Minneapolis police chief testifies against Chauvin in trial

Police Chief Medaria Arradondo took the stand Monday


By Paul Walsh
Star Tribune

MINNEAPOLIS — Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo is on the witness stand in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin for the death of George Floyd.

Arradondo, 54, who has been with the depart since 1989 and has been chief for three years, has been harshly critical of Chauvin following Floyd's death, which led to widespread unrest and rioting in his city and elsewhere.

This Feb. 17, 2021, file photo shows Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo addressing the press on preparations for Derek Chauvin's trial in Minneapolis.
This Feb. 17, 2021, file photo shows Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo addressing the press on preparations for Derek Chauvin's trial in Minneapolis. (Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Star Tribune via AP, Pool)

Under questioning from prosecutor Steve Schleicher, Arradondo walked through his education, training and experience, and acknowledged that officers must use force at times. He also expanded on "to serve with compassion," a motto emblazoned on the department's squad vehicles.

"To serve with compassion means to me to understand and authentically accept that we see our neighbors as ourselves, we value one another, we see our community as necessary or our existence," he said.

Arradondo said he has had to use force and de-escalate tensions, and added that training has vastly improved since he was a cadet more than 30 years ago.

The chief said that every officer must know the contents of the department's policy manual that covers all requirements of the force and then sign a document to that effect. The prosecution then showed the court Chauvin's signature on that confirming document.

The prosecution then showed the court the policy entry saying that calls on an officer to not detain any suspect "no longer than necessary."

The chief said policing is a "very interesting profession" where a body of work matters, but only internally.

"To our communities, your body of work doesn't hold as much value. We don't have the luxury of saying, 'This went really well last time.'"

The chief also said that from the perspective of community members, it's a sentiment of " 'I'm going to grade you on how you treat me during this call, during this interaction,' so we have to make each engagement with our community count. The training is very important.

"For many in our communities, the first time they encounter a Minneapolis police officer may be the only time in their life; so that singular incident matters."

Earlier Monday, the HCMC doctor who declared Floyd dead testified that there was not a heartbeat "sufficient to sustain life" upon arrival and believed his patient's cardiac arrest was due to a lack of oxygen.

"Is there another term for that?" prosecutor Jerry Blackwell asked Dr. Bradford Wankhede Langenfeld, who was a senior medical resident at the time Floyd was transported to HCMC and eventually pronounced him dead.

"Asphyxia," Langenfeld said.

The doctor said he went through several known causes of cardiac arrest during his examination of Floyd and concluded that "based on the information that I had, it was more likely" that hypoxia, or a lack of oxygen to the body's tissues, was responsible for him being stricken over the other possibilities.

As the first witness of the day, Langenfeld described Floyd's condition and the attempts to resuscitate him.

"When Mr. Floyd was brought in, would you describe it as an emergency situation?" Blackwell asked.

"Yes, absolutely," Langenfeld said, describing how Floyd was in cardiac arrest and that the goal was to re-establish "spontaneous circulation."

Asked whether Floyd had a heartbeat upon arrival, the doctor said it was "not to a degree sufficient to sustain life."

Langenfeld also confirmed earlier evidence that no lifesaving measures performed by the officers or bystanders before Chauvin took his knee off Floyd's body.

Langenfeld said Floyd was in a "PEA" state, which stands for pulseless electrical activity. There was no pulse but some electrical activity. Low oxygen is one of the causes, he said. It then evolved into asystole, or flatlining. He said shocks to the heart cannot bring back people in such states.

Blackwell asked Langenfeld whether Floyd's cardiac arrest was likely the result of a heart attack. Langenfeld noted that he was not told that Floyd had chest pain or was clutching his chest, along with the fact that he was in a PEA state.

"At the time it was not completely possible to rule that out, but I felt it was less likely based on the information available to us."

As to whether he believed Floyd overdosed, Langenfeld said, "I didn't feel there was a specific toxin for which we could give a medication that would reverse his arrest."

After Floyd was in cardiac arrest for 60 minutes, and was in full PEA and asystole, he said there was well below a 1% chance for a good outcome. He said he then pronounced him dead.

