MPD inspector wraps up testimony on training after 3 days on stand
Monday marked the sixth day of the federal civil rights trial of three former Minneapolis police officers charged in George Floyd’s death: J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao.
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Chief Hennepin County Medical Examiner Dr. Andrew Baker took the stand following the afternoon break. He explained the process of conducting a death investigation and autopsy.
Baker testified he determined Floyd’s cause of death was cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual restraint and neck compression.
He told the jury he intentionally didn’t watch the videos of Floyd’s death before he completed the autopsy because he didn’t want to have any preconceived notions about the case.
Later, as part of the death investigation, he watched the Cup Foods video, body-worn camera footage and bystander cell phone videos. Dr. Baker told the jury it was important context in determining the cause of death because he “was able to see [Floyd’s] interactions with other people before he passed away.”
After the prosecution pulled up a photo of Derek Chauvin’s knee on Floyd’s neck, Baker testified, “I listed neck compression … on the cause of death line because that was one of the ways Mr. Floyd was being restrained. … To me that was unique … I had never seen this done before.”
Baker walked the jury through the various forms of asphyxia. Position asphyxia means “a person got into a position that they can’t get out of and in that position their airway is compromised and they can’t protect their airway themselves,” he said.
MPD Inspector Katie Blackwell previously testified officers are trained to turn suspects into a recovery side position due to the risk of positional asphyxia.
Prosecutors also walked through Floyd’s injuries with Baker. He noted Floyd had bruises and abrasions to the left side of his face, likely caused by being held to the ground. Baker said Floyd also suffered contusions and abrasions on his shoulders, which he said were “consistent with rubbing with that asphalt.” In addition, Floyd had minor injuries to his legs, wrist injuries due to handcuffs and a bruise on the inside of his left elbow, which Baker determined was likely due to Chauvin’s right knee.
Baker testified that Floyd had two heart conditions: the hardening and narrowing of coronary arteries and the enlargement of his heart due to long-standing high blood pressure. He did not consider the heart conditions to be an immediate cause of Floyd’s death.
Floyd’s lungs “were quite heavy”, according to the medical examiner. Baker explained he sees that with patients who’ve overdosed on opioids and also due to patients who undergo extensive CPR. He ultimately determined it was a “non-specific” finding in this case.
Baker testified Floyd’s blood carbon monoxide levels, evidence of the sickle-cell trait and a rare pelvic tumor were not factors in his death.
The jury learned during Baker’s testimony that the medical examiner sent a blood sample to a lab for a toxicology screen. The sample was taken at the hospital about 20 minutes before Floyd was pronounced dead.
He testified that Floyd had fentanyl, methamphetamine, THC and cotinine — a breakdown product of nicotine — in his system. However, Baker “did not consider those the immediate cause of his death.”
The medical examiner ruled Floyd’s death a homicide, which means it was caused by the actions of another person.
He determined the primary cause of death was cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual restraint and neck compression. Baker explained the stress of being pinned to the ground for nine to nine and a half minutes, caused adrenaline release, which resulted in a higher heartbeat for someone with a compromised heart.
He determined Floyd’s heart disease, fentanyl intoxication and methamphetamine use were contributing conditions.
Court adjourned for the day at about 4:45 p.m. Defense attorneys are expected to cross-examine Baker when he testimony continues Tuesday morning.
After the lunch break, the prosecution takes over questioning.
Assistant U.S. Attorney LeeAnn Bell started by asking Minneapolis Police Inspector Katie Blackwell about training.
Blackwell said MPD’s policy while waiting for EMS to arrive is to “just restrain” the person, and if the person is in handcuffs, officers need to put them on their side to avoid positional asphyxia. She said that was also the case for someone suspected of being in a state of excited delirium who has been subdued.
Bell asked Blackwell what police are trained to do once the restrained person has settled down. The inspector replied that once the person is under control, they should be placed in a side recovery position or sitting up. Officers are trained not to continue using force on someone who is compliant and not to use force unless the person does something that warrants it.
