Minneapolis’ top cop took the stand for the prosecution and said Derek Chauvin’s use of force against George Floyd violated department policy.
MINNEAPOLIS (CN) — The second week of testimony in Derek Chauvin’s murder trial started slowly on Monday morning with a lengthy series of motion hearings and the sober testimony of the doctor who pronounced George Floyd dead, but ramped up when Minneapolis’ chief of police took the stand and roundly condemned the former officer’s treatment of the deceased Black man.
Prosecutors walked Police Chief Medaria Arradondo through a lengthy discussion of his career with the Minneapolis Police Department and the department’s structure and policies before asking specifically about the night of May 25, 2020, when Floyd died after his arrest for spending a counterfeit $20 bill.
Arradondo, Minneapolis’ first Black police chief and a 32-year veteran of the department, fired Chauvin and the three other officers involved in Floyd’s deadly May 2020 arrest in the immediate aftermath of the incident and the protests that followed. The chief, commonly known as “Rondo” around Minneapolis, condemned Floyd’s death as a murder last June. Doing so in court would run afoul of rules restricting potentially prejudicial testimony, but he still had harsh words for the former officer Monday afternoon.
“Mr. George Floyd’s tragic death was not the result of a lack of training – the training was there. Chauvin knew what he was doing,” Arradondo said in a statement in June. “I agree with Attorney General Ellison: what happened to Mr. Floyd was murder.” Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office took over the prosecution of Chauvin early in June, adding second-degree murder to the list of charges against the former officer and charging three other officers involved in Floyd’s arrest with aiding and abetting.
In court, Arradondo was more detailed and more tempered. “Once Mr. Floyd had stopped resisting, and certainly once he was in distress and trying to verbalize that, that should’ve stopped,” he said.
He added that in the first few seconds of restraining Floyd, while officers were struggling to get him in and out of a squad car, their conduct could be considered reasonable. “But… 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 anything that is by policy, it is not part of our training, and it is certainly not part of our ethics and values,” he testified.
Arradondo, who first became an interim chief in 2017 and was appointed to the job permanently later that year, waxed philosophical before walking through his lengthy career in the Minneapolis Police Department with prompting from Schleicher.
“To serve with compassion, to me, means to understand and to authentically accept that we see our neighbor as ourselves,” he said, reflecting on the department’s motto, which reads “to protect with courage and serve with compassion.”
“We value one another,” the chief continued. “We see our community as necessary for our existence.”
He returned to that motif throughout Monday morning’s testimony.
“Of all the things that we do as police officers for the Minneapolis Police Department,” he said, “it is my firm belief that the one single incident we will be judged forever on is the use of force. So while it is important that our officers go home at the end of their shift, it’s also important that our community members can go home too.”
On cross-examination, Chauvin’s attorney Eric Nelson sought to poke holes and exceptions in Arradondo’s statements.
“Would you agree that all of the MPD policies related to the use of force, emergency medical response, emergency treatment– all of these policies are situation dependent?” he asked.
Arradondo agreed. Nelson also worked to reinforce a theory he has pushed since the trial’s beginning: that a growing crowd of agitated bystanders created pressure on Chauvin and complicated the situation.
He also pointed out that there are some cases in which a knee on the neck was appropriate, and Arradondo placed a qualifier on his earlier statement.
“It is contrary to our training to indefinitely place your knee on a prone, handcuffed individual,” Arradondo said.
Nelson’s big coup for the day came near the end of cross-examination, when he pointed out that toward the end of one body-worn camera video, it appeared that Chauvin’s knee was not on Floyd’s neck but on his shoulder blade. Arradondo agreed to that.
Schleicher quickly worked to reverse course, pointing out that that brief video clip was mere seconds before paramedics took Chauvin off of Floyd.
Arradondo also reviewed several pieces of MPD’s policies and a document Chauvin signed when he was first hired on to the department in 2001 agreeing to know and abide by those policies.
That harkened back to an issue of training attorneys discussed Monday morning before witnesses or jurors arrived. Some witnesses have already made statements about what police are and aren’t trained to do, and Chauvin’s attorney Eric Nelson argued that the structure of Minneapolis’ training program makes it difficult to tell exactly which sessions his client attended.
Prosecutors responded by saying that the training doesn’t change much year to year, and that regardless there was never any training that would have said nine and a half minutes of kneeling on a subject’s neck was acceptable.
Chauvin faces second- and third-degree murder and manslaughter charges for kneeling on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes, including after fellow officers were unable to find a pulse.
Whether that actually caused Floyd’s death is a core issue of the trial, and it came to the fore on Monday with testimony from Dr. Bradford Langenfeld, a young doctor who was working as an emergency room physician and serving as a senior resident at Hennepin County Medical Center in May 2020. Langenfeld said he pronounced Floyd dead after he’d been without a pulse for about an hour.
Langenfeld said he’d identified hypoxia, or low levels of blood oxygen, as the most likely cause of Floyd’s death, having found high levels of carbon dioxide in Floyd’s blood and no other strong contenders. Floyd’s blood carbon dioxide levels, he said, were around 100 milliequivalents per liter.
“For a healthy individual without any sort of lung disease, you would expect somewhere between 35 and 45,” he said. A patient’s blood carbon dioxide level rising that high, he said, “means that they are not eliminating it through ventilation or breathing.”
On cross-examination, Nelson asked about the impacts of drug toxicity on those levels. The discovery of fentanyl and methamphetamine in Floyd’s system after his death has been at the crux of the defense’s case throughout the trial. Langenfeld confirmed that both drugs could cause high carbon dioxide levels, but that he wasn’t looking at them as a cause at the time. He noted that fentanyl could cause those higher levels by making it more difficult to breathe.
He also discounted the suggestion that Narcan or Naloxone, drugs used to reverse opioid overdoses, could have helped Floyd.
“Administering Narcan to someone who suffered a fentanyl overdose — once that person is in cardiac arrest — administering Narcan would provide no benefit,” Langenfeld said. “The report that I received was that the patient, Mr. Floyd, was unresponsive upon [paramedics’] arrival and without a pulse.”
He also cast doubt on the suggestion that “excited delirium” — a controversial condition of extreme distress and physical agitation often associated with drug use — had afflicted Floyd. He’d received no information that Floyd was intoxicated, and “certainly there was no report that the patient was ever very sweaty, which is associated with excited delirium,” he said. “The absence of that information was telling, and I did not believe that that was the case here.”
Arradondo was followed by Inspector Katie Blackwell, who currently leads the police department’s 5th Precinct in southwest Minneapolis. Before taking that gig earlier this year, she led the department’s training division. She recruited Chauvin to be a training officer, she said, and has known him for over 20 years.
Blackwell, an Iraq War veteran who spoke in the clipped tones of a soldier, kept her testimony focused largely on the training Chauvin went through to become a police officer and later a training officer. She and Schleicher perused records going back as far as 2003, when the department switched from paper records to its current digitized system.
Blackwell confirmed that Chauvin had received training on positional asphyxia, excited delirium and caring for opioid-overdose patients.
Judge Peter Cahill also went off-stream Monday morning to hold a brief Schwartz hearing, a process for investigating alleged juror misconduct. The judge found no misconduct after asking jurors to review a statement and someone’s photo and to tell him whether they had made the statement or recognized the person depicted. None had.
Proceedings are expected to resume Tuesday with a motion hearing. Morries Hall, Floyd’s friend and a passenger in the car he was removed from before his arrest, has filed a motion to quash a subpoena in this case. Hall, who Floyd’s girlfriend Courteney Ross said would sometimes sell him drugs, told the court that he would plead the Fifth if asked to testify.