Welcome to our ongoing coverage of the Minnesota murder trial of Derek Chauvin, over the in-custody death of George Floyd. I am Attorney Andrew Branca for Law of Self Defense, providing guest commentary and analysis of this trial for Legal Insurrection.
Anyone interested in a free podcast version of our daily legal commentary and analysis of the Chauvin trial can access the Law of Self Defense News/Q&A Podcast, available on most every podcast platform, including Pandora, iHeart, Spotify, Apple Podcast, Google Podcast, simple RSS feed, and more.
Today’s court proceedings brought us a mere three state’s witnesses, although undoubtedly the state considered them among their most important.
The first was Dr. Bradford Wankhede Langenfeld, the emergency room physician who treated Floyd, and whose testimony did literally nothing to diminish the theory that Floyd died of impaired respiratory function induced by Fentanyl overdose. Like every witness to date, Dr. Langenfeld’s testimony had the appearance of being compelling right up until it was subject to “the rest of the story” on cross-examination.
Much the same could be said of what might be referred to as today’ start witness, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo. Chief Arradondo gave the prosecution the headline quote they’d certainly prepared for—effectively, Chauvin’s neck restraint was outside MPD policy, period!—but again much of the apparent power of this quote was gutted on cross-examination by Nelson. The fact that the media will only cover direct questioning, however, and will substantively ignore cross-examination has real implications for race relations in America generally and for urban infrastructure in the immediate aftermath of this case, specifically.
The final witness of the day was relatively brief, and that was Katie Blackwell, Commander of the MPD Training Division around the time of May 25, 2020, the date of Floyd’s in-custody death. Like Arradondo she, too, testified to the effect that she didn’t recognize Chauvin’s neck restraint as being consistent with MPD policy—“I don’t recognize that,” were here exact words. Nevertheless, that’s a far cry from the technique constituting murder, for reasons I’ll discuss below.
As usual, the testimony of every one of today’s witnesses is provided in today’s content below.
State’s Witness: Dr. Bradford Wankhede Langenfeld
The day started with the testimony of Dr. Bradford Wankhede Langenfeld, who was the emergency room physician who treated Floyd upon arrival at Hennepin County Medical Center, delivered by ambulance by paramedic Derek Smith and driver.
The testimony of Dr. Langenfeld has followed what has become a common pattern in this case. The (carefully prepared?) state’s witness is carefully questioned by the state to illicit headline worthy quotes, but it’s ultimately revealed on cross-examination that those quoted opinions were based on extremely limited information, lacked context of the full circumstances, and were gutted on cross-examination as a result.
This pattern actually raises a very interesting, and alarming, public policy danger, based on the media’s coverage of this case. From what I’ve seen of media coverage, which for me occurs only when the case recesses during the day and the talking heads pop up during the break, is that the media effectively only covers the direct questioning of the state’s witnesses. As a result, the public only hears the state’s version of the facts.
Well, just like if you only hear one side of any argument, it’s natural for the public to conclude that the state is KILLING IT!!!! in this trial, and that it’s SUPER OBVIOUS!!!! that Chauvin is a RACIST POLICE MURDERER!!!! You NAZI!!!!
There’s a reason that our legal system is adversarial in nature, however, and that’s for the obvious reason that there’s always two sides to every story. It’s only by listening to both sides, with their individual strengths and weaknesses, that one can have an overall informed opinion about what likely happened.
The jury in this trial will get both sides, and hopefully arrive at a verdict based on both sides.
The public, especially the public willing to riot, loot, and arson (arson must be a verb by now, right?), is however hearing only the narrative of guilt in this case. That means that anything other than a guilty verdict can only come as a complete shock to their sense of justice, and therefore a complete justification of any terror they wish to bring to bear to the public generally.
And who is responsible for this? Well, the rioters, looters, and arsonists are responsible for their own conduct, for certain. It’s kind of hard to not also assign blame to the media pouring out the gasoline across the public square and sparking the matches.
That’s pretty much all I have to say about that, at least today, but for those of you who partake of my Law of Self Defense analysis to make sure you get exposure to both sides of the story, thanks for that!
OK, back to Dr. Langenfeld, who was subject to direct examination by Prosecutor Blackwell.