Questioning by defense attorney Eric Nelson focused on illicit drugs, specifically the impact that opioids fentanyl and methamphetamine, might have had on Floyd's extremely high carbon dioxide levels in his blood. Such levels can be life-threatening.

The doctor agreed that those drugs, which an autopsy found to be in Floyd's body, can lead to a lack of oxygen to the body.

Before Monday's first witness, the proceedings started with Nelson explaining why he wants more of Chauvin's body-worn camera video from the night of the arrest. Nelson said it showed the "totality of the circumstances" of what happened after Floyd was taken in the ambulance to HCMC.

Prosecutor Matthew Frank pushed back, saying the footage includes hearsay comments from two of the officers about what happened and is not relevant.

"The totality of the circumstances is a view of a reasonable police officer at the time," Frank said. "All of this is subsequent investigation that could, of course, been done before Mr. Floyd was forced into the back seat, but it doesn't have any bearing on what the officers knew at the time the force was used."

Judge Peter Cahill said he would allow most of the footage, because Chauvin's statements are not offered as "the truth of the matter asserted."

"It shows Mr. Chauvin's demeanor and actions immediately after Mr. Floyd was removed to the hospital. I think it is relevant for the jury to see," the judge said.

When the jurors first were brought back in the courtroom Monday, Cahill muted the livestream and said he had questions for them to answer. Pool reporters were allowed to remain to document the questioning.

When the livestream resumed, Cahill said the topic was a concern about unspecified juror misconduct, but he found none. "The jurors were credible in their responses, and no action needs to be taken," he said.

The second witness of the day, Arradondo, was a visible and vocal presence in the tumult that engulfed the city and nation in the immediate aftermath of Floyd, a Black man, dying under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer on Memorial Day.

The city's first Black police chief condemned and fired Chauvin and the other three officers involved. He visited 38th and Chicago. He spoke directly to Floyd's family members on national television. In an interview, Arradondo called Floyd's death "absolutely pivotal" in the city's history.

Just shy of a month after Floyd died, Arradondo issued a statement that was unequivocal in his belief of who was most responsible.

"Mr. George Floyd's tragic death was not due to a lack of training — the training was there," he said. "This was murder — it wasn't a lack of training. This is why I took swift action regarding the involved officers' employment with MPD."

Chauvin is charged with second- and third-degree murder and manslaughter. The fired officers who helped arrest and restrain Floyd, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao, are scheduled to go on trial in August on charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter.

A blunt assessment of Chauvin's actions also came Friday from the longest-serving officer, who testified before a worldwide livestream audience that the level of force used was "totally unnecessary" and dangerous.

Lt. Richard Zimmerman, the head of the department's homicide unit, was unwavering when asked whether Chauvin's actions toward Floyd were proper.

"First of all," Zimmerman said, "pulling him down to the ground facedown and putting your knee on a neck for that amount of time is just uncalled for."

Zimmerman, who has been with the MPD since 1985 and in the homicide unit he now leads since 1995, said department policy requires that prone suspects who are handcuffed — as Floyd was by Chauvin — must be taken off their chest as soon as possible. The position stretches the chest muscles and makes it difficult for someone to breathe, Zimmerman said.

Frank asked Zimmerman whether he was ever trained to put a knee on the neck of someone in handcuffs." No, I haven't," he said.

Zimmerman said such a tactic would fall under the most extreme level of force by an officer, that being "deadly force."

"If your knee is on someone's neck, that could kill them," he said.

Under cross-examination, defense attorney Eric Nelson noted that as an investigator, Zimmerman rarely has to use force compared with a patrol officer. Zimmerman also acknowledged to Nelson that situations can be fluid, and officers must quickly adapt to what he called "scene security."

"You look at other things that may be hazards or threats, in the immediate vicinity, correct?"

"Yes."

"So you're gonna assess: Are there people watching, are there people videotaping, are those people happy or angry, etc., right?"

"Yes."

(c)2021 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Recommended for you

Copyright © 2021 Police1. All rights reserved.