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Police inspector testifies about training protocol in civil rights trial of ex-officers in Floyd case

Katie Blackwell is the first Minneapolis police officer to testify in the federal civil rights trial of former officers Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane

Trial of three Minneapolis ex-police officers charged with violating George Floyd's civil rights
In this courtroom sketch, three former Minneapolis officers, Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane, sit with their lawyers during their trial in St. Paul on Monday, Jan. 24, as they are charged with violating George Floyd's civil rights during his 2020 arrest in Minneapolis.
Cedric Hohnstadt via Reuters
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MINNEAPOLIS — A Minneapolis police inspector and longtime academy instructor testified Thursday on the duty for officers to intervene when they see a colleague using unnecessary force or putting a suspect in danger.

Inspector Katie Blackwell said the department put an official policy in place in 2016, with a "medical component" that mandates officers prioritize "sanctity of life" in all circumstances.

"If you're taking somebody into custody, whether for lifesaving purposes or for violating the law," it's up to the officers to do "everything we can to protect that person," said Blackwell, formerly the training commander for the whole department.

"Many officers have done it before this policy even became a policy," she said of the duty to intervene.

Blackwell is the first Minneapolis police officer to testify in the federal civil rights trial of former officers Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane, who stand accused of ignoring their duty to provide aid while Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes as he pleaded for his life before falling unconscious and dying.

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"In the academy, we're trying to create leaders – not followers," said Blackwell, who is now the inspector for the department's 5th Precinct.

Under questioning from Assistant U.S. Attorney LeeAnn Bell, Blackwell spent the morning laying out the extensive training officers must go through, beyond what the state's Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Board requires, before being sworn in at the Minneapolis Police Department.

"It's a big job that you need to know a lot about," Blackwell said.

Training is expected to be a key component for both the prosecution and the defense. In his opening statements, Kueng's defense attorney, Thomas Plunkett, said the department failed to adequately train his client and that "academy training on 'intervention' is little more than a word on a PowerPoint."

090321.N.MPR.FLOYDTRIAL2.jpg
From left, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao.
Courtesy photos / Hennepin County Sheriff's Office

In her testimony, Blackwell discussed the use of force continuum, which begins with police presence, and can escalate all the way to deadly force. Calls can be dynamic, she said.

"You can go right up to use of force quickly," she said, but an officer must also constantly adjust.

"We teach our officers to use the lowest level of force necessary to detain somebody," she said. "Once we gain compliance, then the force stops."

Blackwell's taking the stand falls in a pattern that so far repeats testimony in last year's state trial for Chauvin, who was convicted of murder in April.

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Her testimony follows two days of eyewitness accounts from the witness stand, including Minneapolis firefighter Genevieve Hansen, who was not on duty and out for a walk on May 25, 2020, when she heard a woman shout: "They're killing him!" and rushed toward the red-and-blue flashing lights, beyond the Speedway station, and saw three police officers pinning a handcuffed and unconscious man face down.

george floyd
George Floyd. Special to The Forum.

"I was concerned that he needed help," Hansen told the federal courtroom Wednesday. "All those things were red flags for me, and I could see how much pressure Chauvin was putting on his neck."

©2022 StarTribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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