Testimony in the trial of Derek Chauvin continued Wednesday with the former officer’s defense team arguing that George Floyd saying, “I can’t breathe,” while police attempted to load him into the squad car was a form of resisting arrest.

Later in the day, Chauvin attorney Eric J. Nelson played indiscernible body-cam audio and claimed Wednesday that Floyd said, “I ate too many drugs.” Los Angeles Police Sgt. Jody Stiger, a paid witness for the state, said he could not make out what Floyd said, while James Reyerson, a special agent with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, said the clip sounded more like, “I ain’t do no drugs.”

Stiger’s testimony came as prosecutors began to shift from police testimony into the larger investigation of Floyd’s death. The county medical examiner is expected to testify later this week.

Here’s what to know:

  • Stiger said that “no force should have been used” on Floyd when he was on the ground last May. Stiger added that Chauvin did not follow pain compliance with Floyd when the officer was on top of the 46-year-old man, saying Chauvin failed to ease up on the pressure applied to Floyd. “At that point, it’s just pain,” he said.
  • Stiger said again that Floyd posed no threat to officers at the time he was detained.
  • Chauvin’s defense team requested that investigators search the police car Floyd was forced into because of a white pill found on the floor in the back seat, a forensic scientist testified.
  • Nelson continued to underscore the role the crowd of bystanders had during the incident, arguing that they adversely impacted the officer’s decision process and responses.
  • In testimony this week, police and law enforcement officials have cast Chauvin outside of the blue wall, writes Robin Givhan.

Defense requested second search of police vehicle, with focus on drugs

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A forensic scientist in charge of the crime scene testified that Chauvin’s defense team requested that investigators search the police car Floyd was forced into because of a white pill found on the floor in the back seat.

McKenzie Anderson, crime scene team leader at the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, said she did not originally collect the pill in the police car as evidence but gathered it as part of the case when she reprocessed the car after the defense had asked.

“At the time I didn’t give it any forensic significance,” she testified.

The defense has emphasized Floyd’s drug use, attributing it as the cause of his death. Investigators also found remnants of a pill with saliva matching Floyd’s DNA in the police car, as well as his blood, Anderson said.

Other witnesses, forensic scientist Breahna Giles and forensic chemist Susan Neith, testified the pill in the police car contained methamphetamine and traces of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid increasingly found in American’s illegal drug supply.

Anderson testified that no evidence was taken from the scene outside the Cup Foods other than Floyd’s SUV and the police car taken for processing. It rained at the scene, possibly clearing away blood on the ground, testified Anderson, who said she has responded to about 30 crime scenes last year.

When she was originally tasked with reviewing Floyd’s car, Anderson testified that she was told to search for “specific things,” including pills, gum and money.

In Floyd’s car, investigators recorded that they found white pills and a wrapper for suboxone, a type of opioid that can treat opioid use disorder but also can be abused.

Floyd’s girlfriend testified last week about their struggle with opioids, saying they tried very hard to break that addiction many times.

Nelson pushes lead investigator on attorney’s claim that Floyd said, ‘I ate too many drugs’

7:51 p.m.
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Using a composite of cellphone video from a bystander and body-camera footage, Nelson asked Reyerson if he saw signs Floyd’s left arm was moving after Chauvin stood up from pressing his weight onto Floyd.

“I think from what I see here, it was Mr. Chauvin’s shin that was compressing on the arm. And the knee was actually on the back,” Reyerson said.

Later, when asked if Reyerson heard Floyd in the video say, “I ate too many drugs,” he disagreed until Nelson played the audio from a police body camera for him again.

Did it appear that Mr. Floyd said, ‘I ate too many drugs?’” Nelson asked.

“Yes, it did,” Reyerson replied.

But when prosecutors questioned Reyerson, they played a clip of the audio that made the special agent believe what Floyd said was, “I ain’t do no drugs.” Reyerson clarified it was different than what was presented by the defense team.

Earlier in the day when Nelson played the audio for Stiger, the police expert said he could not make out the indiscernible clip.

The defense has argued that drugs in Floyd’s system, and not Chauvin’s specific actions, contributed to his death.

Lead investigator says Chauvin’s knee was on Floyd’s neck

6:52 p.m.
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When the trial reconvened after lunch, James Reyerson, a senior special agent with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, told prosecutors that video evidence suggested that Chauvin’s left knee was on Floyd’s neck.

“It appears as though it’s on the back of Mr. Floyd’s neck,” said Reyerson, the lead investigator in the case.

Reyerson’s testimony goes against the defense’s argument that Chauvin had his knee on Floyd’s shoulder blade and back, not his neck.

Reyerson did agree with prosecutors that Chauvin’s right knee appeared to be on Floyd’s back.

