as both the prosecution and defense presented their respective cases, followed by tearful accounts from witnesses who saw Floyd’s death right before their eyes. The second week’s proceedings so far have seen more testimony from critical witnesses who have shed additional light on the case.
One such witness was Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, who took the stand on Monday. He declared that there was no reason why Chauvin should have kneeled on Floyd’s neck. Arradondo further explained that police training differentiates between situations where deescalation should be used and situations when force should be used, and that Chauvin was violating Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) policy by kneeling on Floyd’s neck.
“Once Mr. Floyd had stopped resisting, and certainly once he was in distress and trying to verbalize that, that should have stopped,” said Arradondo.
A major point of contention from the first week of trial was Floyd’s cause of death, with Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell arguing that Floyd died of asphyxiation as a direct result of Chauvin kneeling on his neck, and Defense Attorney Eric Nelson declaring that Floyd’s death was actually a result of a cardiac arrhythmia brought on in part by methamphetamine and fentanyl consumption.
Dr. Bradford Wankhede Langenfeld, the emergency room physician who tended to Floyd on the day of his death, took the stand on Monday and shed further light on this issue. He explained that it was asphyxia, or lack of oxygen, that caused George Floyd to go into cardiac arrest, and that the paramedics who had brought Floyd in did not indicate any symptoms that could be attributed to an overdose.
Tuesday’s proceedings saw testimony from Lt. Johnny Mercil, a use of force instructor for the Minneapolis Police Department. Mercil has a background in martial arts, and Chauvin was one of his students. Mercil explained the concept of “red zones” to the court, which are areas of the body that, if injured, can have long term injury effects and may even cause death. These areas are the head, neck, and sternum. Mercil explained that, while there might be some situations where a neck restraint would be appropriate, it would only be in situations where the person in question is actively resisting – and moreover, the specific restraint maneuver that Chauvin used was not an MPD-trained restraint.
“You want to use the least amount of force necessary to meet your objective to control, if those lower uses of force do not work or are too unsafe to try you can increase your level of force against that person,” said Mercil.
Another witness who spoke at trial on Wednesday, Sgt. Jody Stiger, concurred with Arradondo and Mercil’s assessment about the level of force that Chauvin used. A police sergeant from the Los Angeles Police Department, Stiger is expected to be the only outside witness for the trial. On the subject of Chauvin’s use of force, his answer was straightforward.
“My opinion was that the force was excessive,” he said.
Floyd was already in a position that would have made it very difficult to breathe, given that he was prone and handcuffed. “When you add body weight to that, it just increases the possibility of death,” he said.
One other point Nelson brought into question during his opening arguments last week was about the influence of the crowd on Chauvin, posing the argument that the interference of the surrounding bystanders might have impeded his ability to properly handle the situation. Officer Nicole Mackenzie, the medical support coordinator for the MPD, lent her voice to the subject.
First, she explained the concept of agonal breathing, which is a concept that she teaches when training MPD officers. This form of breathing can occur when people are in distress, particularly during medical crises. Agonal breathing does not effectively fill a persons’s lungs with air, rather, it takes the form of erratic gasps.
“It can be easily confused with real breathing, so that’s why we teach ‘This is not effective breathing,'” said Mackenzie.
When asked by Nelson about whether an officer might reasonably confuse agonal breathing for effective breathing, particularly in a situation where there is a lot of surrounding commotion or noise, she agreed that this would be reasonable. At the same time, she argued that the surrounding commotion from onlookers did not excuse Chauvin from providing medical aid when it was clear that Floyd’s life was danger. The only time when this would be reasonable would be “if an officer was being physically assaulted,” she said.
Sgt. Ker Yang, an MPD crisis intervention coordinator, further elaborated on the surrounding stresses that an officer might experience in the moment and how that might impact their decision-making. In his testimony, he implicitly condemned Chauvin’s actions when he agreed that police are supposed to constantly re-evaluate situations and adjust their actions.
“When we talk about fast-evolving situations, I know that they do exist, they do happen,” said Yang. But in many situations, he argued, “we have the time to slow things down and re-evaluate and reassess.”
Chauvin’s trial is expected to continue for around two or three more weeks. After proceedings wrap up, the 12 jurors and two backup jurors in the case will decide whether or not Chauvin should be convicted of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.