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Kandiyohi County Sheriff's Office SWAT members aid in the response to civil unrest in Twin Cities

The Kandiyohi County Sheriff's Office was among the law enforcement agencies statewide that responded to a call for assistance in the Twin Cities over the weekend amid the civil unrest stemming from the death of George Floyd, 46, after he was restrained for nearly nine minutes by a Minneapolis Police Department officer. A video of the encounter has drawn widespread condemnation, including from Kandiyohi County Sheriff Eric Holien, a certified instructor in the use of force.

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A SWAT vehicle leaves the entrance ramp of Interstate 35W after law enforcement tear gas protesters Sunday, May 31, in Minneapolis. This occurred after a tanker truck plowed toward a group of protesters on the I-35W bridge near downtown. Erica Dischino / Forum News Service
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MINNEAPOLIS — The Kandiyohi County Sheriff’s Office has sent a total of 10 SWAT officers to the metro region to assist in the response to the ongoing protests and related public safety concerns surrounding the May 25 death of George Floyd, 46, after he was restrained for nearly nine minutes by a Minneapolis Police Department officer.

Kandiyohi County Sheriff Eric Holien said a request for assistance was put out by several sheriff's offices in the metro area since Friday.

The Kandiyohi County SWAT members, five sent on Saturday and five sent on Sunday, are attached to a metro sheriff's office for building and asset protection.

According to Holien, his office has been in touch with multiple law enforcement agencies in the region regarding inter-agency assistance and has offered support for agencies in St. Cloud and Dakota County.

Floyd's death has been ruled a homicide, and now former Minneapolis Police Department Officer Derek Chauvin, 44, late last week was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

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The protests and following civil unrest stem from a graphic video showing Chauvin holding his knee on Floyd’s neck. The criminal complaint against Chauvin says the fired officer restrained Floyd in this way for nearly nine minutes.

Chauvin's actions shown in the video have received wide condemnation from law enforcement around the country.

Holien, a certified instructor in the use of force who holds multiple black belts in jujitsu and judo, said there are issues with Chauvin’s actions in the video.

“Primarily the issue at hand here (is) the high propensity to cause damage to the cervical or neck area,” Holien wrote via email. “Secondly, the means of application and duration has a potential to be problematic (and) here’s why … there is an inherent danger of any person over the age of 40 of a potential stroke occurring if plaque was to break away from the venous walls after application of a blood choke on a person.”

Holien said the video appears to show an “extremely long duration and application” of the technique, which heightened the chances of complications.

“Just as worrisome is the position of Mr. Floyd. When teaching arresting procedures, we teach as soon as control is established and safe to do so, (officers should) position (the) person in custody onto their side or seated position that allows for full breaths,” Holien wrote. “If a person is face down (and) handcuffed behind the back, the chances of positional asphyxiation increases exponentially.” He added that the video does not show other actions taken by officers on Floyd’s lower torso.

“The technique used of the knee and shin being compressed on what appears to be the side of the neck is not an approved technique," Holien wrote, adding that it has never been taught at the Kandiyohi County Sheriff’s Office or Willmar Police Department.

Patience for work of criminal justice system

Holien said that patience is important during this time and that the current pandemic created a powder keg.

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“All it needed was a spark and it got the spark. In times like this, a sense of strong leadership is necessary,” Holien wrote. “Yes we can have empathy and empathize with Mr. Floyd's family and the community that feels there is injustices. At the base of this, we must not make rash comments, (must) encourage patience and allow the criminal justice system work as it is designed to do.”

The other three officers at the scene — Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J Alexander Kueng — have not been arrested and charged, one of the demands from protesters, though all were fired following the incident.

When it was announced Sunday that Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison would be joining the prosecution, he would not comment about the charges filed against Chauvin by Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman or the possibilty of charges against the other three.

"We are going to bring to bear all the resources necessary to achieve justice in this case. And that means we won't leave any resources on the sideline," Ellison said.

Holien said there are multiple factors that will play into criminal charges, including the results of the autopsy.

“The investigation must be thorough. The County Attorney gets one shot to get it right and that cannot be rushed. Words are important, feelings are important,” Holien wrote. “As a community leader, emotions must be kept in check as it could have irreversible negative effects.”

The Hennepin County Medical Examiner's Office said in a preliminary report that their autopsy showed Floyd died due to a combination of asphyxia and underlying medical conditions.

In a news release issued June 1 , the Hennepin County Medical Examiner reports the manner of death as homicide and said Floyd experienced a cardiopulmonary arrest while being restrained by a law enforcement officer.

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An independent autopsy conducted at the behest of Floyd's family said his death was the result of mechanical asphyxiation and also concluded it was a homicide.

Nationwide protests and concerns about response

The civil unrest last week led to the destruction of hundreds of businesses in the Twin Cities area along with multiple confrontations between police, protesters and the press and has ignited protests and riots across the country.

The Minnesota National Guard deployed thousands of soldiers and multiple law enforcement agencies have arrived to assist police in the region to help re-establish control.

There have been multiple reports and videos of law enforcement engaging with protesters and the media that have drawn criticism regarding First Amendment protections, including the specific targeting of journalists and non-violent protesters with less-than-lethal rounds and tear gas.

Holien wrote that the team sent to the metro area has received specific training regarding First Amendment rights and policies.

"Our staff sent were and are nothing but professionals. We understand and respect the rights of people to peaceably assemble," Holien wrote. "There is a line between lawful, constitutionally protected actions and speech, civil disobedience and riot. The training and policies deputies receive covers the issuing, carrying, and use of control devices and considerations for First Amendment assemblies."

Mark Wasson has been a public safety reporter with Post Bulletin since May 2022. Previously, he worked as a general assignment reporter in the southwest metro and as a public safety reporter in Willmar, Minn. Readers can reach Mark at mwasson@postbulletin.com.
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