Defense repeatedly argues Chauvin’s weight wasn’t fully on Floyd’s neck

5:13 p.m.
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During cross-examination of the prosecution’s use-of-force witness, Nelson repeatedly implied or insisted that Chauvin did not have his fully body weight on Floyd’s neck but rather had some pressure applied to his back.

Nelson showed footage of Floyd facedown on the ground indicating “Mr. Chauvin’s calf appears to be above the shoulder blade,” which Stiger agreed with Wednesday.

“And again, here you’ve got Mr. Chauvin’s knee sort of at the base of the neck?”

“Correct. I would agree,” Stiger said.

Nelson then showed side-by-side footage from former officer Alex Kueng’s body-worn camera and a bystander’s Facebook Live video. Nelson argued the perspective of Kueng’s body-camera footage showed that Chauvin’s knee appeared “more at the base of the neck, in between the shoulder blades.”

The defense has revisited the argument several times over the past seven days of testimony that Floyd’s death was not directly the result of a neck compression from Chauvin’s knee.

Use-of-force expert says video clearly shows Floyd’s health ‘deteriorating’

5:06 p.m.
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When asked by the prosecution Wednesday about whether Chauvin had a responsibility to reduce the force he was administering on Floyd, Jody Stiger, a Los Angeles police sergeant, testified that the 46-year-old’s man physical and verbal distress made it clear he was in pain.

“Clearly in the video … his health was deteriorating,” Stiger said.

He added: “His breath was getting lower. His tone of voice were getting lower. His movements were starting to cease. So at that point, as an officer on scene, you have a responsibility to realize that: ‘Okay, something is not right. Something has changed drastically from what was occurring earlier.’ So therefore you have a responsibility to take some type of action.”

Stiger had previously testified that the force used by Chauvin was “excessive.”

Chauvin’s defense returns to expletive-laced insults directed at officers from crowd witnessing Floyd’s arrest

4:39 p.m.
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When the trial reconvened after its morning break Wednesday, Chauvin attorney Eric J. Nelson went back to a familiar argument for the defense: that name-calling from the crowd outside Cup Foods played a role in what happened last May.

Nelson, still cross-examining Los Angeles Police Sgt. Jody Stiger, offered some expletive-laced examples of insults heard by Chauvin and the other officers while they were detaining Floyd.

“A reasonable officer could perceive that as a threat,” Nelson said.

Stiger, a veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department, did not fully agree with Nelson’s assessment, saying that whether it could be perceived as a threat depended on the officers’ training and experience.

Defense questions the extent of body-cam video from the scene: ‘The camera only sees what the camera sees’

4:03 p.m.
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Before the morning break Wednesday, Nelson attempted to sow doubt about the extent of the body-cam footage.

In his cross-examination of Stiger, Nelson argued that videos of the incident do not capture the full context of the situation from May 25.

“There’s a limitation to cameras … the camera only sees what the camera sees,” he said.

The defense argued that cameras “can’t have a feeling or sensation” and are not equipped to determine the tension in one’s body, such as Floyd’s or Chauvin’s.

“If someone is struggling, right, and you’ve got them handcuffed, they can still be tense, but not really look very tense,” Nelson said.

Stiger, the witness paid by the state, disagreed with Nelson’s conclusion.

Floyd resisted arrest when he said ‘I can’t breathe’ to officers trying to put him in squad car, defense argues

3:54 p.m.
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Defense attorney Eric Nelson argued on April 7 that George Floyd’s “active resistance” could have impacted the defendant's reasonable use of force. (The Washington Post)

Before Chauvin placed his knee on Floyd’s neck while the 46-year-old was prone on the ground, Floyd told officers, “I can’t breathe,” pleading against being put in the back of a police car.

While cross-examining Stiger, the prosecution’s use-of-force witness, Nelson argued that Floyd’s utterance in the context of his refusal to get in the car could be considered a form of resisting arrest, bolstering the justification for using force to place Floyd on the ground and subdue him.

If somebody is saying, ‘I can’t breathe,’ and they’re passing out and they’re not resisting, that’s one form of an analysis, right, because the actions of the suspect are consistent with the verbal utterances he’s making, right?” Nelson asked.

“Other times and in this particular case, when Mr. Floyd was initially saying that he couldn’t breathe, he was actively resisting arrest initially when he was in the back seat of the vehicle, right?” he continued.

Nelson cited Stiger’s report for the prosecution that police changed tactics “when the futility of the three officers continuing their efforts forcibly to seat Floyd in the squad’s back seat became clear.”

Both the prosecution and the defense spent much of the morning setting up arguments with Stiger’s testimony about whether Chauvin’s use of force was “reasonable” under established police training guidelines.

