MPD federal trial: Testimony from police trainer enters 3rd day

Inspector Katie Blackwell took the stand Monday morning for the third day in a row at the federal trial of three former Minneapolis Police officers charged with violating George Floyd’s civil rights.

Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane are all charged with failure to provide medical aid to George Floyd.  Thao and Kueng are charged with failing to intervene in Derek Chauvin’s use of force when he held Floyd down with a knee to his neck and kept doing after Floyd lost consciousness.  Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd in a separate trial last year.

Inspector Blackwell was in charge of training for the Minneapolis Police Department at the time of Floyd’s murder in May of 2020.  On Thursday, the prosecution spent much of the day questioning Blackwell about use of force training and the department's "duty to intervene" policy.  Blackwell also testified about the training to move a person on their side if they lose consciousness during a restraint because of the risk of cardiac arrest.

On Friday, Blackwell was cross-examined by defense attorney Thomas Plunkett.  He clarified with Blackwell that Thomas Lane, by policy, should have been in charge of the scene at 38th and Chicago, but the other officers all deferred to Derek Chauvin, who had 19 years of experience and served as a Field Training Officer.

Monday came Robert Paule’s turn to cross-examine Blackwell.  Paule is Thao’s defense attorney and he spent more than two hours taking aim at the department’s training.  Much of the time was spent on an in-service training program on what’s known as "excited delirium," a controversial concept about the behaviors of people suspected of overdosing on narcotics.

Excited delirium is not recognized by the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association or the World Health Organization.  It is criticized as being a scapegoat term when people die in police custody, particularly after the use of restraints.

Paule, in going over a list of videos contained in a PowerPoint training presentation, went to great lengths to show that officers are heavily trained to deal with agitated suspects as cases of "excited delirium" and that restraints that inhibit breathing are part of the response to slow them down.

"You’re the head of training, you approved this, correct?" Paule asked.

"Yes," Blackwell answered.

"In that entire PowerPoint, there is one sentence about putting people in a recovery position, correct?" he asked.

"Correct," replied Blackwell.

Under further cross-examination by Earl Gray, defense attorney for Thomas Lane, asked Blackwell a series of questions about Lane’s actions.  She confirmed that Lane was the one who called for EMS, that Lane asked about rolling Floyd on his side and that Lane helped try to revive Lane in the ambulance after it arrived.

But when the prosecution got the chance to ask Blackwell about that, she was asked what the officers did to stop Chauvin.  Nothing, Blackwell replied. What did they do to offer medical aid? Also nothing, said Blackwell.  What did you observe Lane do when George Floyd went unconscious? "Nothing," replied Blackwell.

Late in the afternoon, Hennepin County Chief Medical Examiner Andrew Baker took the stand. Just as he did in Derek Chauvin’s murder trial, Baker testified that Floyd’s cause of death was cardiopulmonary arrest, complicated by police restraint and neck compression.  He said Floyd’s enlarged heart and drugs in his system were contributing factors, but did not kill him.  Floyd died, Baker testified, because he couldn’t breathe.