Senior members of the Minneapolis police force testified against Derek Chauvin on Monday in a damning indictment of the officer’s actions.
Under official police training, former Minneapolis police officer Chauvin should not have put his knee into George Floyd’s neck, and even if he did, he should have stopped once Mr Floyd stopped resisting arrest and eventually fell unconscious, they testified.
“Once Mr Floyd had stopped resisting, and certainly once he was in distress and trying to verbalise that, that should have stopped,” Minneapolis police chief Medaria Arradondo told the court.
Police continued to kneel on Mr Floyd’s neck and back for more than nine minutes last May as he said 27 times that he couldn’t breathe, and they remained on top of him for a significant period while he was unconscious and handcuffed.
Mr Chauvin is facing multiple murder charges stemming from the fatal arrest, and the three other officers involved in the case will be tried on lesser charges later this summer.
“There’s an initial reasonableness in trying to get him under control in the first few seconds,” Mr Arradondo continued. “Once there was no longer any resistance, and clearly when Mr Floyd was no longer responsive and even motionless, to continue to apply that level of force to a person proned out, handcuffed behind their back, that in no way shape or form is by policy, is not part of our training, and is certainly not part of our ethics or values.”
Katie Blackwell, the Minneapolis police inspector who oversaw the department’s training as a commander at the time of Mr Floyd’s death, agreed that the arrest wasn’t in line with protocol. According to use of force policy at the time, which has since been replaced, police were allowed to use neck restraints and chokeholds under narrow, high-stakes circumstances, but that didn’t permit kneeling on someone’s neck.
“Per policy, a neck restraint is compression of one or both sides of the neck using an arm or a leg,” Ms Blackwell testified. “What we train is using one arm or two arms to do a neck restraint. I don’t know what kind of improvised position that is. That’s not what we train.”
What’s more, the chief testified, even these neck restraints were only to be used when a subject was “actively resisting” arrest, and called for “light to moderate” pressure unless officers’ lives were in imminent danger.
“When I look at the facial expression of Mr Floyd, that does not appear in any way shape or form, that that is light to moderate pressure,” the chief testified. “Matter of fact, as I saw that video, I didn’t even know if Mr Floyd was alive at that time,” he added.
The defence, meanwhile, argued that these same standards leave officers room to take a wide variety of responses, including the use of force, to rapidly respond to changing situations during an arrest.
“The use of force has no precise, objective, singular rule,” attorney Eric Nelson said during questioning. “It’s different in every case.”
Mr Nelson emphasised a number of factors that were present the day Mr Floyd was fatally arrested that could suggest a tense situation calling for force, such as an angry crowd, a suspect who had a hard time understanding commands from officers, and the belief from some officers that using force itself can de-escalate a situation.
“Sometimes, you have to escalate to de-escalate,” he said, citing the example of an officer withdrawing their gun to get someone to surrender.
During arguments, the state also put forward documents showing Mr Chauvin had received more than 40 hours of “crisis intervention” training for working with people experiencing mental health, drug, or emotional crises, as well as how to use medications like naloxone to stop opioid overdoses in progress. He also helped train new recruits to the Minneapolis police force.
Earlier in the day, the trial turned to the other main question beside whether there was a proper use of force: what was it that killed George Floyd during the arrest, Mr Chauvin’s knee, or Mr Floyd’s pre-existing heart condition and recent drug use.
Monday’s proceedings began with Dr Bradford Langenfeld, the Hennepin County Medical Center doctor who treated Mr Floyd once he was rushed to a hospital, who later declared the man dead. After examining the evidence, Dr Langenfeld said “asphyxia, as it’s commonly understood,” seemed to him the most likely cause of death.
“I felt that hypoxia was one of the more likely possibilities,” Dr Langenfeld said, using a related medical term for lack of oxygen.
The testimony on Monday echoed that from other senior officers on the force who’ve already been called as witnesses. Richard Zimmerman, a Minneapolis police lieutenant, said last week that since he began with the force in 1985, he’s never been trained to kneel on someone’s neck.
“Totally unnecessary,” Mr Zimmerman said when asked whether the force was justified. “First of all, pulling him down to the ground face-down and putting your knee on a neck for that amount of time is just uncalled for. I saw no reason why the officers felt they were in danger, if that’s what they felt, and that’s what they would have to have felt to use that kind of force.”
Instead, Mr Zimmerman said, the obligation then becomes to care for the person in custody, including offering timely medical aid like CPR or sitting them up to allow for easier breathing if they’re in distress.
“That person is yours,” he said. “He’s your responsibility. His safety is your responsibility. His well being is your responsibility.”
Officers did not provide any medical care to Mr Floyd while they were detaining him, even though they called an ambulance to the scene on high-alert to come and treat him.
Another officer, Sergeant David Pleoger, also testified the neck hold should have ended sooner.
“When Mr Floyd was no longer offering up any resistance to the officers, they could’ve ended their restraint,” Mr Pleoger said on Thursday.
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