As noted, Dr. Langenfeld was the emergency room physician who treated Floyd upon arrival at HCMC. We all know, of course, that Floyd died that day, and it seems likely that Langenfeld essentially considered Floyd dead on arrival. That’s not to suggest that the good doctor didn’t do everything possible to safe Floyd’s life, but when someone’s been in cardiac arrest for 30 or so minutes, well, the odds aren’t good. At no time under Dr. Langenfeld’s care was Floyd anything other than flatlined in terms of cardiac function.
In fact, Floyd had little meaningful cardiac activity when picked up by the paramedics on scene, little cardiac activity en route to HCMC, little cardiac activity upon arrival at HCMC, and little cardiac activity after treatment by Dr. Langenfeld. Ultimately it would be Dr. Langenfeld who would officially pronounce Floyd dead at HCMC, but the likely reality is that Floyd died some considerable time prior to the official “call.”
Prosecutor Blackwell made sure to emphasize the importance of initiating prompt care in cases of cardiac arrest, again hitting on the possible criminal liability claim of failure to provide timely medical care. One money quote from Dr. Langenfeld is that every minute CPR is delayed in a case of cardiac arrest means a 10-15% decrease in survival of the patient. Of course, the fact that Dr. Langenfeld possessed this factoid does not mean that it was possessed by Chauvin or the officers on scene, who are, after all, police, not doctors.
Much as was the case with the bystanders, Dr. Langenfeld found himself working with only partial information about what had occurred generally, and about his patient in particular. For example, Dr. Langenfeld had no information about Floyd’s apparent ingestion of a lethal dose of fentanyl/methamphetamine cocktail upon contact by police, and thus could not consider that likely cause of respiratory depression and cardiac arrest result in his differential analysis of Floyd.
Specifically, in his testimony Dr. Langenfeld told Blackwell on direct that he had no report that the patient had overdosed on a specific medication for which there might be a specific antidote. In fact, of course, Floyd had overdosed on the opioid fentanyl, for which there is a specific antidote. That information, however, did not reach Langenfeld.
Why didn’t Langenfeld know that Floyd had likely overdosed on drugs? Well, arguably because the paramedics didn’t tell him. Why didn’t the paramedics tell him? Because they themselves had probably not gotten that information from the officers on scene. Why didn’t the paramedics get the information from the officers on scene? Likely because the angry and threatening crowd compelled the paramedics to do a “load and scoot” to vacate the area of danger promptly, very much limiting the opportunity to exchange information with the officers.
Did the angry crowd actually kill Floyd, by interfering with his effective and efficient medical treatment?
Blackwell spent quite a bit of time in direct of Langenfeld getting the doctor to opine that the most likely cause of Floyd’s cardiac arrest was hypoxia, lack of oxygen in the tissues, induced by asphyxia, the inability of the respiratory system to deliver oxygen to the biological systems of the body.
None of that, of course, actually settles the key issue of what actually caused Floyd’s death. Even if asphyxia caused Floyd’s death, that doesn’t tell us that Chauvin killed Floyd via mechanical asphyxiation via compression of the neck. At least, not when there’s a perfectly viable, and evidence-supported alternative explanation for Floyd’s asphyxia—the three-fold fatal levels of fentanyl in Floyd’s system.
After all, as even Langenfeld himself confirmed today, the means by which fentanyl kills its victims is by suppression of respiration. That’s just another form of asphyxiation. And we have actual toxicology results to support the fentanyl levels. There’s literally zero evidence of how much pressure the 140-pound Chauvin might have been applying, or not, to the neck of the 230-pound Floyd.
A common theme running through Dr. Landenberg’s testimony is this: “Based on the information I had at the time …”. Indeed, that’s how he closed out his direct testimony. That is, of course, just another way of saying “I had only limited information about what was going on with this patient and what had led up to his present circumstances, and my expert opinion must therefore be considered profoundly constrained by that limited information.”
On cross-examination by (of course) Nelson, who explicitly asked if a fentanyl, methamphetamine, or a combination of the two could cause the hypoxia observed by Dr. Landenberg. The answer was, of course, “yes.”
Nelson also confirmed that the paramedics had never informed Landenberg about the possibility that Floyd’s condition was the result of a drug overdose, probably for the reasons already discussed (although I’m naturally speculating there).
