The 'blue wall of silence' is crumbling in the Derek Chauvin trial. Why this case could be a tipping point.
During his lengthy testimony on Monday, the Minneapolis Police Chief condemned the actions of Derek Chauvin, the former officer charged with the murder of George Floyd's death, without words.
"To continue applying this level of force to a person who is handcuffed behind their back, shape or form is in no way political," said Chief Medaria Arradondo. "It's not part of our education and it is certainly not part of our ethics or our values."
Arradondo's testimony should not have been surprising. In his opening address, District Attorney Jerry Blackwell told the jury that Arradondo would not hold back his assessment that Chauvin used "excessive force" when he kneeled on Floyd's neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds last May.
Yet Arradondo's testimony was rare. It was noteworthy that he was accompanied by a number of other police officers.
Among the people who came to Arradondo as witnesses for the prosecutor's office were Lt. Richard Zimmerman, the longest serving officer in the Minneapolis Police Department, and Inspector Katie Blackwell, who was the training department commander at the time of Floyd's death.
Sgt. David Pleoger, Chauvin's former supervisor, also admonished his actions. Pleoger testified last week that, among other things, when Floyd "stopped resisting the officers, he could have ended their reluctance" and that Chauvin initially failed to reveal that he had kneeled on Floyd's neck.
Arradondo, Zimmerman, Pleoger and Blackwell did not protect Chauvin behind the so-called blue wall of silence for various reasons, legal experts say. The "blue wall of silence" describes an unofficial oath taken by police officers not to report misconduct, including crimes, of a colleague.
Paul Butler, a law professor at Georgetown University Law Center, said the blue wall means "that cops sometimes have a narrow rank and are right or wrong blue."
Many times when police officers are accused of killing someone, it's because they shot the person, said Butler, an MSNBC legal analyst who also works as a columnist for the Washington Post.
"To shoot someone, you have to make a split-second decision," he said.
In these cases, police officers may be reluctant to testify against a colleague, in part because they refuse to be questioned by people who are ignorant of the dangers of their profession, Butler said in an interview Wednesday.
However, Chauvin's reluctance towards Floyd has been measured, Butler said.
"He had 9 minutes and 29 seconds to think about his actions," he said.
The international protests against racism and police brutality sparked by Floyd's death could also be a reason the blue wall of silence collapsed, Butler said.
"I think the officers who testify want to model what good cops, unlike chauvin, look like to both the jury and the public," he said. "I was impressed by how many officers are willing to report on how Chauvin has broken both police procedures and criminal law."
Zimmerman made a number of damned statements about Chauvin's actions on Friday.
"Pulling him face down on the floor and kneeling down on his neck for so long is just inappropriate," said Zimmerman, who joined the department in 1985 and heads its homicide squad.
Zimmerman responded to the scene after Floyd was taken away in an ambulance. He testified that what Chauvin did was "completely unnecessary". He said he saw "no reason why the officers felt they were in danger - if they felt that way - and that is what they had to feel in order to use this type of violence."
His testimony was compelling, Butler said, because police witnesses are often unwilling to draw such conclusions, either because they don't want to be part of an officer’s conviction, or because they want the jury to determine whether the violence was excessive.
This was not the case with some of Chauvin's former colleagues.
Arradondo, the city's first black police chief, also testified in the trial of Mohamed Noor, a former police officer charged with murder in the fatal shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, who called police to report what she was sexual stopped attacking a woman in an alley behind her home. Noor was convicted of third degree murder.
DeLacy Davis, who retired as a sergeant with the East Orange Police Department in New Jersey in 2006, said it was rare for a police chief to testify in a criminal case against an officer.
Davis, an expert on violence and community police, believes there are three reasons Arradondo testified against Chauvin. The first was that Chauvin's actions were "egregious".
Davis said this can be seen from how quickly Arradondo released the four officers involved in Floyd's arrest. They were released on May 26th, the day after Floyd's death. According to Davis, police chiefs will typically wait weeks or months to discipline officers for misconduct - if at all - and in most cases only after they have been exposed to public pressure.
The second reason he believes Arradondo testified was to boost morale.
"To support the men and women still working in Minneapolis who somehow need to pick up their morals and re-center their practice as professional law enforcement officers, he had to send a very clear message," Davis said. "And I think he did that."
Davis said Arradondo did not "condemn all of the police work - he condemned the actions of the four officers involved". Davis cited Arradondo's statement in June that Floyd's death was a "murder" caused by one of the responding officers, and that the three "others couldn't prevent it".
Davis, who is black, believes the breed also influenced Arradondo's decision to testify.
"As a colored police chief, he's made it clear that he's either unwilling or unable to get his melanin off the reality of the law enforcement agency's experience of black and brown people in this country," said Davis. "Because I have had experience with black officers myself, they will follow the corporate line."
Davis said he believed Minneapolis police officers condemned Chauvin's actions because his actions were "unjustifiable".
"You couldn't defend it without shaming your entire agency," he said.
Floyd, who was black, had been accused of using a fake $ 20 bill to buy cigarettes in a supermarket. He was recorded on a widely-seen video of handcuffed onlookers lying face down on the sidewalk telling officers he could not breathe.
Katie Blackwell, the inspector who took position on Monday, said she has known Chauvin for about 20 years and that he has received annual training in defensive tactics and violence. She said he was trained to use an arm or two - not his knee - in a neck brace.
After prosecutors showed her a photo of Chauvin with his knee on Floyd's neck, she said, "I don't know what an impromptu position that is."
Chauvin's attorney Eric Nelson has argued that Floyd's use of illegal drugs and his underlying health conditions caused his death, rather than Chauvin's kneeling on him as prosecutors have said.
The County Medical Examiner's office classified Floyd's death as murder - a death caused by someone else. The report said Floyd died of "cardiopulmonary arrest, making law enforcement, restraint and neck compression difficult". In "Other Significant Conditions", Floyd had hypertensive heart disease and listed fentanyl poisoning and recent methamphetamine use. These factors were not listed under cause of death.
Davis said he believed Floyd's death was the result of a split-second decision.
"I think Derek Chauvin decided in a split second that George Floyd was not worthy of any of the basic humanities he was advocating," he said. "I hope this is a turning point in law enforcement where we are now seeing officers of many races speaking up."
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