ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) — The federal civil rights trial of three former Minneapolis police officers involved in the deadly arrest of George Floyd continued Friday with a lengthy discussion of the Minneapolis Police Department’s policies and training.
Prosecutors with acting U.S. Attorney Charles Kovats’ office, who have charged J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao for alleged violations of Floyd’s constitutional rights during his arrest and subsequent death in May 2020, spent much of the day questioning MPD Inspector Katie Blackwell on when, how and why officers are allowed to use force and when that force should stop.
Blackwell, who headed up MPD’s training division at the time Lane and Kueng joined the force and now leads the department’s 5th Precinct, said that the officers had a duty to intervene when their colleague Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for about nine minutes, especially after the 46-year-old Black man fell unconscious and officers could not detect a pulse. Chauvin has since been convicted of second- and third-degree murder, and is awaiting sentencing on his own federal civil rights charges after making a plea deal to avoid prosecution for another incident in 2017.
“At some point, when George Floyd stops resisting, is when he needs to move and stop the dangers of positional asphyxia,” Blackwell said of Chauvin. When asked, she said that a crowd of bystanders on the sidewalk appeared to be complying with orders and did not present an immediate threat, that the officers hadn’t called for backup, and that Lane’s repeated questions to Chauvin as to whether Floyd should be rolled on his side did not meet the standards of the department’s duty-to-intervene policy.
“You must perform the action, and not simply ask questions,” Blackwell said. Lane’s attorney Earl Gray objected to that answer, and U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson sustained the objection.
On cross-examination, Kueng’s attorney Tom Plunkett went to work putting the department and its culture on trial. He brought up an ongoing pattern-and-practice investigation into the department by the U.S. Department of Justice, and played a video shown in police training which layered a speech from the 1999 football film “Any Given Sunday” over visuals referring to police as “wolves,” which he portrayed as pushing a “cops vs. the world” mentality.
He also quizzed Blackwell on the culture at the academy and presented results from a survey she conducted of the MPD’s field training officers in which respondents discussed inconsistency of standards.
“The problems… were systemic and deep, yes?” he asked Blackwell. She agreed.
Chauvin was Kueng’s field training officer for much of the time he was on the force. Plunkett brought up earlier in proceedings that the two had been paired for over half of Kueng’s tenure as an officer-in-training, despite department policy mandating more variety.
Plunkett also took some time to discuss Chauvin’s onboarding as a field training officer. Blackwell has testified that she recommended him to the program. Plunkett asked whether she’d been able to look at Chauvin’s pre-hire psychological evaluations, and she said she hadn’t.
“No one ever looked at this in deciding whether or not he should train young officers, is that correct?” he asked.
“No,” Blackwell replied. Plunkett did not say what was contained in the evaluations.
Plunkett also raised questions about another piece of department policy, which Blackwell mentioned in her marathon of testimony on Thursday: that the officer in charge of a given scene is the senior officer in the first car to arrive. That framework would have put Lane in charge of the scene of Floyd’s arrest and death, but Plunkett argued that the actual culture of MPD encouraged deference to Chauvin when Lane asked to turn Floyd on his side.
“Officer Chauvin told [Lane] no,” Plunkett said. “To the extent that he tried to take charge, he was denied that opportunity by a 19-year veteran who had been Mr. Kueng’s FTO just two weeks prior.”
Plunkett’s cross-examination finished shortly before 5:30 p.m. Central time and Magnuson adjourned court for the day. Cross from attorneys Robert Paule and Earl Gray, representing Thao and Lane, respectively, is expected to begin Monday.
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