Touching upon the state’s apparent line of argument that Floyd’s long history of opioid abuse meant he was somehow immune to fatal overdose, Nelson explicitly asked Landenberg if a history of abuse meant fentanyl can’t kill someone. The answer was, of course, “no.”
Nelson also managed to get into testimony the following question, exploring further alternative explanations for Floyd’s cardiac arrest: “Would someone with a >75% occlusion of a coronary artery be at substantial risk of cardiac arrest?”
The state objected to the question, and Judge Cahill called a sidebar (he prudently doesn’t allow arguing over objections in the hearing of the jury). When Nelson returned to question Landenberg he proceeded with a different line of questioning, suggesting that Cahill had sustained the state’s objection on the occluded coronary artery question.
Why might Cahill have agreed to not allow that question? I’m engaging in informed speculation here, but it might be because Landenberg was present as a personal knowledge witness, and not as an expert witness. That means he can testify about what he knows personally about the events in which he was involved, but he doesn’t have the privilege of an expert witness to opine about hypotheticals—if he does, he’s engaged in speculation, and knowledge witnesses aren’t allowed to speculate.
And that was pretty much it for cross of Langenfeld.
Re-direct by Blackwell was pretty weak, as has been the trend in my observation of this trial. He touched back on an earlier, weak, line of argument he’d made previously, that fentanyl makes people sleepy, and Floyd was patently not sleepy while he was violently resisting lawful arrest, and that must mean that Floyd could not have been on high levels of fentanyl.
I just don’t get the investment in this line of argument, frankly. We have the definitive tox results on fentanyl levels, and they were three-times fatal dose. We also have the chemical analysis results of the pills found both in the Mercedes SUV and the squad car, the latter covered in Floyd’s saliva and DNA, and they were a combination of fentanyl and methamphetamine—and the methamphetamine component is obviously a powerful stimulant that would explain away the lack of sleepiness.
And that was all she wrote for the testimony of Dr. Langenfeld. Here’s the direct, cross, and brief re-direct of the good doctor:
Langenfeld Direct Questioning:
State’s Witness: MPD Police Chief Medaria Arradondo
Next up was the state’s likely star witness, MPD Police Chief Medaria Arradondo.
The first thing it’s important to know about Chief Arradondo is something that’s true of every police chief everywhere—being a police chief is a profoundly different job and state of being that is being a patrol officer. And it’s not merely that the Chief is chief executive officer in a system in which the patrol officer is the factory worker, with profoundly different job responsibilities and perspectives on their day to day work life.
More important than all of that is that a police chief, and indeed for the most part all police officers of Lieutenant rank or higher, are effectively political officers working within a political environment—and none more so than the Chief. In the case of Chief Arradondo, for example, he was appointed to his position of Chief by the Mayor of Minneapolis, Mayor Frey. This is obviously a political appointment by a political official, who is effectively Chief Arradondo’s boss, and that makes the Chief’s job a political job, not a “cop” job.
So when we hear Chief Arradondo testify, that’s the filter through which we should understand his testimony—a political filter—and that we should interpret the weight and context of his testimony appropriately.
Having said all that, simply because we are aware of this political reality doesn’t mean that the jury will be equally aware, and it’s ultimately their perception of the Chief’s testimony that controls the verdict in this case.
Direct questioning of Chief Arrandondo was conducted by Prosecutor Schleiter, and Schleiter returned to his earlier emphasis on the “soft” values of the Minneapolis Police Department—compassion, dignity, guardianship, respect, be courteous, be polite, and so forth. Little or no emphasis was placed on the “protect” part of the “protect and serve” motto common to most police departments. It’s as if the assumption is that bad guys be bad only because the police first failed to treat them with courteous respect.
Arrandondo even testified that it’s the mission of the MPD “to treat all people with dignity and respect above all else.” Really? Above ALL else? Above preserving innocent life? We’re going to be careful to treat the domestic abuser with a gun to his spouse’s head with all the dignity and respect a non-violent law-abiding citizen would be entitled to?
By Schleiter’s telling, and with Arrandondo’s agreement, the job of the police department was mostly touchie-feelie, and any use of force was apparently an implicit indication that the officer involved had failed to do the right touchie-feelie stuff.
