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Week 2 Of Testimony In Chauvin Trial Examines The Use Of Force


The focus of Derek Chauvin's trial this week is on the use of force. The former Minneapolis police officer is charged with murdering George Floyd by pressing his knee against the back of Floyd's neck. More of Chauvin's former colleagues are now testifying against him. NPR's Martin Kaste is covering the trial in Minneapolis.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: Neck restraints are holds that put pressure on the sides of a person's neck, restricting blood flow to the brain to make him pass out. They're allowed, depending on how physically violent the suspect is, and especially pertinent to the George Floyd case, the officer has a responsibility to release that hold as soon as it's reasonable, according to the prosecution's witness Johnny Mercil. He's a Minneapolis police lieutenant who trains his colleagues in defensive tactics.


JOHNNY MERCIL: You can put them in the recovery position on their side. You can sit them up. You can stand them up.

STEVE SCHLEICHER: Why would you want to put them into a different position?

MERCIL: There is the possibility and risk that some people have difficulty breathing when the handcuffs are behind their back and they're on their stomach.

KASTE: That's the prosecution's argument - that Floyd died because Chauvin never gave him a chance to recover from the initial knee to the back of his neck, that he just kept up the pressure for more than nine minutes, looking impassively at the crowd of angry witnesses on the sidewalk.

But the defense is setting up the argument that Chauvin wasn't impassive or indifferent to the fact that Floyd had become unresponsive. They're suggesting that he was distracted. Defense attorney Eric Nelson saw an opening to make that point yesterday when he cross-examined Nicole Mackenzie, a Minneapolis officer specialized in emergency medical care. He asked her what effect angry bystanders can have on someone who's rendering emergency aid, and she said they can make things, quote, "incredibly difficult."


NICOLE MACKENZIE: Because if you're, you know, trying to be heads-down on a patient that you need to render aid to, it's very difficult to focus on that patient while there's other things around you, if you don't feel safe around you.

KASTE: Prosecutor Steve Schleicher countered this by coming back to the witness for clarification.


SCHLEICHER: Can the activities, though, of a crowd - do the activities of a group of onlookers excuse a police officer from the duty to render emergency medical aid to a subject who needs it?

MACKENZIE: Only if they were physically getting themselves involved.

KASTE: The use-of-force testimony continues today with an expert from the Los Angeles Police Department, who's expected to break down video of the Floyd arrest moment by moment. The defense has yet to start calling its witnesses. They're hoping to have Morries Hall, a friend of Floyd's who was with him that day and may shed light on what illegal drugs Floyd may have consumed. But Hall, who's in jail on an unrelated matter, has indicated that he may invoke the Fifth Amendment to avoid incriminating himself on drug charges.

Martin Kaste, NPR News, Minneapolis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Martin Kaste is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers law enforcement and privacy. He has been focused on police and use of force since before the 2014 protests in Ferguson, and that coverage led to the creation of NPR's Criminal Justice Collaborative.