Minneapolis Police Chief and Union President Agree: Chauvin Rightfully Fired for Killing George Floyd 

On June 22 and 23, the Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo and the President of the Police union, Bob Kroll, agreed that the firing of Police Officer Derek Chauvin over the killing of George Floyd was justified.

DerikPolice Chief’s Statement[1]

“In Spring of 2013, the City settled the David Smith lawsuit, agreeing to pay the estate of David Smith $1.1 million and his attorneys $1.975 million. In addition to this payment, the City agreed “to provide additional training to its sworn police officers regarding positional asphyxia in the Minneapolis Police Department’s 2014 training cycle.”

“Today, in response to data requests, the City is releasing data on the training after the Smith settlement.”[2]

“I can confirm that MPD fulfilled the training requirement. 2014 in-service training, which was given to all officers, covered getting an arrestee from a prone position into a recovery position (seated or on the arrestee’s side) where the maximal restraint technique or a neck restraint has been used. The reason for getting an arrestee into a recovery position is to prevent positional asphyxiation, and the training covered situations where positional asphyxiation is of primKARE-11ary concern. This training therefore met the settlement agreement’s requirement of “additional training . . . regarding positional asphyxiation.” I can confirm that Chauvin and Thoa had this training.” (Emphasis added.)

“Additionally, MPD went beyond the requirements of the settlement and enacted policy changes in June 2014. The policy changes explicitly require moving an arrestee from a prone position to a recovery position when the maximal restraint technique is used and require continuous monitoring of an arrestee’s condition.”

“It is important to note that getting an arrestee into a position where he or she can breathe is something that is hammered into all of our officers, and this began even before the Smith settlement’s required 2014 training. Even though the Smith settlement did not require training until 2014, we provided training in 2012 and 2013, and continuing thereafter.”

“In 2012, the department issued an announcement to all sworn officers and posted a video on positional asphyxiation. The announcement stated that the video ‘serves as a reminder that whenever a subject is restrained, there is a direct correlation between their ability to breathe and the position their body is in.’ The announcement required that the video be shown at all roll calls.”

“Additionally, in 2013 in-service MPD trained on the dangers of in-custody deaths. This training covered ‘compressional asphyxia’ as a cause of in-custody deaths.”

“MPD continues to stress training on the risks of in-custody deaths and the importance of putting restrained arrestees into the recovery position as soon as possible. There is simply no way that any competent officer in MPD would be unaware of the need to get an arrestee into a recovery position so that he or she can breathe freely.”

Mr. George Floyd’s tragic death was not due to a lack of training—the training was there. Chauvin knew what he was doing. I agree with Attorney General Ellison: what happened to Mr. Floyd was murder. Chauvin had his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for over seven minutes, and for those last minutes he knew that Floyd was non-responsive. Mr. Floyd shouted out that he couldn’t breathe; bystanders shouted out that Mr. Floyd had stopped talking; then they shouted out that Mr. Floyd had become nonresponsive; and finally they shouted out that Mr. Floyd was dying. Further, one of the officers on the scene told Chauvin that Mr. Floyd should be put into a recovery position and he eventually told Chauvin that he could not find Mr. Floyd’s pulse. The officers knew what was happening—one intentionally caused it and the others failed to prevent it. This was murder—it wasn’t a lack of training. This is why I took swift action regarding the involved officers’ employment with MPD.” (Emphasis added.)

Kroll’s Statement[3]

In a June 23 interview on a  local television station, KARE-11, Kroll said Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s placing his knee near Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes “was sickening. It’s something that should never have occurred. No officer can condone that. Ourselves included.” The reporter then asked, “And is what Officer Chauvin did right?” Kroll responded, “Again, no. In my mind, no. I don’t think any officer would say that it’s right. Absolutely not.” Moreover, “We’ve got a pretty good picture of what Chauvin did. It’s easy to form judgment there and terminate, which we were able to make a quick decision that yes, we’re not going to represent [him with respect to the termination of] his employment.”

Kroll also said he would not be resigning as president of the union after consulting with union members and Chief Arradondo, all of whom suggested that Kroll stay in his position. Kroll added, “The chief and I have always had a very good working relationship. Better than any of his (predecessors). He’s an honest, truly nice man. I consider him a friend… I’ve socialized with him more than any other chief.”

Police Union Officials’ Statements[4]

Earlier that same day (June 23)  Kroll was interviewed by Gayle King on “CBS This Morning.” He said the lengthy “social-media” video of the Floyd killing that was taken by a 17-year-old bystander “does look and sound horrible,” but that he needs to see the officers’ body-worn camera footage, which the union is entitled to under its contract with the Department, before making a judgment on the criminal charges against the four officers. “We will be on the right side of history.”