Schleiter spent considerable time walking Arrandondo through the MPD’s use-of-force policies, as well, several times having the Chief read aloud specific highlighted portions of that policy manual.
I’m sure it was a coincidence that the portion of every single use of force policy that made the policy conditional on circumstances—when safe to do so, as circumstances allow, when consistent with safety, when reasonably possible—was left unhighlighted, and thus unrecited by Chief Arrandondo. Instead, the selected portions were read aloud as definitive statements of MPD use-of-force policy.
This is, of course, wildly intellectually and morally dishonest on the part of the prosecution, but we have an adversarial legal system precisely to allow the defense to point out such machinations.
Schleiter also spent a lot of time talking about various MPD de-escalation policies. What most struck me as he worked through the list of explicit de-escalation options was that either the officers on scene with Floyd had already executed those steps, or the steps were likely not practical given the circumstances.
One option for de-escalation was that an officer could call for back-up. Well, Keung and Lane got back-up, in the form of Chauvin and Thau.
Another option was to use verbal commands to de-escalate. Well, Lane did that on his initial approach to Floyd sitting in the passenger seat of the SUV, and to which Floyd was non-compliant—SHOW ME YOUR HANDS! Nope—and then forcibly resistant.
Other options were the use of barriers—you mean like using a squad car as a barrier?—and containing the threat—you mean like physically restraining the threat?
It was also important, according to Arrandondo, for the officers to get as much information as they could before responding to the scene. The notion that the officers were limited to the information offered by dispatch, and dispatch in turn was limited to the information offered by the complainant, didn’t seem to be in anyone’s mind.
Somewhat laughably, Arrandondo actually suggested that officers reaching out to the community itself for help is a viable option. So in this case the officers should have sought assistance from, whom, Maurice Hall the purported drug dealer? MMA Williams, who was threatening the officers with physical violence? The off-duty firefighter gal who was calling the officers “b!tch”?
Schleiter also disingenuously referred to a previous argument he’d raised, which was that all this happened to Floyd simply because Floyd attempted to pass a bad $20 bill, an offense normally addressed by police with a mere summons (ticket) to appear in court. Surely that’s nothing to die over, right?
Unstated, of course, is that what might have started as a mere bad $20 call quickly escalated, and solely as a result of Floyd’s own conduct. When approached by officers in his vehicle, he repeatedly refused to show his hands, compelling them to draw their service pistols. As the apparent operator of a motor vehicle, there were additional safety grounds to remove him from the vehicle and temporarily detain him, which includes handcuffing—which technically is not even an arrest, if the detention is transitory.
Then the apparent drugs were discovered, Floyd began to violently resist the officers’ commands, then violently resisted lawful arrest, and bang, we were off to the races.
The officers didn’t do that. Floyd did that. I’m sure they would have been much happier to have simply written him a summons than to get into a physical fight with a 6’ 6” 230-pound man who was disinterested in being arrested that day.
Schleiter also spent quite a bit of time on the MPD “critical decision-making model.” I expect Schleiter believes this model generally favors the defense, and he’s decided that rather than attempt to avoid the model he’s going to go hard on offense.
The way he does this is to point out that the “critical decision-making model” obliges the police to continually consider the totality of the circumstances in arriving at their use-of-force (and other) decisions. And that’s true.
Schlieter is using this line of argument to suggest that the officers arresting Floyd failed to consider all the relevant factors in a timely manner, continued to use force when the circumstances no longer warranted the use of force, and therefore acted wrongfully.
Every time I hear Schleiter or anyone else step through the “critical decision-making model,” however, what most strikes me is the enormous breadth of factors the officer is supposed to consider in real-time, while fighting a non-compliant suspect an an angry, threatening crowd, while making an arrest on a busy street with plenty of traffic. I expect most of us would have difficulty juggling that many decision-making variables even when we weren’t physically fighting someone who outweighed us by 100 pounds.
Its all completely overwhelming, and strikes me that the most one could hope for is that an officer does a reasonable job in juggling most of the most important factors—but that there’s a lot of subjective judgement calls being made, and the slack cut for imperfect decision-making should be commensurate with the stressors of the circumstances.
At the end of the day, I expect this favors the defense more than it does the prosecution.
