Witness: 3 officers at Floyd killing had duty to intervene

Court proceedings have wrapped up for Thursday

A police officer testifies during a trial.
In this file photo, Katie Blackwell, inspector with the Minneapolis Police Department, testifies during the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on April 5, 2021. Blackwell now testifies in the federal civil rights trial of former officers J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao.
Screenshot of Court TV video 2021

Updated 3:39 p.m.

Three officers on trial for allegedly violating George Floyd’s civil rights were trained to use the least amount force necessary and had a duty to intervene against inappropriate force, the commander of the Minneapolis police training division at the time of Floyd’s killing testified Thursday.

Inspector Katie Blackwell said officers are required to try to de-escalate a situation and, if force is used, to stop once the person is no longer resisting, then render any necessary medical aid they're trained to provide. While she didn't mention the officers specifically, she went through department policy and the training required of all officers.

J. Alexander Kueng, from left, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao
This combination of photos provided by the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office in Minnesota on June 3, 2020, shows J. Alexander Kueng, from left, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao.
Hennepin County Sheriff's Office via AP

Federal prosecutors say former officers J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao failed to act to save Floyd's life on May 25, 2020, as 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, according to prosecutors.

After restraining someone in the prone position, Blackwell said officers are trained to very quickly move them to a side recovery position. “The danger is that they’ll die in custody.”

Body camera video shows that Lane asked if they should roll Floyd onto his side but was rebuffed.

MPD’s values, she added, include holding colleagues accountable and not engaging in conduct that would “sully or shame” the department. 

Dr. Bradford Wankhade Langenfeld, the physician who treated Floyd after paramedics brought him to Hennepin Healthcare on May 25, 2020, also told the court that he initially thought the most likely causes of Floyd’s death were "mechanical asphyxia" or “excited delirium,” which he noted is a controversial concept that has been condemned by American Medical Association.

Langenfeld said under cross-examination that "excited delirium" is controversial because it's almost always used in cases where law enforcement restrained an individual and in regards to people of color. He said it's typically diagnosed before patients arrive at a hospital. Langenfeld said that when he declared Floyd deceased, he concluded he had just had "too long a period of time with inadequate or no oxygen."

The medical examiner who conducted the autopsy on Floyd  has not yet testified in this case.

Officers had responded to a 911 call that Floyd, 46, tried to use a counterfeit $20 bill at a corner store. The videotaped killing triggered worldwide protests and a reexamination of racism and policing.

Whether the officers deprived Floyd of medical aid is a key element to the charges. On Wednesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Manda Sertich sought to show jurors that responding paramedics were not given important information, and that Floyd should have been given medical attention immediately.

Paramedic Derek Smith testified that he wasn’t told Floyd wasn’t breathing and had no pulse when officers upgraded the urgency of an ambulance call. Smith agreed with Sertich that CPR should have been started as soon as possible — something the officers were trained to do.

Paramedics put Floyd in the ambulance and took him to another location to be treated.

Robert Paule, Thao’s attorney, got Smith to say that he would have not have done that if it weren’t for the bystanders, who were yelling at officers to help Floyd.

Minneapolis firefighter and trained emergency medical technician Genevieve Hansen, who was off-duty when she came upon the scene that day, testified that officers ignored her requests to render medical aid to Floyd.

And Minneapolis Fire Department Capt. Jeremy Norton — who arrived after paramedics had moved Floyd — testified that his department would have started CPR on the scene, and that providing care as early as possible would have been the best chance to save Floyd. A 911 dispatcher testified earlier in the week that she would have sent the Fire Department instead of an ambulance if the officers had told her Floyd wasn’t breathing because they could have gotten there faster.

A courtroom sketch of the three former MPD officers and their lawyers.
In this courtroom sketch, three former Minneapolis officers, Tou Thao, J. Kueng and Thomas Lane, charged in the death of George Floyd appear in federal court on Jan. 11 in St. Paul.
Cedric Hohnstadt for MPR News

Kueng, who is Black; Lane, who is white; and Thao, who is Hmong American, all are charged with willfully depriving Floyd of his constitutional rights while acting under color of law. One count against all three officers says they saw Floyd needed medical care and failed to help. A count against Thao and Kueng says they did not intervene to stop Chauvin. Both counts allege 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.

During opening statements, Kueng’s attorney, Tom Plunkett, said that Chauvin called “all of the shots” as the senior officer at the scene. Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter in state court last year and also pleaded guilty in December to a federal civil rights charge.

Lane, Kueng and Thao also face a separate state trial in June on charges they aided and abetted murder and manslaughter.

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