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Derek Chauvin’s supervisor at the Minneapolis Police Department testified in his subordinate’s murder trial that Chauvin didn’t need to continue kneeling on George Floyd’s neck.
“When Mr. Floyd was no longer offering up any resistance to the officers, they could have ended his restraint,” former Sergeant David Pleoger, a retired 21-year veteran of the force, told the jury at the Hennepin County Courthouse in downtown Minneapolis Thursday.
Pleoger then agreed that meant when Floyd was on the ground, handcuffed, and not resisting.
The fourth day of Chauvin’s trial concluded with testimony from Pleoger, who was asked to speak about Maximal Restraint Technique protocol—or how much force is too much when handling a resisting subject.
Officers, who were arresting Floyd for using a counterfeit $20 at a convenience store in the south side of Minneapolis, had handcuffed him while he was still upright and complying. But as soon as they tried to put him in the police vehicle, the 46-year-old Black said he was claustrophobic, stiffened, and fell to the ground.
That’s when Chauvin put his knee on Floyd’s neck, although video evidence contradicts the police account that he was resisting.
Pleoger noted that after a technique like the one Chauvin used is no longer needed, the subject under the constraint should be placed on their side in a recovery position. That didn’t happen with Floyd, whose neck was knelt on by Chauvin for more than nine minutes.
“If you retain somebody or leave them on their chest or stomach for too long, their breathing can become restrained,” Pleoger said. “So you want to get them out of that position after a while so they don’t suffer breathing complications.”
Chauvin and two more former Minneapolis police officers kept Floyd pinned to the ground, chest down, until paramedics arrived—those EMTs had to ask the officers to move so they could check Floyd’s pulse. While Pleoger didn’t use the words “excessive force” specifically, Pleoger admitted in testimony that these actions are above and beyond necessary when dealing with any suspect.
The defense emphasized that Pleoger never had the chance to complete a use of force review. Instead, the report was brought to his superiors. Pleoger said, though, that Chauvin’s use of force with Floyd undoubtedly required a review, because of handcuffs and physical force used by officers.
While watching the situation unfold from a nearby police camera, a 911 dispatcher became concerned, called Pleoger, and that prompted him to call Chauvin himself. But Chauvin never mentioned kneeling on Floyd’s neck when initially recapping the arrest, according to that phone call, which was played from body camera audio as evidence on Thursday. Instead, Pleoger said the only information given to him was that Floyd had become “combative,” had an injured lip, and resisted arrest.
"I was just going to call and have you come out to our scene here," Chauvin said in the call to Pleoger. "We just had to hold a guy down. He was going crazy.”
Pleoger said he then went to the hospital where Floyd had been transferred to ask for more witnesses, but it wasn’t until later that night did he learn of Chauvin’s knee being used to constrain the unconscious Black man.
Pleoger is expected to take the stand again tomorrow as the fifth day of the trial continues. Chauvin faces up to 65 years in prison for second-and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.