Then we got to what I’m sure will be the money headline of the day, and that was when Schleiter asked if Chauvin’s specific neck restraint was a trained MPD defensive tactics technique. Arrandondo unequivocally stated that it was not.
So is that all we need to know? Is Chauvin done?
Nope, because we have to carefully parse the specific words of the question.
The question asked if Chauvin’s specific neck restraint was a trained MPD defensive tactic, and Addarondo answered in the negative. But it turns out that, although he doesn’t offer this context in his answer, Addarondo’s negative response is based on a whole wealth of what he perceives as important circumstances.
Specifically, Addarondo was not testifying that the knee on the neck restraint was contrary to policy, per se—he can’t because neck restraints were explicitly permitted by MPD policy in effect at the time of Floyd’s arrest–but rather that it was contrary to policy for the length of time it was applied.
But that’s now just a judgment call. There’s nothing in the MPD policy about any specific length of duration of the neck restraint. Presumably the neck restraint is permitted as long as circumstances warrant. Which begs the question of what the circumstances warrant, which makes it all a judgment call.
It’s also important to recognize that just because a restraint might not be per policy if used as a defensive fighting technique doesn’t mean it couldn’t be justified for some other purpose—such as the trained full-body restraint of a suspect believed to be a victim of excited delirium.
Another complaint Addarondo had about Chauvin’s particular use of force was that the MPD policy in effect at the time allowed only light or moderate pressure to be applied. Based on Chauvin’s so-called “shimmy” body movements and Floyd’s pained expression, Addarondo inferred that Chauvin was applying greater than moderate pressure.
It should go without saying, of course, that there is no way Addarondo can know, by merely looking at a video, how much pressure Chauvin was actually applying—and remember, guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Further, we know that the medical examiner found zero indication of trauma to Floyd’s neck.
As for Floyd’s pained expression, we have the earlier testimony of his co-addict lady friend that the same pills had previously caused Floyd an overdose involving such tremendous intestinal and body pain that he’d begged her to take him to the hospital—and this was only about a year prior to Floyd’s death, and involving essentially identical pills as those he consumed on May 25, 2020. I’ve little doubt that Floyd was indeed in great pain, but there’s an evidence-based explanation for that pain other than Chauvin’s knee.
Of course, Addarondo never mentioned a word about Floyd’s overdose on the fentanyl/methamphetamine cocktail potentially contributing to his painful demise. After all, even if we presume Chauvin’s knee was out of policy, that doesn’t mean it killed Floyd, given the perfectly legitimate alternative explanations for Floyd’s cause of death.
Schleiter, like Blackwell before him, also touched on the argument that the officers failed to provide Floyd with timely care. Frankly, at this point I’d just as soon the state decided on how they believe the officers are criminally responsible for Floyd’s death, and drive it home, if they can. This constant switching of theories of the case is tiresome.
Cross-examination was, of course, conducted by Nelson.
Nelson emphasized how far removed Addarondo was from hands-on policing. Indeed, given the hedging in Addarondo’s responses it seemed to me likely that he’d only ever physically arrested a very small number of suspects before managing to get himself promoted off the street.
Nelson also got Addarondo to concede that his expertise on MPD use-of-force was at the policy level, and not at the tactical hands-on training level. He could speak to what MPD policy might allow or prohibit, but his knowledge of how the officers were actually trained or what they were obliged to do on the street in carrying out their duties was not a topic on which he could claim great knowledge.
And here we get to the point in cross that illustrates how dangerous it is to rely on the media’s general coverage of only the state’s narrative of guilt. You’ll recall that on direct Addarondo had explicitly stated that Chauvin’s knee technique appeared to him not a trained MPD technique, and Schleiter had Addarondo quote extensively from that policy—but only certain portions of that policy.
On cross-examination, Nelson had Addarondo read aloud the portions of policy that Schleiter had skipped, and it was all the portions that made the policies conditional. For example, that the force used by officers must be objectively reasonable in light of the facts and circumstances known to the officer at the time force is used.
Nelson also had Addarondo acknowledge that the purported objective legal standard of the US Supreme Court decision of Graham v. Connor, generally agreed upon as a core principle of the MPD policy manual, also required that this purportedly objective analysis consider all the subjective knowledge, training, experience, and circumstances known to the officer at the time. Further Graham v. Connor cautioned against judging the actions of the officers with 20:20 hindsight, noting that officers often had to make split-second decisions under dangerous circumstances. Perfection cannot be expected from mere human beings, merely reasonableness.
