MINNEAPOLIS (CN) — Having already heard from several representatives of the Minneapolis Police Department, prosecutors in Derek Chauvin’s murder trial started working up the jurisdictional chain on Wednesday, questioning one of the state investigators who interviewed Chauvin following George Floyd’s death in May 2020 after putting a use-of-force expert on the stand.
Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank had just gotten around to asking Special Agent James Reyerson of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension about the night of May 25 when Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill called a lunch break. Reyerson, who joined the BCA in 2018 after stints in the NYPD, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the corporate world, was called to meet Chauvin and his fellow officers at Minneapolis City Hall around 9:45 p.m. to begin his investigation of the incident.
There he took a photo of Chauvin and made estimates of some of his personal details. Reyerson told the jury that he’d estimated Chauvin, a somewhat diminutive man, at about 140 pounds. Chauvin’s body armor and equipment, he said, added between 30 and 40 pounds to the weight he applied to Floyd.
That weight and how Chauvin used it was a major focus of the morning’s testimony, which picked up where Tuesday’s session left off with prosecutors questioning LAPD Sergeant Jody Stiger. Stiger is the first expert witness to testify in Chauvin’s trial, and prosecutor Steve Schleicher touted his experience reviewing over 2,500 use-of-force incidents.
On Tuesday, Stiger expressed the opinion that Chauvin and his colleagues Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng should have stopped their use of force after Floyd was handcuffed and prone.
“Initially, when Mr. Floyd was being placed in the back seat of the vehicle, he was actively resisting officers, so at that point the officers were justified in using force,” he said on Tuesday. “However, once he was placed in the prone position on the ground, he slowly ceased his resistance and at that point the officers — ex-officers, I should say — they should have slowed down or stopped their force as well.”
On Wednesday, Schleicher and Stiger sought to shore up the argument that Floyd died of positional asphyxia, the risk of which Stiger said rises when subjects are handcuffed and prone.
“Positional asphyxia can occur even if there is no body weight on a subject. Just being in that position, and especially being handcuffed, creates a situation where the person has a difficult time breathing, which can cause death,” he said. “When you add body weight to that, it just increases the possibility of death.”
On cross-examination, Chauvin’s attorney Eric Nelson pushed Stiger to acknowledge a portion of a body-worn camera video in which Chauvin appeared to have his knee on Floyd’s shoulder blades, not his back. He compared it to the same time in a video taken by 17-year old bystander Darnella Frazier, which went viral on Facebook and appeared to show Chauvin on Floyd’s neck the entire time.
“You would agree that at this point, based on everything we’ve seen in the photographs, on the left hand side, it appears that Mr. Chauvin’s knee is on Mr. Floyd’s neck?” Nelson asked.
“Yes. more of the base of the neck.”
“And from Officer Kueng’s body worn camera, it appears that it’s more on the base of the neck, in between the shoulder blades.”
Stiger hesitantly agreed.
On redirect, Schleicher pointed out that the risks of positional asphyxia weren’t only related to pressure on the neck.
“To clarify a little bit on the known risks that you testified to, with relation to positional asphyxia, is the risk related to the pressure on the neck or to the pressure on the body?” the prosecutor asked.