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Minneapolis Police use-of-force instructor says Derek Chauvin’s kneeling is not a trained restraint

A Minneapolis Police use-of-force training instructor testified Tuesday that Derek Chauvin’s kneeling on George Floyd’s neck is not a trained neck restraint tactic.

“We don’t train leg-neck restraints with officers in service, and as far as I know, we never have,” Lt. Johnny Mercil said.

While neck restraints may be allowed on suspects actively resisting, they are not to be done with the knee and they would not be authorized on a suspect who is handcuffed and under control, he said. Officers are taught to only use force that is proportional to the threat.

“You want to use the least amount of force necessary to meet your goals,” Mercil said. “If you can use a lower level of force to meet your objectives, it’s safer and better for everyone involved.”

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He also testified that handcuffed suspects can have difficulty breathing on their stomachs. He said officers are trained to move suspects into a side recovery position — “the sooner the better.”

However, Mercil said in cross-examination that Chauvin’s position might be considered “using body weight to control,” a tactic in which officers place a knee on a prone suspect’s shoulder blades to handcuff them. He acknowledged that some screen grabs of police body-camera footage show Chauvin with his knee on Floyd’s shoulders.

“However, I will add that we tell officers to stay away from the neck when possible, and if you’re going to use body weight to pin, to put it on their shoulder and be mindful of position,” he said.

Mercil said that the position is transitory and is meant to end once the suspect is under control.

The testimony comes as a series of police supervisors and training officials have taken the stand to say that Chauvin violated department policies while restraining Floyd on May 25, 2020. On Tuesday, a crisis intervention training coordinator and a police CPR instructor each testified that officers are required to de-escalate situations and to render aid to those in distress.

Combined, their testimony cuts at the heart of the defense’s argument that Chauvin “did exactly what he had been trained to do” when he restrained Floyd last May. Prosecutors have sought to show he used excessive and unreasonable force on Floyd and had a “depraved mind” without regard for human life.

Chauvin, 45, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder, third-degree murder and third-degree manslaughter. Defense attorney Eric Nelson has not indicated whether Chauvin will testify in his own defense.

Testimony in the trial began last Monday and is expected to last about a month.

The focus on police policy is a shift from the first week of the trial, which centered on what happened to Floyd on his last day. The testimony featured video from a bevy of cellphones, surveillance cameras and police body cameras; testimony from distressed bystanders; descriptions from paramedics and police supervisors who responded to the scene; and Chauvin’s own statements about what happened.

Training coordinators explain officer requirements

The training coordinator for the Minneapolis Police Department’s crisis intervention program testified Tuesday about the importance of recognizing when someone is in crisis and de-escalating the situation.

“Policy requires that when it’s safe and feasible, we should de-escalate,” said Sgt. Ker Yang, who has been with the department for 24 years.

Officers are trained in a critical decision-making model to address people in crisis that calls on them to continually assess and reassess what is needed in the situation, he said. Chauvin took a 40-hour course on crisis intervention training in 2016 in which actors portrayed people in crisis and officers had to de-escalate the situation, Yang testified.

In cross-examination, Yang said that the crisis intervention model can potentially apply to the suspect as well as nearby observers. The training advises officers to appear confident, stay calm, maintain space, speak slowly and softly and avoid staring or eye contact, he said.

Also on Tuesday, a Minneapolis Police medical support coordinator and CPR instructor testified that officers are required to render first aid and request emergency services when someone needs medical help.

“If it’s a critical situation, you have to do both,” Officer Nicole Mackenzie said.

The department teaches officers to determine the level of responsiveness for a person needing help. If the person is unresponsive, then the officer is required to check their airway, breathing and circulation, and if the person has no pulse, the officer should start CPR immediately.

She also said it’s not accurate to say if someone can talk then they can breathe.

“That would be incomplete,” Mackenzie said. “Just because they are speaking doesn’t mean they are breathing adequately.”

In cross-examination, she said that a hostile crowd could make it difficult to focus on a patient.

“If you don’t feel safe around you, if you don’t have enough resources, it’s very difficult to focus on the one thing in front of you,” she said.

Their testimony comes a day after Chief Medaria Arradondo thoroughly rejected Chauvin’s decision to kneel on the neck of Floyd — who was handcuffed and in a prone position — for over 9 minutes.

“That in no way shape or form is anything that is by policy. It is not part of our training, and it is certainly not part of our ethics or our values,” Arradondo said.

Passenger in Floyd’s vehicle plans to plead Fifth

Morries Hall, who was in the car with Floyd when police first confronted them last May, appeared in court via Zoom on Tuesday prior to the jury arriving to discuss his intention to plead the Fifth if he is called to testify in the trial.

Both the prosecution and defense have called Hall as a witness. Nelson said he planned to ask Hall about his interactions with Floyd that day, their suspected use of a counterfeit bill, whether he gave Floyd drugs and his statements to police about Floyd’s behavior in the vehicle.

Hall’s attorney, Adrienne Cousins, argued that he planned to use the Fifth Amendment’s right against self-incrimination, and she asked Judge Peter Cahill to quash his subpoena to testify. Cousins said she was concerned Hall’s testimony could be used in a drug or third-degree murder charge against him.

“This leaves Mr. Hall potentially incriminating himself into a future prosecution for third-degree murder,” Cousins told Cahill, noting the murder statute allows for prosecution of someone who provided drugs leading to an overdose.

Judge Cahill said that any questions about potential wrongdoing would not be allowed, yet he said he would be open to allowing specific questions about Floyd’s behavior in the vehicle that day. He asked Nelson to draft specific questions on that point, which will be passed to Hall and his attorneys and discussed in a future hearing.

Hall’s testimony could be key for the defense, who has argued that Floyd’s cause of death was a mix of drug use and preexisting health issues.

Hall is currently in custody on unrelated charges of domestic abuse, domestic assault by strangulation and the violation of a protective order.

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