When Nelson asked Addarondo whether it was true that all MPD policies relevant to use-of-force, to EMS response, to medical treatment, whatever, all of them are by their explicit language situationally dependent, Addarondo was obliged to answer “Yes, I would agree with that.”
Several times during cross of Addarondo Nelson made use of a clever gambit I’ve seen him use once or twice on other state’s witnesses, especially those claiming some level of expertise on a relevant issue. When the witness realizes that Nelson was leading them to a conclusion with which they didn’t want to agree, they’d start hedging their testimony—well, I’m not sure, it depends, I don’t know if I would agree with that.
In response, Nelson would suggest that perhaps it would be better to defer that specific question to, say, a use-of-force expert. The witness would readily agree, because they saw this as an escape from the question they didn’t want to be compelled to answer.
What this gambit does rhetorically, however, is substantially undercut the witness’ apparent expertise on the subject being asked about. Hey, look, even they are saying they don’t really know that much about this subject, and we should instead listen to a real use-of-force expert (which, unstated, the defense will be glad to present to all you jurors in a few days).
Previously Nelson had gotten away with this little trick without objection by the state. Today, however, when Nelson pulled this trick several times with Addarondo, Schleiter was all over it, objecting each time Nelson made use of it, on various silly basis. Despite Schleiter’s best efforts, however, each time an objection was raised Nelson would look over at Judge Cahill with the most innocent “who me?” expression you’re ever likely to see on a lawyer’s face, and Cahill overruled the state’s objection.
Nelson also explored with Addarondo the reality that there was a distinction between use-of-force policy, on the one hand, and permissible use-of-force techniques, on the other. That is, all use of force had to exist within the boundaries of policy, but whereas there might be one “best practice” handcuff technique, for example, that was formally taught by MPD trainers, there might be two or three alternative techniques that while not formally taught also fell within the boundaries of MPD policy. To this proposition Addarondo agreed.
Nelson had, superficially, less success when he attempted to get Addarondo to concede that a police use of force often looked ugly and unpleasant to bystanders, who therefore might be likely to find objectionable even perfectly appropriate uses of force.
The state objected to this line of questioning as speculative, and Cahill upheld the objection, so Addarondo did not have to answer—but, of course, the jury heard the question proposed in the first place, and in many respects the question itself was more important than any answer.
Perhaps the most notable line of questioning of Addarondo by Nelson occurred when Nelson showed the Chief two videos of Chauvin’s knee near Floyd’s neck, but with the videos shot from different angles—one was the bystander video, the other a body worn camera video.
When asked if the bystander video made it appear that Chauvin’s knee was on Floyd’s neck, the Chief answered that it did appear to be located there.
When then asked if the body worn camera video made it appear that Chauvin’s knee was not on Floyd’s neck, but on Floyd’s shoulder blade, the Chief agreed that this also appeared to be the case.
The state would respond on re-direct by having Addarondo claim that he noticed this discrepancy only in the last few seconds before the paramedics swept up Floyd, and that prior to that point it appeared throughout that Chauvin’s knee was on Floyd’s neck—but I can’t help but wonder if this video angle disparity might not encourage some of the jurors to view the videos with more skepticism than might otherwise have been the case.
Importantly, Nelson also got Addarondo to explicitly agree that just because a suspect was handcuffed did not mean they were no longer a threat to officers, others, or themselves. Indeed, Addarondo explicitly agreed that a handcuffed suspect could still be a threat to officers by kicking, biting, spitting, or other means.
There was also a great deal of discussion about neck chokes (which means airway chokes in this context) versus neck restraints (which includes both constrictive neck constraints intended to cause loss of consciousness, permitted only under deadly force circumstances, on the one hand, and neck restraints intended to, well, restrain the suspect without inducing loss of consciousness, permitted when dealing with non-compliant suspects, on the other hand). With respect to the neck constraints, either arm or leg constriction was explicitly permitted by MPD use of force policy at the time (since changed to prohibit).
