A police expert says former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin used excessive force against George Floyd when Floyd died in police custody last May. The officers had other options, including simply talking to Floyd, according to Sgt. Jody Stiger, a use-of-force expert at the Los Angeles Police Department whose testimony continues on Wednesday.
"My opinion was that the force was excessive," Stiger told the jury on Tuesday, after reviewing the incident through police body cameras. He is appearing for the prosecution as a paid expert.
Stiger said he based his opinion on the "objective reasonableness" legal standard for the use of force, and weighing the officers' actions against the seriousness of the crime and the suspect's behavior.
Chauvin, who pinned his knee into Floyd's neck for about nine minutes, is facing murder and manslaughter charges over the man's death. The case is being closely watched, after months of nationwide protests against police brutality and racial inequality.
Floyd lost consciousness as police restrained him on the street outside of Cup Foods – the convenience store where he was accused of paying for cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. When Chauvin arrived, Stiger said, he saw then-officers Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng struggling to get Floyd, who was in handcuffs, into the rear seat of a police SUV. Chauvin moved to help them.
"Mr. Floyd was actively resisting, moving around ... clearly he didn't want to be back there," Stiger said, adding that Floyd was pleading with officers and saying he couldn't breathe.
Changing their plan, the officers pulled Floyd from the vehicle and he wound up on his knees in the street.
Up to that point, Stiger said, the officers' actions could be perceived as reasonable. But he said the officers could have continued to talk to Floyd rather than use force, noting that Kueng seemed to have built a rapport with Floyd.
As Floyd was placed face-down on the asphalt, he kicked his leg at an officer – the only act of aggression Stiger saw in that phase of the struggle.
On the body camera recording, Chauvin is heard asking the two other officers if they have a hobble device in their squad vehicle; Stiger described it as a leg restraint that is often used to keep people from kicking out the windows once they're inside a car. The fact that the officers didn't use the device suggests they believed Floyd was starting to comply with their orders, he said.
Stiger is a 28-year veteran of the LAPD; he told the jury that he joined the police force after serving in the Marines. As part of his appearance for the prosecution, he reviewed videos from the scene as well as the Minneapolis Police Department's policy manual and training materials.
Stiger told the jury that he is currently on vacation from his job in California. He charges a fee of $10,000 to serve as an expert witness, with a trial fee of $2,950, he said.
Stiger testified after the MPD's own use-of-force instructor, Lt. Johnny Mercil, said Chauvin's use of force on Floyd was not a technique Minneapolis police officers are trained to use. Officers are not trained to use their legs or knees on somebody's neck, Mercil said. Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.