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Day 6: MPD inspector wraps 3-day testimony; Hennepin Co. medical examiner takes stand

Inspector Katie Blackwell ended her three-day testimony about use-of-force training, and was followed by Hennepin County Medical Examiner Dr. Andrew Baker.

ST PAUL, Minn. —

  • Hennepin County Medical Examiner testifies about George Floyd's cause of death
  • Minneapolis Police Inspector defends MPD's training under cross examination.
  • Inspector Katie Blackwell returns to stand to elaborate on 'Duty to Intervene'

Monday, Jan. 31

The second week of testimony in the federal civil rights trial of three former Minneapolis police officers got underway Monday with more testimony from inspector Katie Blackwell, the commander in charge of training those officers 

As trial continued to unfold, it became apparent that Blackwell has become an important witness for both sides. The ex-officers — Tou Thao, J Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane — are charged with depriving George Floyd of his civil rights at the time of his death in 2020.

As defense attorneys took turns cross examining Blackwell, they showed the jury exhibits — videos and photos — from training materials that showed officers detaining suspects similar to Derek Chauvin and the others who held down George Floyd.

When the prosecution got its turn again, Blackwell reiterated that the officers had a "duty to intervene," by policy, to jump in and stop Chauvin from using unreasonable force. 

"You have to do something physically or verbally to jump in there and stop the person," Blackwell said.

Thomas Lane's attorney, Earl Gray, pointed out that Lane asked Chauvin three times, 'Should we roll him over?' Referring to the side-recovery position in which officers are trained. And in the ambulance, Lane performed CPR.

Blackwell insisted, "He still had a duty to intervene."

Gray then criticized Blackwell's approval of Chauvin as a field training officer. By written definition at MPD, an FTO is a "role model." 

Blackwell went on to say she "didn't see any red flags" when viewing Chauvin's internal affairs report prior to making him an FTO.

As the day drew to a close, the prosecution called its next witness, Hennepin County Medical Examiner, Dr. Andrew Baker, who will resume his testimony Tuesday morning.

Court is scheduled to resume at 9:30. 

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3:30 p.m.

The prosecution returned with its next witness, Hennepin County Medical Examiner Dr. Andrew Baker.

Baker told the court that he believed George Floyd died from "cardiopulmonary arrest, complicating law enforcement subdual restraint and neck compression." 

He said he believes the restraint and neck compression played a key role in Floyd's heart stopping, adding that heart disease, hypertension and drugs likely contributed.

2:00 p.m.

Blackwell returned to the stand after the court's lunch break to continue her testimony on redirect questioning.

She reiterated to prosecutor Bell that Chauvin's use of his knee on Floyd's neck was inconsistent with MPD training, and that Floyd should have been rolled onto his side after he stopped resisting. She said again that she believes the other former officers violated MPD policy for failing to intervene and help Floyd.

KARE 11 reporter Lou Raguse said from the courthouse that it appeared Judge Magnuson was growing irritated by the production's redundant questions and evidence, and sustained several objections by the defense.

Blackwell's nearly three-day-long testimony concluded before the judge dismissed the court for its afternoon break.

9:30 a.m. 

Minneapolis police inspector Katie Blackwell was back on the stand Monday morning as the spotlight remains focused on the department's policies, training of officers and the impact both may have had on the murder of George Floyd. 

The federal trial for Thomas Lane, Thou Tao and J Alexander Kueng, three former Minneapolis offices charged with violating George Floyd's civil rights, opened its second week with Robert Paule, defense attorney for Tao, cross examining Blackwell. 

Thao and Kueng face an additional count for failing to stop Derek Chauvin, who was convicted of murder and manslaughter in state court last year, as he knelt on Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes.

Paule began by asking Blackwell about an investigation into MPD launched by the Department of Justice, and also referenced a lawsuit filed by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights alleging racial bias within the department. 

KARE 11's Lou Raguse, who has reported on this case extensively since the former officers were charged, says it appears Paule is trying to make jurors aware of significant problems in MPD's operation and culture, which could undermine their confidence in Blackwell and other department leaders as witnesses. 

Paule next transitioned to the controversial topic of excited delirium, a condition that is characterized by agitation, aggression, acute distress and sometimes sudden death. It is not recognized by a number of organizations, including the American Medical Association (AMA). Paule showed jurors a number of training videos with officers from law enforcement agencies responding to a person allegedly suffering from excited delirium. In those videos officers were seen restraining suspects on the ground. 

Paule: Do you see any of the officers put the suspect in side recovery position?
Blackwell: I did not.
Paule: And this is the medical training officers receive concerning excited delirium?
Blackwell: It is.

