Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo yesterday refuted Derek Chauvin’s claim that he followed department policy and training when he pinned George Floyd to the pavement with his knee for more than nine minutes. The chief’s testimony in Chauvin’s murder trial reinforced the evaluations of other police officials who rejected defense lawyer Eric Nelson’s contention that Chauvin “did exactly what he had been trained to do” during Floyd’s May 25 arrest for buying cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill.
“Once Mr. Floyd had stopped resisting, and certainly once he was in distress and trying to verbalize that, that should have stopped,” Arradondo said. “There’s an initial reasonableness in trying to just get him under control in the first few seconds, but 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 anything that is by policy. It is not part of our training, and it is certainly not part of our ethics or our values.”
Specifically, Arradondo said, the prolonged prone restraint violated the Minneapolis Police Department’s policy authorizing “reasonable force” during an arrest. “It has to be objectively reasonable,” he said. “We have to take into account circumstances, information, the threat to the officer, the threat to others, and the severity of that. So that is not a part of our policy. That is not what we teach, and that should [not] be condoned.”
Arradondo said Chauvin also violated the department’s policy regarding neck restraints by kneeling on Floyd’s neck. “A conscious neck restraint by policy mentions light to moderate pressure,” he said. “When I look at [a photo of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck] and 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.”
Arradondo added that Chauvin “violated our policy in terms of rendering aid.” Even after Floyd stopped moving, became unresponsive, and had no detectable pulse, neither Chauvin nor his colleagues performed CPR or otherwise attended to Floyd’s medical needs.
During cross-examination, Nelson, who has suggested that Chauvin and the other officers were “divert[ed]” from “the care of Mr. Floyd” by angry bystanders who objected to their treatment of him, noted that an ambulance was on the way. But as Lt. Richard Zimmerman pointed out during his testimony on Friday, that fact did not absolve Chauvin of his responsibility to render aid.
In addition to condemning Chauvin’s use of force, Arradondo suggested that it was not even necessary to take Floyd into custody for a petty, nonviolent crime. He said such an offense is “typically not” enough to justify a custodial arrest.
Nelson himself has argued that Officers Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng needlessly escalated the situation by detaining Floyd at gunpoint and trying to force him into their squad car, which precipitated panicked resistance by Floyd, who said he was claustrophobic, complained that he could not breathe, and asked to ride in the front seat. “If Kueng and Lane had chosen to de-escalate instead of struggle, Mr. Floyd may have survived,” Nelson said in a pretrial motion.
Yet Nelson’s client likewise did not “de-escalate” the situation, giving Floyd no opportunity to calm down once he was outside the car. Instead Chauvin pinned Floyd to the ground for nine and a half minutes, disregarding his terrified pleading, and maintained that position even after Floyd stopped moving and talking.
“That action is not de-escalation,” Arradondo said. “And when we talk about the framework of our sanctity of life, and when we talk about the principles and values that we have, that action goes contrary to what we’re taught.”
Jurors also heard testimony yesterday from Fifth Precinct Inspector Katie Blackwell, who was in charge of police training at the time of Floyd’s arrest. Like Zimmerman, Blackwell emphasized the risks of restraining a handcuffed arrestee facedown. The arrestee should be placed “in the side recovery position or an upright position…as soon as possible,” she said, to avoid “the risk of asphyxiation.”
Two paramedics who testified last week said Floyd showed no signs of life when they first examined him. Yesterday the doctor who pronounced Floyd dead at the Hennepin County Medical Center, Bradford Wankhede Langenfeld, testified that Floyd’s heartbeat when he arrived was not “sufficient to sustain life.” Langenfeld found only “pulseless electrical activity,” meaning that Floyd could not be resuscitated once he flatlined. He said he believed Floyd’s condition was caused by “asphyxia.”
The prosecution argues that Floyd died from asphyxiation. Nelson maintains that Floyd “died of a cardiac arrhythmia that occurred as a result of hypertension, his coronary disease, the ingestion of methamphetamine and fentanyl, and the adrenaline flowing through his body, all of which acted to further compromise an already compromised heart.”
Langenfeld said he was not told that Floyd had shown signs of a heart attack, such as chest pains. “At the time it was not completely possible to rule that out,” he said, “but I felt it was less likely based on the information available to us.” Might Floyd have overdosed? “I didn’t feel there was a specific toxin for which we could give a medication that would reverse his arrest,” Langenfeld said.
The precise cause of Floyd’s death, and Chauvin’s role in it, will continue to be a point of contention during the trial. But on the question of whether Chauvin’s use of force was justified in the circumstances, the powerful testimony of Arradondo and other police supervisors will make it hard for Nelson to persuade the jury that everything Chauvin did was by the book.
It is rare for police officers to face criminal charges for killing people and rarer still for them to be convicted. But it is likewise very unusual for a police chief to testify against an officer accused of using excessive force. Jurors tend to trust police officers and give them the benefit of the doubt. In this case, however, they will have to decide which police testimony to believe: the account of the former officer who says he was only doing his job or the judgment of his superiors, who say he recklessly and needlessly caused a man’s death.