Police chief says kneeling on George Floyd's neck was against policy

An emergency room doctor also said that a lack of oxygen led to Floyd's death

A Minneapolis police chief gave evidence on Monday saying that former officer Derek Chauvin breached policy in pinning his knee on George Floyd’s neck and keeping him down after Floyd had stopped resisting and was in distress.

Continuing to kneel on Floyd’s neck once he was handcuffed and lying on his stomach was “in no way, shape or form” part of department policy or training, “and it is certainly not part of our ethics or our values,” Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said.

Mr Arradondo, the city’s first black police chief, fired Mr Chauvin and three other officers the day after Floyd’s death last May, and in June called it “murder".

As jurors watched in rapt attention and scribbled notes, Mr Arradondo testified not only that Mr Chauvin, a 19-year veteran of the force, should have let Floyd up sooner, but that the pressure on Floyd’s neck did not appear to be light to moderate, as called for under the department’s neck-restraint policy; that Mr Chauvin failed in his duty to render first aid before the ambulance arrived; and that he broke policy requiring officers to de-escalate tense situations if they can to avoid or minimise the use of force.

“That action is not de-escalation,” the police chief said. “And when we talk about the framework of our sanctity of life and when we talk about our principles and the values that we have, that action goes contrary to what we are talking about”.

His evidence came after the emergency room doctor who pronounced Floyd dead testified that he had theorised at the time that Floyd’s heart most likely stopped because of a lack of oxygen.

Dr Bradford Langenfeld, who was a senior resident on duty that night at Hennepin County Medical Centre and who tried to resuscitate Floyd, took the stand at the beginning of the second week of Mr Chauvin’s murder trial, as prosecutors sought to establish that it was Mr Chauvin’s knee on the black man’s neck that killed him.

Dr Langenfeld said Floyd’s heart had stopped by the time he arrived at the hospital. The doctor said that he was not told of any efforts at the scene by bystanders or police to resuscitate Floyd but that paramedics told him they had tried for about 30 minutes.

Under questioning by prosecutor Jerry Blackwell, Dr Langenfeld said that based on the information he had, it was “more likely than the other possibilities” that Floyd’s cardiac arrest was caused by asphyxia, or insufficient oxygen.

That action is not de-escalation. And when we talk about the framework of our sanctity of life and when we talk about our principles and the values that we have, that action goes contrary to what we are talking about.

Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo

Mr Chauvin, 45, is charged with murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death on May 25. The white officer is accused of digging his knee into the 46-year-old man’s neck for nine minutes, 29 seconds, outside a corner market, where Floyd had been accused of trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill to buy a pack of cigarettes.

The defence argues that Mr Chauvin did what he had been trained to do and that Floyd’s use of illegal drugs and his underlying health conditions caused his death.

Chauvin lawyer Eric Nelson questioned Dr Langenfeld about whether some drugs can cause hypoxia, or insufficient oxygen. The doctor acknowledged that fentanyl and methamphetamine, both of which were found in Floyd’s body, can do so.

The county medical examiner’s office ultimately classified Floyd’s death a homicide.

The full report said Floyd died of “cardiopulmonary arrest, complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint and neck compression”. A summary report listed fentanyl intoxication and recent methamphetamine use under “other significant conditions” but not under “cause of death”.

Under cross-examination from Mr Nelson, Dr Langenfeld said Floyd’s carbon dioxide levels were more than twice as high as levels in a healthy person and he agreed that this could be attributed to a respiratory problem. But on questioning from the prosecutor, the doctor said the high levels were also consistent with cardiac arrest.

Dr Langenfeld said that “any amount of time” a patient spends in cardiac arrest without immediate CPR decreases the chance of a good outcome. He said there is an approximately 10 per cent to 15 per cent decrease in survival for every minute that CPR is not administered.

Prosecutors in the second week of the trial are also expected to zero in on Mr Chauvin’s training in the use of force.

Mr Arradondo also testified about police policy that dictates that whenever it is reasonable to do so, officers must use tactics to de-escalate a situation so as to avoid or minimise the use of force.

Prosecutor Steve Schleicher noted that while some people may become more dangerous under the influence of drugs or alcohol, some may actually be “more vulnerable”. Mr Arradondo agreed and acknowledged that this must also be taken into consideration when officers decide to use force.

Before he was pinned to the ground, a handcuffed and frantic Floyd struggled with police who were trying to put him in a squad car, saying he was claustrophobic.

Mr Arradondo said officers are trained in basic first aid, including chest compressions, and department policy requires them to request medical assistance and provide necessary aid as soon as possible before paramedics arrive.

Officers’ first aid training is “very vital because those seconds are vital,” Mr Arradondo said. “And so we absolutely have a duty to render that.”

Officers kept restraining Floyd – with Mr Chauvin kneeling on his neck, another kneeling on Floyd’s back and a third holding his feet – until the ambulance arrived, even after he became unresponsive, according to evidence and video footage.

One officer asked twice if they should roll Floyd on his side to aid his breathing and later said calmly that he thought Floyd was passing out. Another checked Floyd’s wrist for a pulse and said he couldn’t find one.

The officers also rebuffed offers of help from an off-duty Minneapolis firefighter who wanted to administer aid or tell officers how to do it.

Prosecutors previously called supervisory officers to build the case that Mr Chauvin improperly restrained Floyd. A duty sergeant and a lieutenant who leads the homicide division both questioned Mr Chauvin’s actions in pinning Floyd to the ground.

“Totally unnecessary,” Lt Richard Zimmerman, the longest-tenured officer on the force, said on Friday.

Updated: April 6, 2021 04:22 PM

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