Blackwell testified that at first, Floyd was showing signs of pain — “facial expressions, wincing, fidgeting around … grunting” — but eventually he stopped resisting. That was the point when the officers’ training would have directed them to stop using force.
The inspector noted that when Floyd was unconscious, Lane suggested rolling him over but didn’t take any action to “physically stop the inappropriate force that was being used.” Bell then asked Blackwell what former officers Thao, Kueng and Derek Chauvin did to render aid. “Nothing,” Blackwell said to all three.
After Bell asked Blackwell about how cadets are trained in the police academy and Judge Paul Magnuson told Bell she was getting repetitive with her line of questioning, the prosecution yielded to the defense.
Tom Plunkett, Kueng’s attorney, took over for more cross-examination. He had Blackwell confirm that there is no training scenario on intervention. Robert Paule, Thao’s attorney, then pointed to a Powerpoint slide that mentions excited delirium. Blackwell specified that this was the only slide that covers the subject.
When Earl Gray, Lane’s attorney, took over for more questioning, Blackwell confirmed she heard Lane ask twice about rolling Floyd over and checked his ankle for a pulse. Blackwell recalled that when the ambulance arrived, Lane tried to pick Floyd up by his pants to roll him over, and once they were inside the ambulance, he started chest compressions.
The prosecution then asked a couple more questions clarifying training on duty to intervene scenarios and asking Blackwell to reiterate why Lane’s suggestions to roll Floyd over did not constitute rendering aid. “Because he didn’t physically … render aid,” she testified.
The judge then dismissed Blackwell and called for an afternoon break.
9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
Trial continued with the defense cross-examining Minneapolis Police Inspector Katie Blackwell.
Paule asked questions regarding Minneapolis Police Department training, including restraint training and excited delirium syndrome training.
Blackwell — on the stand for a third day — previously testified that Kueng, Lane and Thao acted in a way that was “inconsistent” with department policies, including by failing to intervene to stop former officer Derek Chauvin, not rolling Floyd onto his side when he stopped resisting and not providing medical aid when he stopped breathing and they couldn’t find a pulse.
But Paule, on Monday, questioned whether the officers had received adequate training in some areas, including on the use of neck restraints. He also presented materials, including videos, from in-service training that Thao would have received on “excited delirium” — a disputed condition in which someone is described as having extraordinary strength.
Paule received agreement from Blackwell that there is only one sentence in excited delirium syndrome training that Thao received about rolling the person on their side after gaining control of suspect.
Paule also brought attention to department policy, stating that while department policy allowed officers to use their legs to implement a neck restraint, they were not taught how to do it.
“In other words, police officers received absolutely zero training on how to use a leg as a mechanism for restraint,” he said. Blackwell agreed.
Earl Gray, defense attorney for Lane, also cross-examined Blackwell, taking the jury through the first moments of Lane’s encounter with Floyd using body camera video. Gray pointed out to jury that his client, Lane, asked Chauvin about rolling Floyd on his side.
Gray also took the jury through Lane’s actions, from pulse-checking to asking Chauvin if the officers should roll Floyd over. At that point, Blackwell interjected, saying Lane had a “duty to intervene.”
Court will be back in session at 2 p.m.
Testimony will resume for a second week as the federal trial continues for three former Minneapolis police officers charged with violating George Floyd’s civil rights.
Prosecutors are trying to prove that Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao deprived Floyd of his rights when they failed to give him medical aid as Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck.
Kueng and Thao are also charged for failing to intervene.
The former head of training at the Minneapolis Police Department is expected to be back on the stand Monday.
Katie Blackwell testified last week that the three officers did not follow department policy when Floyd was killed. But Kueng’s defense attorney says training is lacking in some areas and new officers are trained to obey senior officers.
5 EYEWITNESS NEWS previously reported Blackwell was on the stand for two days last week.
Court is scheduled to resume Monday at 9:30 a.m.
This is a developing story. 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS will continue to update it throughout the day as the trial proceeds.