Witness: MPD cops' actions were 'inconsistent' with department training

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. Prosecutors are seeking to show that the three officers ignored their training by not helping Floyd.
Cedric Hohnstadt for MPR News

Updated 1 p.m.

Friday brought more testimony from policing experts in the trial of the three former police officers charged with violating George Floyd’s civil rights. 

Prosecutors have been making their case against the three defendants throughout the week at the federal courthouse in downtown St. Paul. They’ve brought a parade of first responders, bystanders and a doctor to the stand, seeking to convince jurors that the former officers abused their authority. 

Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane are charged with failing to provide Floyd with medical care after their colleague Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes on May 25, 2020, killing him. Kueng and Thao are also charged for failing to intervene with Chauvin’s use of force. 

J. Alexander Kueng, from left, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao
J. Alexander Kueng, from left, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao
Hennepin County Sheriff's Office via AP

Prosecutors are seeking to show that the officers ignored their training by not helping Floyd. 

Testimony on Thursday and Friday has centered around the Minneapolis Police Department’s use of force policy, which the department’s Inspector Katie Blackwell said was to use the minimum amount of force to gain compliance. 

Officers are trained to avoid keeping people in the “prone” position that officers put Floyd into, and to quickly move people onto their side “because side recovery helps them breathe better,” Blackwell told the court Friday morning.

She also testified under prosecution questioning that department training and policy requires officers to care for subjects after using a technique like neck restraint, even if the subject was initially aggressive: "They’re still under custody, so we still have to care for them regardless of what happened."

Blackwell testified that training and policy requires officers to use the minimum amount of force to detain a subject and to intervene with their colleagues who violate the policies.

Getting at a key factor in the federal charges against the three officers, Blackwell told jurors that Chauvin, Lane and Kueng’s actions were “inconsistent” with department training and policy.

Blackwell on Thursday testified that one of the department’s top values includes holding fellow officers accountable and not engaging in conduct that would “sully or shame” the department. She said officers have a responsibility to offer medical care to those in need, and to intervene with one another.

Under prosecutor questioning, Blackwell said “crisis intervention” refers to when someone is unable to understand or follow orders due to factors like drugs, alcohol or a disability. She said “we have to be more sensitive or aware of that.”

Earlier in the week, prosecutors called Derek Smith, the paramedic who treated Floyd. He testified that he thought Floyd was dead when he arrived at the scene. A 911 dispatcher who saw officers holding Floyd down for an extended period of time also testified that she was so alarmed by their actions that she called the police sergeant on duty. 

CORRECTION George Floyd Officers Civil Rights
In this courtroom sketch, federal prosecutor Samantha Trepel gives opening statements during the trial for three former Minneapolis police officers charged with violating George Floyd's civil rights.
Cedric Hohnstadt | AP

In opening statements on Monday, prosecutor Samantha Trepel said the three former officers failed to intervene as Floyd was dying. 

"You’ll hear that the medical aid that would have saved George Floyd’s life was as simple as that, turning George Floyd on his side so his heart kept beating,” she told jurors.

Defense attorneys described Floyd's death as a tragedy, but said that doesn’t qualify as a crime. Kueng’s attorney Thomas Plunkett described Floyd’s death as an “institutional failure” of the Minneapolis Police Department. 

“This case is about a tragic tale, about a rookie officer, less than three shifts into his career as a Minneapolis police officer, that was confronted with a complex rapidly unfolding set of circumstances,” Plunkett said of his client. 

Chauvin was convicted of murder in state court last spring. He pleaded guilty last month to federal charges that he violated Floyd’s civil rights. 

The three former officers are also charged in state court with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death. That trial is set for June. 

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.