Kroll also said that members of his union are being unfairly “scapegoated by political leaders in our city and our state, and they have shifted their incompetent leadership, failed leadership onto us and our membership, and it is simply unjust.”

Also interviewed by Gayle King were three other union officers. Its Vice President Sherral Schmidt, who is Kroll’s designated successor, said, “I’m not one that likes to Monday morning quarterback things. If I was there, I probably would have put him on his side in a recovery position once he went unconscious.”

Rich Walker, an African-American member of the union board, added, “”The narrative that is being pushed in the media is that white police officers are out on these streets just to kill black men, and this is absolutely farthest from the truth. Police officers are not out here just randomly hunting black people to kill them. That’s just terrible.”

In another segment on “CBS This Morning,” Brian Peters, the Executive Director of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association (MPPOA), which is paying for the legal defense of the four officers in the Floyd case, said Chauvin’s action during the Floyd arrest “betrayed the badge. And there’s no excuse for it.”

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[1] Minneapolis Police Dep’t, Statement of Chief Medaria Arradondo (June 22, 2020); Bjorhus, Police chief: George Floyd’s death was a ‘murder,’ not about lack of training, StarTribune (June 23, 2020).

[2] On September 9,  2010, David Smith, who was mentally ill, was acting bizarrely at the downtown Minneapolis YMCA. Two Minneapolis policeman, responding to a 911 call, approached Smith and after he “grew fierce” stunned him with a Taser and forced him to the floor. The officers then held him face down while one placed a knee in his back and held him down for about four minutes, which made it impossible for Smith to breathe. After he had stopped breathing, one of the officers tried CPR before the paramedics arrived. Smith died in hospital about a week later. The Smith family subsequently filed a lawsuit for damages that resulted in a $3.075 million settlement. After the recent killing of George Floyd, the Smith family submitted a data practices act request to the Police Department for information on whether it had fulfilled its commitment to require all officers to obtain the previously mentioned training. (Furst, May 25: Minneapolis pays $3 million in police misconduct case, StarTribune (June 1, 2013); Bjorhus & Sawyer, Family of man who suffocated in police custody in 2010 asks whether police received training promised in settlement, StarTribune (June 10, 2020)..)

[3] Walsh, Minneapolis police union head says Chauvin firing is justified but rank and file officers being scapegoated, StarTribune (June 24, 2020); Thiede & Raguse, Police union president Bob Kroll says he will not resign, kare-11.com (June 23, 2020) (includes video of interview).

[4] Walsh, Kroll: Floyd video did ‘look and sound horrible,’ but says union being scapegoated by ‘failed’ leaders, StarTribune (June 23, 2020) (includes the video of the CBS interview).

 

Former Minneapolis Mayor Discusses Police Reform Problems

R.T. Rybak, former Mayor of Minneapolis (2002-2013) believes that police unions and their leaders are major reasons why past efforts at reforming policing in Minneapolis and elsewhere in this country have had problems and why current reform efforts are facing difficulties.[1]

He says this as he struggles with competing police images. On the one hand, Rybak has seen “police officers perform extraordinary acts of courage at explosive crime scenes, protect women from domestic abuse, build trusted relationships with immigrants who are terrified the government will take their children, and so much more.” On the other hand, he also has seen “toxic us-versus-them police cultures—in which an officer who might individually make the right call becomes silently complicit when a fellow officer goes rogue.This culture enabled three officers in my city to stand by while [George] Floyd was killed.” [2]

The latter culture is understandable when “officers see the worst things happening in their city on any given shift. After being in danger every night, officers gradually stop seeing the humanity in the people and neighborhoods they patrol. Instead, they go back to the precinct with the only people who can really understand what they are going through. People with exceptionally tough jobs serving complex humans naturally vent when they are together.”

“But the tribalism that can build up within police departments is far more consequential. Us versus them—meaning police versus criminals—slowly curdles into police versus the people: Who would live in these crime-infested neighborhoods where we risk our lives? Waiting to stoke that resentment are police-union leaders such as [Bob] Kroll [the President of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis], who defend even the more aggressive acts of officers and, even in a case as extreme as [George] Floyd’s death, prevent any self-examination by blaming the victim.”

“As matters stand, the public—through its elected representatives—has also ceded far too much power to the police unions that enable bad behavior. Floyd’s death underscores that police work should be subject to oversight, and officers who violate policy and misuse their power should be subject to discipline. But the unions’ power is most notable in contracts that limit the accountability that, as the community can now see, is so desperately needed. The lack of accountability seems incongruous because the mayors and city councils that negotiate with police unions include some of the country’s most progressive elected officials and represent some of the country’s most progressive constituencies.”