Nelson, playing indiscernible body-cam audio, claims Floyd said, ‘I ate too many drugs’

3:48 p.m.
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While playing a few seconds of loud body-cam audio Wednesday, the defense claimed that Floyd said, “I ate too many drugs,” as Chauvin detained him.

The scene was played as part of Nelson’s argument that the scene outside Cup Foods was loud and raucous, which caused “a heightened sense of awareness” for police.

When he played the audio for Stiger, Nelson asked the police expert if he could make out whether Floyd said, “I ate too many drugs.”

“I can’t make that out,” Stiger said of the indiscernible clip.

Nelson followed up by saying that “in the chaos of a situation, things can be missed.”

Chauvin’s defense argues it was ‘reasonable’ for police to have ‘heightened sense of awareness’ after 911 dispatch from Cup Foods

3:30 p.m.
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During Stiger’s cross-examination Wednesday, Nelson argued that Chauvin was “reasonable” to have a “heightened sense of awareness” after a 911 dispatch relayed to police an escalating scene outside Cup Foods on May 25.

Acknowledging that use of force is not expected in cases of alleged forgery, Nelson said Chauvin grew concerned after a 911 operator told police that they heard screaming and noise, prompting another squad car to be dispatched to Cup Foods.

“It is reasonable for a police officer to rely upon information he or she receives from dispatch,” Nelson said.

Nelson again added that Floyd was a large man and appeared to be intoxicated.

Prosecution looks to head off defense’s argument that Floyd arrest scene distracted Chauvin

3:23 p.m.
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During a line of questioning from prosecutor Steve Schleicher, Stiger testified that an officer with Chauvin’s level of training should not have been affected by any potential distractions from the crowd of bystanders.

The defense has repeatedly argued that the witnesses to Floyd’s arrest played a critical role by allegedly escalating the atmosphere around Chauvin and the other officers and distracting him in his response to Floyd. Schleicher looked to undercut that argument with Stiger’s testimony Wednesday morning.

Schleicher held up exhibits showing Chauvin had 866 hours of paid training in his 19-year career as a police officer and asked, Do you think that should have been sufficient training to prepare the defendant for this distraction?”

“Absolutely,” Stiger replied.

In testimony moments earlier, Stiger acknowledged that “loud noise and name-calling” can distract officers at the scene but noted that they are trained to handle such scenarios and that he doesn’t think Chauvin was actually distracted by the crowd.

In the body-cam video, you can hear Mr. Floyd displaying his discomfort and in pain. And you can also hear the defendant responding to him,” Stiger said.

A guide to the ‘objectively reasonable’ defense invoked by police

3:12 p.m.
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While questioning Stiger on Wednesday morning, Nelson, Chauvin’s attorney, alluded to the “objectively reasonable” defense that can often be pivotal in prosecutions of police officers.

This defense stems from the Supreme Court’s Graham v. Connor decision in 1989, which established that a police officer’s actions must be judged against what another reasonable officer would do when facing the same scene.

“The ‘reasonableness’ of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight,” the court ruled.

Experts have said that this defense has played a key role in many use-of-force cases involving police. Prosecutors have struggled to convict police in such cases, particularly those involving murder or manslaughter charges.

Police are allowed to use force, including deadly force, under the law. But experts and attorneys say this latitude is not unlimited, and an officer should use as much force is needed and no more.

Floyd did not pose a threat to officers, LAPD use-of-force expert says

2:52 p.m.
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Floyd did not pose an immediate threat to officers’ safety or to anyone else when he was restrained by police, Stiger, a paid expert witness for the prosecutors, testified Wednesday.

“He was in the prone position. He was handcuffed. He was not attempting to resist,” Stiger said. “He was not attempting to assault the officers, kick, punch or anything of that nature.”

When evaluating proportionality, or how much force is justified relative to the level of resistance from a subject, Stiger said the ratio of police to subjects is an important calculation.

In this particular instance, there were actually five officers on scene — three officers that were using body weight on Mr. Floyd, and there were two additional officers that were on scene as well,” Stiger said.

Stiger is among a series of police witnesses with subject-specific expertise whom prosecutors have called this week as they build their argument to the jury that Chauvin’s restraint of Floyd and other decisions on the scene were out of step with widely understood police training and protocols.

‘No force should have been used’ when Floyd was on the ground, Stiger testifies

2:50 p.m.
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Stiger emphasized Wednesday that Chauvin should not have used force on Floyd when the 46-year-old man was already on the ground.

“My opinion was that no force should have been used once he was in that position,” Stiger testified to prosecutors.

At the start of his Wednesday testimony, Stiger, an expert on the use of force and a paid witness for the state, was shown images from surveillance video and body-camera footage displaying Chauvin on top of Floyd from a variety of angles.

After reviewing the materials, Stiger said Chauvin showed aggressive behavior that went against use-of-force training.