The training coordinator for the Minneapolis Police Department's crisis intervention program testified Tuesday in Derek Chauvin's criminal trial about the importance of recognizing when someone is in crisis and de-escalating the situation.
"Policy requires that when it's safe and feasible, we should de-escalate," said Sgt. Ker Yang, who has been with the department for 24 years.
Officers are trained in a critical decision-making model to address people in crisis that calls on them to continually assess and reassess what is needed in the situation, he said. Chauvin took a 40-hour course on crisis intervention training in 2016 in which actors portrayed people in crisis and officers had to de-escalate the situation, Yang testified.
In cross-examination, Yang said that the crisis intervention model can potentially apply to the suspect as well as nearby observers. The training advises officers to appear confident, stay calm, maintain space, speak slowly and softly and avoid staring or eye contact, he said.
The testimony comes as a series of police supervisors and high-level officials have taken the stand to say that Chauvin violated department policies while restraining George Floyd on May 25, 2020. Foremost among them was Chief Medaria Arradondo, who on Monday thoroughly rejected Chauvin's decision to kneel on the neck of Floyd -- who was handcuffed and in a prone position -- for over 9 minutes.
"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," Arradondo said.
In particular, he said the kneeling violated policies around de-escalation, reasonable use of force and the requirement to render aid.
"That action is not de-escalation, and when we talk about the framework of our sanctity of life and when we talk about the principles and values we have, that action goes contrary to what we're talking about," Arradondo said.
Minneapolis use-of-force policy at the time allowed for neck restraints in certain circumstances, but their training was to use one-arm or two-arm restraints, according to police Inspector Katie Blackwell, who was in charge of the department's training program last year.
"I don't know what kind of improvised position this is," she testified of Chauvin's kneeling. "That's not what we train."
Last week, Chauvin's direct supervisor said his use of force should have ended earlier, and the department's top homicide detective testified that kneeling on Floyd's neck after he had been handcuffed was "totally unnecessary."
Combined, their testimony cuts at the heart of the defense's argument that Chauvin "did exactly what he had been trained to do" when he restrained Floyd last May. Further testimony from police experts are expected on Tuesday as prosecutors seek to show he used excessive and unreasonable force on Floyd.
Chauvin, 45, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder, third-degree murder and third-degree manslaughter. Defense attorney Eric Nelson has not indicated whether Chauvin will testify in his own defense.
Testimony in the trial began last Monday and is expected to last about a month.
The focus on police policy is a shift from the first week of the trial, which centered on what happened to Floyd on his last day. The testimony featured video from a bevy of cellphones, surveillance cameras and police body cameras; testimony from distressed bystanders; descriptions from paramedics and police supervisors who responded to the scene; and Chauvin's own statements about what happened.
Passenger in Floyd's vehicle plans to plead Fifth
Morries Hall, who was in the car with Floyd when police first confronted them last May, appeared in court via Zoom on Tuesday prior to the jury arriving to discuss his intention to plead the Fifth if he is called to testify in the trial.
Both the prosecution and defense have called Hall as a witness. Nelson said he planned to ask Hall about his interactions with Floyd that day, their suspected use of a counterfeit bill, whether he gave Floyd drugs and his statements to police about Floyd's behavior in the vehicle.
Hall's attorney, Adrienne Cousins, argued that he planned to use the Fifth Amendment's right against self-incrimination, and she asked Judge Peter Cahill to quash his subpoena to testify. Cousins said she was concerned Hall's testimony could be used in a drug or third-degree murder charge against him.
"This leaves Mr. Hall potentially incriminating himself into a future prosecution for third-degree murder," Cousins told Cahill, noting the murder statute allows for prosecution of someone who provided drugs leading to an overdose.
Judge Cahill said that any questions about potential wrongdoing would not be allowed, yet he said he would be open to allowing specific questions about Floyd's behavior in the vehicle that day. He asked Nelson to draft specific questions on that point, which will be passed to Hall and his attorneys and discussed in a future hearing.
Hall's testimony could be key for the defense, who has argued that Floyd's cause of death was a mix of drug use and preexisting health issues.
Hall is currently in custody on unrelated charges of domestic abuse, domestic assault by strangulation and the violation of a protective order.