“Yet when duly elected officials propose reforms, police unions do not merely oppose them; they actively work to thwart them. Last year, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey banned so-called warrior-style training, which emphasizes physical threats to police officers rather than the benefits of de-escalating confrontations. . . . Kroll and the police federation defied Frey’s move by offering warrior-style training of their own.”[3]

“Some local officials have also hesitated to demand tougher reforms in contracts because police unions often spend heavily in local elections to oppose any politician who challenges them. I know what that’s like. The union supported me near the end of my first race for mayor. But after I took office, we disagreed over the police budget and my choice of police chief. When I ran for reelection, the police union went all out to defeat me: It helped pay for polling to identify the strongest candidate to run against me and pounded voters relentlessly with literature and broadcast ads that portrayed me as soft on crime. [Nevertheless,] I got more than 60 percent of the vote. The police federation also made a massive investment to defeat an incoming council member, Betsy Hodges, who still won overwhelmingly. Eight years later, again, despite massive police opposition, she was elected mayor.”

“Electing mayors and city-council members who support such reforms is not enough. Police-union leaders use back channels to go around local officials and get more conservative state legislators to block meaningful changes. That dynamic holds true in Minnesota, where a Republican state representative, who was also a Minneapolis [police] officer, helped overturn a residency requirement for police. Today more than 90 percent of Minneapolis officers live outside the city. The legislature also has stonewalled attempts by the city to get supervisory positions removed from police-federation ranks. As a result, some of the people directing and disciplining officers, and developing the union contract, are actually negotiating with the union of which they are a member.”

“In return, police unions have helped their enablers on the state and national levels. Police-federation leaders endorse Republicans in most gubernatorial races. Last fall, Kroll appeared with President Donald Trump at a rally in Minneapolis and was interviewed wearing a ‘cops for trump’ T-shirt on Fox News.”

“If progressive local officials want wholesale reform of police tactics and culture, they will have to do something that runs counter to their own culture: take on union leaders. [After all,] Minnesota’s chapter of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations—an umbrella group that does not include the police federation—recognizes that Kroll isn’t merely taking his members’ side in a labor-management dispute. In a recent statement calling for Kroll’s resignation, the Minnesota AFL-CIO president, Bill McCarthy, faulted him for trying to justify Floyd’s killing rather than participate in a dialogue about reform. McCarthy also accused Kroll of failing the labor movement. ‘Unions exist to protect workers who have been wronged,” McCarthy declared, “not to keep violent people in police ranks.’”

“I used to say that the majority of officers are good but silently let a minority set the dominant culture. But now I believe that no one can be called a ‘good officer’ if they are not working actively and openly to change the culture and unseat their toxic union leaders. The silence of the ‘good officers’ so far is deafening, but a glimmer of hope came recently when more than a dozen brave Minneapolis officers bucked their union, condemned the officer who murdered George Floyd, and vowed to regain the community’s trust.”[4]

“In general, intimidated local officials overestimate the political muscle of police unions. Their credibility with the public is even more diminished in the aftermath of [George] Floyd’s death. So now is the time to push for reforms that hold police departments more accountable to the public.”

“I am not suggesting that cities should try to bust police unions. Far from it. Working people need and deserve the protections that collective bargaining provides. In a better world, a police-union leader could help the public understand how hard the job can be—but could also set the moral and professional standards for officers, rather than defend them no matter what they do.”

“While the breakdown between the police union and the public’s elected representatives has been especially acute in Minneapolis, I know from my discussions with other mayors that many other communities experience similar tensions. These relationships must be fundamentally reshaped. When cities lack the power to provide basic oversight of their officers and cannot break down an us-versus-them culture, they cannot prevent future deaths like that of George Floyd.”

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[1] Rybak, I Was Mayor of Minneapolis. I Know Why Police Reforms Fail, Atlantic (June 10, 2020). See also Mannix, Killing of George Floyd shows that years of police reform fall far short, StarTribune (June 20, 2020).

[2]  It must not be forgotten that the Minneapolis Chief of Police immediately fired the four officers involved in the killing of George Floyd, that soon thereafter serious criminal charges were filed against all four and the City banned chokeholds and neck restraints under an agreement with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights that was incorporated in a court injunction. See List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: GEORGE FLOYD CASE.

[3] Jany, Minneapolis police union offers free ‘warrior’ training, in defiance of mayor’s ban, StarTribune (April 24, 2019).

[4] Olson, Minneapolis police officers issue open letter condemning colleague in George Floyd’s death, pledging to work toward trust, StarTribune (June 12, 2020); The Criminal Complaints Against the Other Three Policemen Involved in George Floyd’s Death, dwkcommentaries.com (June 14, 2020).