Raguse says excited delirium has come up before, during Chauvin's state trial and earlier in this one. " But this current line of questioning from Paule has been the most comprehensive from a defense perspective in how officers are trained and how that could affect officer actions," he tweeted.

Additional MPD training videos played for the jury by Paule Monday morning showed officers placing their knee to the neck and upper back of prone subjects. He noted that Blackwell had approved the training, and previewed it with command staff that included recently-retired chief Medaria Arradondo.  

Defense attorney Earl Gray, representing defendant Thomas Lane, was next up to cross examine Blackwell. While discussing the initial response to the counterfeit allegations against George Floyd, Blackwell confirmed for Gray that it was appropriate for Lane to pull and display his gun while approaching Floyd's vehicle based on movements inside and Floyd's refusal to show his hands. 

Blackwell then agreed Lane was deescalating the situation when he re-holstered his weapon and removed Floyd from the vehicle without force. As Gray went through actions actions on the scene, moment by moment, asking if Lane had a right to do what he was doing, the inspector interjected that "he still had a duty to intervene."

Questioning turned to Lane's actions as Floyd was detained, and former officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck. Gray underlined for jurors that Lane asked Chauvin if they should roll Floyd over on his side, got off Floyd when he became unresponsive, and checked his pulse before performing CPR and attempting to revive him. 

Gray then asked Blackwell about Chauvin becoming a Field Training Officer (FTO), and the fact she signed off on the move. "Did you check Derek Chauvin's internal affairs report? Did it show all his complaints?" Gray asked.

"I didn't see any red flags," Blackwell answered. 

Gray asserted that by naming Chauvin an FTO - as stated by a written description of the position - that made him a "role model" who officers should follow and listen to, a position Blackwell agreed to in theory.

"You don't question them. They tell you what to do and they do it," Gray said.

"Generally," Blackwell responded. 

Judge Paul Magnuson called for a lunch recess at noon, with testimony set to resume at 2 p.m. with prosecutors questioning Blackwell on redirect. 

Blackwell testified for multiple days last week about MPD's 'Duty to Intervene' policy, telling the jury "we have an obligation" to stop or attempt to stop another officer when force is being inappropriately applied or is no longer required.

Raguse believes that policy and jurors' interpretation of the defendant's actions will go a long way towards determining the verdict in this high-profile case.  

Some legal experts believe this case can trigger change in a long-standing police culture that breeds reluctance to rein in fellow officers. Floyd's killing prompted police departments across the country to adopt policies requiring officers to intervene if a co-worker puts someone in danger. 

Experts say federal charges in this case send a strong message that failing to intervene means consequences severe enough to outweigh fears of being ostracized, or even put in danger by fellow officers for stopping and reporting misconduct.

 

Friday Recap

On Friday prosecutors showed Blackwell a slide that Thao was shown during refresher training in 2018 regarding the department's "Duty to Intervene" policy. It reads "If you're present when inappropriate physical force is being applied, or is no longer required, it is your DUTY to stop the application of force." Jurors then saw a training video detailing the correct way to subdue a suspect. 

The video explains that a person struggling to breathe can end up struggling even more when their chest is compressed in prone position, and warns that a suspect can die if not turned to their side. 

Prosecutors then showed police body camera video to the court, asking Blackwell whether she believed the officers' actions with Floyd were consistent with MPD training. She told the court she believed the actions of Chauvin, Lane and Kueng were all "inconsistent."

As the prosecution wrapped its direct questioning of Blackwell Friday afternoon she told the courtroom that it was her opinion that none of the three officers on trial followed the MPD's Duty to Intervene policy, as she believes Derek Chauvin used unreasonable force against George Floyd. The defense had a short time to begin cross-examine the witness. 

RELATED: Who is on the jury for the federal trial of three former Minneapolis police officers?

Following an afternoon break, Thomas Plunkett, the defense attorney for Thomas Lane, continued the cross examination of Blackwell. He questioned her on the place of an "FTO" or field training officer, in the Minneapolis Police Department.

Blackwell said she put together the FTO's leadership course at MPD, but could not remember if there was intervention training was part of that level of training. She agreed that the aptitude of FTOs aren't graded or tested, but said she "wasn't aware" of any officers on the street who did not know about the intervention policy. 

Plunkett then went through the phases of police training, pointing out that Kueng and Lane were both fresh out of their FTO program, and suggested that it was one of the first times the officers were put together as rookies. 

One thing to note, however, is that breaking MPD policy does not mean the officers are guilty of breaking federal law, but it is important testimony for the prosecution because the charges use phrases such as "failed to intervene."

RELATED: Day 5: MPD training expert testifies about use-of-force, 'duty to intervene' policies

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