Frankly, however, I don’t really think it matters. Either Chauvin’s knee killed Floyd, or the drug overdose killed him. There’s no actual evidence that Chauvin’s knee applied sufficient pressure to kill, and there’s plenty of evidence supporting the hypothesis that it was the three-fold fentanyl overdose, the hypertensive and cardiac disease, and the poor judgment of Floyd to fight police that caused his death. Further, if Chauvin’s knee was not inflicting killing force, it was almost certainly permissible as a restraint intended to protect Floyd from himself, rather than as a use-of-force intended to neutralize an active threat against others.
There was a bit of re-direct after cross-examination—this is where Schleiter got Addarondo to state that he’d only seen Chauvin’s knee on Floyd’s shoulder blade in those last few seconds of the video—and then re-cross and a very short re-re-direct, but that’s about all she wrote for the testimony of Chief Addarondo in this case.
Here’s the direct, cross, re-direct, re-cross, and re-re-direct of Addarondo, for your viewing pleasure:
Addarondo Direct Questioning:
State’s Witness: Commander MPD Training Katie Blackwell
Next up, and the final witness of the day, was Katie Blackwell, whose current job is the MPD Inspector for the 5th Precinct. More relevant to this case, however, during the time around May 25, 2020, Inspector Blackwell was the Commander of the MPD Training division, including the academy and all annual and in-service training.
Prosecutor Schleiter conducted the direct questioning of Blackwell.
Much of Inspector Blackwell’s testimony was foundational in nature, documenting that Chauvin had taken various use-of-force, de-escalation, and other relevant trainings in the years immediately prior to May 25, 2020. This was boring, but technically necessary.
At one point Schleiter did get Blackwell to testify that a photograph shown to her of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd didn’t look like anything taught as MPD training. Again, however, one must take care to parse the specific words of the question and answer. Just because something is not taught as a trained technique does not mean it violates MPD policy. Further, just because something violated MPD policy does not mean it killed Floyd.
Schleiter also spent time with Blackwell exploring the issue of positional asphyxia. I feel obliged to note that there is growing evidence fromm authoritative sources that the whole notion of positional asphyxia is largely nonsense—my own background on this is largely from my training from the Force Science Institute, which as published numerous papers on this topic.
In any case, even if one entirely buys into the notion of positional asphyxia, it is dangerous only in a theoretical way—it’s not any kind of guaranteed death sentence, it has the potential to lead to a bad outcome.
In contrast, a three-fold fatal overdose of fentanyl is guaranteed to result in asphyxia (unless treated with Narcan or similar) because of its profound effect on suppressing respiration. And we know for a certainty what Floyd’s levels of fentanyl were, from the tox results.
Again, the state has to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Were there no fatal levels of drugs in Floyd’s system, positional asphyxia might be a reasonable inference of cause of death based on the facts of this case. In the context of the three-fold fatal levels of fentanyl, however, I don’t see how positional asphyxia gets one to guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
And, again, it’s yet another different angle being played by the prosecution on cause of death. Was it asphyxia induced by compression of the neck and body? Was it positional asphyxia? Was it failure to provide timely medical care? Was it a combination of all three? By what mechanism? And all in the context of the fentanyl overdose, for which only Floyd can accept responsibility.
A good indication of the relative unimportance of the Blackwell testimony to the defense is that Nelson spent only about two minutes on cross examination. During that time he seemed to be looking to cast doubt on exactly what training Chauvin actually received, regardless of what the formal documentation stated, but it never seemed to go anywhere, and he dropped that line of questioning, and his cross of Blackwell, promptly.
Here’s the direct and very short cross-examination of Blackwell:
Blackwell Direct Questioning:
Until next time, stay safe!
Attorney Andrew F. Branca
Law of Self Defense LLC
Attorney Andrew F. Branca’s legal practice has specialized exclusively in use-of-force law for thirty years. Andrew provides use-of-force legal consultancy services to attorneys across the country, as well as near-daily use-of-force law insight, expertise, and education to lawyers and non-lawyers alike in the form of blog posts, video, and podcasts, through the Law of Self Defense Membership service. If this kind of content is of interest to you, try out our two-week Membership trial for a mere 99 cents, with a 200% no-question- asked money-back guarantee, here: Law of Self Defense Membership Trial.
[Featured image is a screen capture from video of today’s court proceedings in MN v. Chauvin.]