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Minneapolis police trainer takes stand for third day in trial over Floyd killing

Defense attorneys in the civil rights trial drew attention to the police department's training on the controversial excited delirium syndrome and the decision to make Derek Chauvin a field training officer.

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) — The second week of trial for three former Minneapolis police officers charged with violating George Floyd’s civil rights started with defense attorneys picking apart the department’s training and policies. 

Trial picked up Monday morning where it left off Friday evening, with defense attorney Robert Paule cross-examining Minneapolis Police Department Inspector Katie Blackwell. Blackwell, who now leads the department’s 5th Precinct, ran its training division when officers Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng joined the force in 2019. She testified last Thursday that Kueng, Lane and fellow officer Tou Thao had not followed the policy maxim that “in your custody is in your care” before Floyd’s death in custody in May 2020. 

Paule, who represents Thao, spent much of Monday morning pointing to portions of the police department’s training that seemed to conflict with Blackwell’s statements, including her contention that former officer Derek Chauvin’s decision to kneel on Floyd’s neck for upwards of nine minutes was contrary to policy and not taught by MPD. 

The attorney focused heavily on the department’s training on excited delirium syndrome, commonly abbreviated as ExD or ExDS. Lane asked Chauvin about the possibility that Floyd was suffering from the disputed condition, which lists “superhuman” strength, apparent immunity to pain and confrontations with law enforcement as warning signs. Paule presented Blackwell with a slideshow on the condition the department used in training, which included several videos of officers from different departments restraining agitated, nude Black men and warned officers not to rely on statements by people they believed to be suffering from the condition. 

Paule asked Blackwell on several occasions about officers using their knees to restrain subjects in the videos. Blackwell conceded that they were, but after several such questions pointed out that “this isn’t our department” and that the presentation was meant for medical, not tactical, purposes. 

He then pointed to the department’s medical guidance on the diagnosis, including the recommendation that officers call for a non-emergency response from paramedics so that subjects can be sedated with ketamine – a controversial practice nationally and in the Twin Cities especially following revelations that police had used the drug to sedate people without consent or evidence that they had committed any crimes. 

Lane called an ambulance for a non-emergency response from paramedics, who arrived at the scene to a pulseless and unresponsive Floyd and took him a few blocks away to provide treatment. Paule argued that this response was in keeping with the training. 

“In that entire powerpoint, there is one sentence about the side recovery position, correct? And several videos of officers restraining individuals,” Paule asked. He also pointed out that on a demonstrative diagram for the side recovery position, a trainer appeared to be kneeling on the subject’s neck, much as Chauvin was on Floyd’s.

Lane’s attorney Earl Gray took a different tack, walking Blackwell through Lane’s encounter with Floyd and asking at various points whether his client was acting consistently with policy. Lane was the first of the four officers charged in Floyd’s death to interact with him, approaching the window of the SUV where Floyd was sitting in the driver’s seat. 

Gray asked Blackwell to confirm that Lane was following MPD policy when he swore at Floyd and drew his gun in response to Floyd failing to put his hands on the steering wheel as commanded. She said he was, and confirmed that when Lane put his gun back in his holster, he was deescalating, per policy. 

Gray then paid mention to Lane’s suggestion that the officers use a “hobble,” a restraint used to hogtie subjects. “When Thomas Lane mentioned that hobble, the experienced officers” – Thao and Chauvin, who had joined the department in 2008 and 2001, respectively – “went looking for it,” he said. 

“Basically, what was said to Thomas Lane was ‘if we use a hobble, we’d have to call a sergeant,’” he continued. “And so Thomas Lane backed off, right?”

Gray also pointed out that Lane got off of Floyd’s legs shortly after Floyd passed out and checked to see if he was breathing, and that when paramedics arrived, he joined them in the ambulance to perform chest compressions. 

“After the paramedic took over, George Floyd was no longer in the custody or care of Thomas Lane or the other officers,” Gray contended. “And Thomas Lane went above that by trying to help the paramedics out and trying to revive George Floyd?”

Blackwell agreed. 

Gray finished his cross-examination with a dive into Blackwell’s supervision of the Field Training Officer program that Chauvin was a part of. When she took over the program, Blackwell said, she got a “brief synopsis” of the disciplinary records of the existing FTOs, and “didn’t see any red flags” for Chauvin. 

Gray then pointed Blackwell to the manual for the program. 

“It says it, in here, that the field training officers are role models, does it not?” he asked. 

Blackwell agreed, though she disputed Gray’s contention that officers in training were required to say “yes sir” and “no sir” and stand to attention for their FTOs, following changes made to the training program during her tenure. 

“We’ve learned since then that Derek Chauvin was not really a role model,” Gray said, finishing his cross-examination amid prosecutors’ objections.

Following a lunch break, prosecutor LeeAnn Bell questioned Blackwell for a second time, running through the department’s checklist for ExDS warning signs and asking whether Floyd had exhibited any of the listed behaviors. Bell said he had not. Subsequent questioning from Gray, Plunkett and Paule poked at some of Blackwell’s other contentions, including in one tense moment where Gray took issue with Blackwell’s statements that Lane “did nothing” to aid Floyd during Chauvin’s restraint. 

Finally finishing her nearly three days of testimony late Monday afternoon, Blackwell was followed by Dr. Andrew Baker, the Hennepin County chief medical examiner who performed Floyd’s autopsy. Baker largely repeated his testimony from Chauvin’s trial last April, including the finding that Floyd had died of “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint and neck compression.” 

“I had seen a lot of deaths in which people had been restrained in different ways,” Baker said. “I had never seen this done before.” 

He said he’d also ruled out several other possible factors in Floyd’s death, including a small tumor found in his pelvis, called a paraganglioma, carbon monoxide poisoning, and toxicity from methamphetamine and fentanyl found in his system. Were Floyd found alone in bed, Baker said, he might have ruled his death a fentanyl overdose, but upon seeing video of his arrest he found that Floyd’s behavior wasn’t consistent with that possibility.

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