Day 7 of Derek Chauvin’s criminal trial (related to George Floyd’s death) continued with the prosecution calling more witnesses from the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD).
One of today’s witnesses, MPD's use-of force instructor Lt. Johnny Mercil, dealt a blow to the prosecution when he was cross-examined by defense attorney Eric Nelson. Nelson showed Mercil (and the jury) screenshots from body cameras worn by officers at the scene and questioned as to the placement of Chauvin’s knee. Nelson elicited that Chauvin’s knee appeared to be positioned on Floyd’s shoulder blade, rather than his neck. Mercil also testified to various neck restraint techniques that MPD officers were authorized to employ when faced with certain types of resistance.
The prosecution, through earlier police witnesses, painstakingly tried to establish that Chauvin had his knee on Floyd’s neck, interfering with the latter's breathing in a manner that was both unauthorized and unreasonable.
Mercil’s testimony differed from the extensive testimony offered by Police Chief Medaria Arradondo regarding the department’s philosophies, policies and procedures, and why, in the latter’s view, Chauvin violated them. (Other senior officers shared opinions that were largely consistent with the Chief’s view.)
Of course, the prosecution and the police share an interest in the jury perceiving Chauvin’s actions as aberrational – not conduct they would expect from a member of the MPD. However, Mercil’s testimony raises the specter that Chauvin’s actions may not have been as completely inconsistent with department training and practices as the Chief and others would like people to believe.
“As much as the MPD might want to distance itself from their former employee’s actions, the use of force trainer’s testimony indicates that the Department bears some responsibility for what occurred,” noted Debra Cohen, adjunct professor at Pace University’s Haub School of Law and co-chair of Newman Ferrara LLP’s Civil Rights Practice Group. “The record settlement by the City to the Floyd family just as the trial was starting would appear to recognize that,” she added.