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On days seven and eight of the Derek Chauvin trial, attorneys for both the prosecution and defense took turns questioning use-of-force experts. Los Angeles Police Department Sgt. Jody Stiger and Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Special Agent James Reyerson sat as key witnesses for the two days. Stiger is an experienced officer and use-of-force trainer. Reyerson is the lead investigator, or case agent, for this case.
LAPD veteran testifies for the prosecution
The prosecution commissioned Stiger, a former U.S. Marine and 28-year LAPD vet. He provided his professional opinion and analysis of Chauvin’s use of force. After a series of qualifying questions, he was direct in his opinion: “My opinion was that the force was excessive.” Stiger is the only expected out-of-state witness expected to testify in the trial.
Because Stiger received the majority of his training in California, the defense attempted to discredit Stiger’s opinion. However, the questioning provided an opportunity for jurors to learn about commonly held standards in policing across the nation. Whether it be Los Angeles or Minneapolis, nearly all police departments are bound by the 1989 Supreme Court decision Graham v. Connor. That case specifically addresses use of force by government officials and the standard of “objective reasonableness” as defined by the Fourth Amendment.
During his testimony, Stiger demonstrated the collected stillness one hopes for and expects from expert witnesses. When asked to explain to the jury why he considered Chauvin’s actions as deadly force, he said, “Because he was in the prone position. He was not resisting. He wan not attempting to resist. And the pressure that he was – that was being caused by the body weight – could cause positional asphyxia, which could cause death.” The LAPD sergeant testified on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.
Special agent who investigates officer-involved shootings takes the stand
Following Sgt. Stiger’s testimony, Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Senior Special Agent James Reyerson took the stand. Reyerson interviewed Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo in the wake of the incident. He confirmed he was the officer who took the photo of Chauvin in uniform at City Hall. In his testimony, Reyerson stated Chauvin was wearing between 30-40 pounds of gear while he rested on Floyd’s neck.
Since 2014, the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has overseen the investigation of all police killings by the Minneapolis Police Department.
Two moments from Reyerson’s testimony stood out today. First, a disturbing revelation was made concerning the pill found in the police cruiser Floyd was originally put into. After examining more than 750 photos from the initial search of the squad car, Reyerson testified that he did not notice it. It was only after the defense team brought it to his attention that he became aware of the pill. In later testimony, McKenzie Anderson, BCA crime scene team lead, stated she originally found and photographed the pill but did not collect it until the second examination of the car.
Reyerson was asked by the defense if he was suggesting the defense planted the pill. He denied that was his intention. But the drug is a key part of the defense’s evidence and argument. There are many questions floating around this information.
Defense says cries of “I can’t breath” were active resistance
Second, the defense attempted to convince the jury that, at one point, Floyd said “I ate too many drugs.” Defense attorney Eric Nelson also claimed that Floyd was actively resisting by crying out “I can’t breath.”
Reyerson had not previously inspected the clip in question. So when Nelson asked him if it appeared that Floyd said “I ate too many drugs,” he responded, “Yes, it did.” The defense played a short clip, leaving out critical context within the moments leading up to the statement.
The prosecution redirected and played a longer version of the exchange where officers are heard mentioning drugs. When asked what he now thought Floyd had said, Reyerson responded, “I believe Mr. Floyd was saying, ‘I ain’t do no drugs.'”
This is a developing story.
A former version of this story stated the defense team found the pill in the squad car. It was corrected to state a member of the state crime scene team testified to finding, photographing, and eventually collecting the pill.