The former head of training for the Minneapolis Police Department testified Friday that the three former officers charged with violating George Floyd’s rights did not follow policy or their training when he was killed. A defense attorney, though, said aspects of the training was lacking and that new officers are trained in a culture of obedience.
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Inspector Katie Blackwell said officers are trained that they have a duty to intervene to stop fellow officers from using unreasonable force. They are also trained on neck restraints, how they should be applied and that they must provide follow-up care because they can be dangerous. But she said former Officers J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao acted in a way that was “inconsistent” with the department’s policies.
Federal prosecutors say the officers failed to act to save Floyd’s life on May 25, 2020, as fellow officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on the Black man’s neck for 9 1/2 minutes while Floyd was handcuffed, facedown and gasping for air. Kueng kneeled on Floyd’s back, Lane held his legs and Thao kept bystanders back.
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Officers had responded to a 911 call about Floyd, 46, trying to use a counterfeit $20 bill at a corner store. Bystander cellphone video of the killing triggered worldwide protests and a reexamination of racism and policing.
Blackwell, testifying for a second day, said officers have a duty to use the least amount of force necessary and must stop once the person is no longer resisting, then render any necessary medical aid they’re trained to provide until medical personnel arrive “to make sure that we do everything we can to save a person’s life.”
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She also said it is department policy that officers stop using force if a person becomes unconscious — she acknowledged that at some point Lane stopped holding Floyd’s legs — and that they have a duty to intervene to stop another officer. She said Thao took repeated refresher courses on these policies, including as recently as 2018 and 2019, and that Lane and Kueng had repeated lessons on the same issues while attending the academy in 2019.
Blackwell said she saw nothing that would have prevented Thao and Kueng from stopping Chauvin. And although police body camera video shows that Lane was rebuffed when he twice asked if they should roll Floyd onto his side — something Blackwell testified is critical — he still had a duty to intervene.
On cross-examination, Kueng’s attorney, Thomas Plunkett, said the department policy actually states that an officer is required to stop or attempt to stop another employee from using inappropriate force, pointing out that Blackwell left “attempt to stop” out of her prior testimony. He also said that when officers are trained in use-of-force scenarios, intervention is not among them.
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“There’s no intervention scenario, isn’t that correct?” Plunkett said.
“Not one exactly for intervention,” she said.
Plunkett got Blackwell to agree that recruits are taught that they should never argue with an instructor.
During his opening statement, Plunkett noted that Chauvin was Kueng’s field training officer, and as such had “considerable sway” over his future. He also said Chauvin called “all of the shots” as the senior officer at the scene.
Kueng, who is Black, Lane, who is white, and Thao, who is Hmong American, are charged with willfully depriving Floyd of his constitutional rights while acting under color of law or government authority. One count against all three officers alleges that they saw that Floyd needed medical care and failed to help. A count against Thao and Kueng contends that they didn’t intervene to stop Chauvin. Both counts allege that the officers’ actions resulted in Floyd’s death.
Prosecutors have argued that the “willful” standard can be met by showing “blatantly wrongful conduct” that deprived Floyd of his rights.
Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter in state court last year, and he pleaded guilty in December to a federal civil rights charge. Lane, Kueng and Thao also face a separate state trial in June on charges alleging that they aided and abetted murder and manslaughter.