Last June, nearly a month after the death of George Floyd, the chief of the Minneapolis Police Department issued a blistering statement about the officers involved in Floyd’s arrest.
Chief Medaria Arradondo, the first Black person to hold the position, described Floyd’s death as “tragic” and said it “was not due to a lack of training.”
“This was murder — it wasn’t a lack of training,” Arradondo said, adding that that was why he “took swift action” and fired the four officers involved in the incident a day after Floyd’s death.
“The officers knew what was happening — one intentionally caused it, and the others failed to prevent it,” Arradondo said in June.
On Monday — this time from the witness stand — Arradondo again rebuked Derek Chauvin, the former officer who prosecutors said knelt on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes, 29 seconds. It marked a rare instance of a police chief’s testifying against a police officer. (Arradondo also testified in the trial of Mohamed Noor, a former police officer who was convicted of killing Justine Damond in 2017.)
Chauvin is on trial on charges of second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The three other officers who responded to the scene and were fired — J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao — are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter. They are scheduled to stand trial in August.
Prosecutor Steve Schleicher asked Arradondo whether he had a belief about when Chauvin’s restraint of Floyd, including kneeling on his neck, should have ended.
“Once Mr. Floyd had stopped resisting, and certainly once he was in distress and trying to verbalize that, that should have stopped,” Arradondo responded.
“There’s an initial reasonableness in trying to just get him under control in the first few seconds,” Arradondo said. “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 values.”
The prosecution has said Floyd died from Chauvin’s kneeling on his neck. The defense has said Floyd’s death was caused by an overdose, underlying health conditions and adrenaline.
During his testimony, Arradondo explained departmental policy on when force and de-escalation tactics are necessary. He said Chauvin failed to follow policies on de-escalation, use of force and the duty to render aid to people who need it when he knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than 9 minutes. Floyd, who was Black, was recorded in a widely seen bystander video repeatedly telling Chauvin, who is white, that he could not breathe.
“We have a duty of care, and so when someone’s in our custody, regardless of if they are a suspect, we have an obligation to make sure that we provide for their care,” Arradondo said.
Prosecutors have said that when Chauvin restrained Floyd, he violated a number of departmental policies that he had been trained in.
Police were called to Cup Foods, a convenience store, on May 25 after a cashier suspected that Floyd had used a fake $20 bill to buy cigarettes. Arradondo said Monday that the offense Floyd was alleged to have committed would not typically result in someone’s being taken into custody. Arrests, he said, are typically reserved for violent crimes. The statement called into question the officers’ use of force. Police body camera video played in court last week showed that Lane initially approached Floyd with his gun drawn.
Arradondo was asked whether Exhibit 17 — a photo from the bystander video that shows Chauvin looking up at bystanders while he knelt on a seemingly anguished Floyd — was within police departmental policy 5-300, authorizing the use of reasonable force, and whether Chauvin had used an authorized neck restraint.
“A conscious neck restraint by policy mentions light to moderate pressure,” he said. “When I look at Exhibit 17, 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 was also asked by Schleicher whether Chauvin followed department policy 5-304 regarding de-escalation, Arradondo said: “I absolutely do not agree with that.”
Arradondo’s testimony was followed by that of 5th Precinct Inspector Katie Blackwell. At the time of Floyd’s death, Blackwell was the commander of the training division.
Blackwell was shown the same photo from bystander video that depicts Chauvin as he knelt on Floyd’s neck. She, too, said that the restraint, as depicted, violated departmental policies and that neck restraints were not taught.
“I don’t know what kind of improvised position that is,” Blackwell testified. “So that’s not what we train.”
Blackwell testified that she has known Chauvin for about 20 years.
Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell’s opening statement last week forecast Arradondo’s and Blackwell’s testimony.
“He will not mince any words,” Blackwell had said of Arradondo. “He is very clear. He’d be very decisive that this was excessive force.”
Blackwell said Arradondo would testify that Chauvin’s “conduct was not consistent” with the police department’s training and policies.
Under cross-examination, Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, asked Arradondo when was the last time he had arrested a suspect. Arradondo said it had been “many years.”
Nelson also revisited a claim he made in his opening statement that the crowd of bystanders who observed Floyd’s arrest — some of whom cursed at the officers and many of whom shouted at Chauvin to get off Floyd — had hampered Chauvin’s ability to render aid.
Arradondo agreed with Nelson that force is sometimes necessary. He told Schleicher that training has vastly improved since he joined the force more than 30 years ago.
In his statement in June, Arradondo said one of the officers on the scene told Chauvin that Floyd should be put in a recovery position, meaning turned on his side.
Arradondo and Blackwell testified Monday that it is important not to keep handcuffed people on their stomachs for long, because the prone position can make it difficult to breathe.
Arradondo testified that he learned of the incident about 9 p.m. May 25 from a deputy chief before Floyd had been pronounced dead. After he learned that Floyd had died, he went to his office at City Hall, where he viewed the city-operated street camera, which did not have audio and was farther away. He said he could see only the backs of the officers, so he did not fully gauge what had occurred.
Not long after that, he said, he learned about the bystander video of Floyd’s final moments that had been posted to Facebook.
“Close to midnight, a community member had contacted me and said, ‘Chief, have you seen the video of your officer choking and killing that man at 38th and Chicago?'” Arradondo said. “And so once I heard that statement, I just knew it wasn’t the same milestone camera video that I saw.”
Within minutes, he said, “I saw for the first time what is now known as the bystander video.”