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'We Will Be Judged Forever' On Use Of Force, Says Police Chief In Chauvin Trial

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Today in Minneapolis, the chief of police testified in the criminal trial of an officer he fired. That former officer is Derek Chauvin, who pressed his knee into the neck of George Floyd last May. Chauvin is charged with murder and manslaughter. The prosecution called Chief Medaria Arradondo to the stand. He is the fourth police officer prosecutors have called so far. NPR's Cheryl Corley is in Minneapolis.

Hi, Cheryl.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Chief Arradondo has been outspoken about this case from the beginning. He fired Chauvin and three other officers the day after the death of George Floyd, and he called the encounter murder. So what did he say in court today?

CORLEY: Well, the chief said that he viewed several videos of George Floyd's arrest. And when he initially saw the street surveillance video, that video was from a distance. And he saw the officers' backs and only saw George Floyd when he was lifted into the ambulance, so he didn't think that there was a problem. And Arradondo says it wasn't until he saw the bystander video and video from the body-worn cameras that the officers wore that he thought differently. And he said that once George Floyd offered no resistance, that he should not have been restrained.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MEDARIA ARRADONDO: To continue to apply that level of force to a person proned out, handcuffed behind their back - that in no way, shape or form is anything that is by policy. It is not part of our training, and it is certainly not part of our ethics or our values.

CORLEY: And Arradondo said that the offense George Floyd was accused of - using a counterfeit bill - probably wasn't even an offense that would land him in jail because it wasn't a violent offense. And there have been decisions made about limiting jail population, like many court systems have actually done during COVID. And in his early testimony, the chief talked about the police department's training policies, like when it's reasonable for a police officer to engage in use of force. He talked with prosecutor Steve Schleicher, who had him read from the police department's policy manual about de-escalation tactics.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STEVE SCHLEICHER: Is it an either/or alternative? Is it, like, you either de-escalate or use force? And once you start using force, you just give up on de-escalation?

ARRADONDO: The goal is to resolve the situation as safely as possible, so you want to always have de-escalation layered into those actions of using force.

SHAPIRO: You know, it's so unusual for the chief of police to testify against an employee, even a former one. So how did the defense handle the chief's appearance?

CORLEY: Well, defense attorney Eric Nelson - he did exactly what prosecutors did at the beginning. He had the chief react to passages in the department's policy manual.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ERIC NELSON: And you would agree ultimately that all of the Minneapolis Police Department policies relevant to the use of force, emergency medical response, emergency medical treatment - all of these policies are, by their very language, are situationally dependent, right? They all say if the circumstances allow, if time permits, if it's safe. They have a qualifier to them. Agree?

ARRADONDO: Yes, I would agree with that.

CORLEY: And so Nelson's argument is that Derek Chauvin was involved in a changing situation and was just following protocol.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Cheryl Corley in Minneapolis.

Thank you very much.

CORLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.