ST. PAUL, Minn. – Defense attorneys at the trial of three former Minneapolis police officers charged with violating George Floyd's civil rights questioned a top officer Monday about the department's training on restraints and an officer's duty to intervene, as well as a culture that they say teaches new officers to not question their superiors.
Federal prosecutors say former Officers J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao violated their training by failing to act to save Floyd’s life on May 25, 2020, when fellow Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on the Black man’s neck for 9 1/2 minutes while Floyd was handcuffed, facedown and gasping for air. Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back, Lane held his legs and Thao kept bystanders back.
The former head of training for the Minneapolis Police Department, Inspector Katie Blackwell was on the stand for a third day. She has testified that Kueng, Lane and Thao acted in a way that was “inconsistent” with department policies, including by failing to intervene to stop Chauvin, not rolling Floyd onto his side when he stopped resisting and not providing medical aid when he stopped breathing.
Thao’s attorney, Robert Paule, on Monday challenged Blackwell on whether the officers received adequate training, including on the use of neck restraints. He also presented department training materials on how to handle someone experiencing “excited delirium” — an agitated state that the materials say could warrant more forceful restraint.
The materials, from in-service training that Thao would have received, say someone experiencing excited delirium, which is a disputed condition, can exhibit extraordinary strength. In videos, people were not stopped by Tasers and sometimes got away from police restraint. Also, officers sometimes used a knee to restrain people.
Floyd struggled with officers when they tried to put him in a police vehicle and after they put him on the ground. He repeatedly said he couldn't breathe before going motionless. The videotaped killing triggered worldwide protests and a reexamination of racism and policing.
Under further questioning from prosecutor LeeAnn Bell, Blackwell testified that officers are told that if they use a knee to handcuff someone, they must put the person on their side and call emergency medical services because of the danger that their airway will be blocked. But the training materials presented Monday had just one sentence in a slide that said officers should put a person in the side recovery position.
Some medical examiners have attributed in-custody deaths to excited delirium, often in cases where the person became extremely agitated after taking drugs or while having a mental health episode or other health problem. But there is no universally accepted definition and researchers have said it’s not well understood.
Blackwell said that even when excited delirium is suspected, officers must stop using force when resistance stops, and that leaving someone facedown increases the chance that their breathing will be obstructed.
The chief medical examiner who ruled Floyd’s death a homicide testified that Floyd, 46, died after police “subdual, restraint and neck compression” caused his heart to stop. Dr. Andrew Baker, the Hennepin County medical examiner, said heart disease and drug use were factors but not the “top line" cause.
Earlier, Lane's attorney, Earl Gray, suggested that his client did what he was trained to do, including trying to de-escalate the situation, stopping his restraint when Floyd stopped moving, checking for a pulse and asking whether he should be rolled on his side.
Blackwell agreed with Gray that Lane went beyond what was required by helping paramedics try to revive Floyd in the ambulance that eventually arrived.
But under questioning from Bell, Blackwell said Lane didn't do enough when Floyd was in police custody. She said Lane didn’t check to see if Floyd was breathing after he went unconscious and “didn’t take any action to ... physically stop the inappropriate force that was being used when no force was necessary.”
While the department has no training scenario called “duty to intervene,” Blackwell said the idea is addressed.
Defense attorneys said officers are taught to obey their superiors and have suggested that Chauvin — who was a field training officer for new recruits — took charge at the scene. Blackwell testified that the requirement to follow orders does not supersede policy.
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 government authority. One count against all three officers alleges they saw that Floyd needed medical care and failed to help. A count against Thao and Kueng contends they didn't intervene to stop Chauvin. Both counts allege that the officers’ actions resulted in Floyd’s death.
Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter in state court last year and pleaded guilty 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.
Webber contributed from Fenton, Michigan.
Find AP’s full coverage of the killing of George Floyd at: https://apnews.com/hub/death-of-george-floyd