When prosecutor Jerry Blackwell first addressed the jury in Derek Chauvin’s murder trial last week, he broke down a list of witnesses expected to testify: of eyewitnesses who saw the former officer holding his knee to his neck. George Floyd for nine years. minutes and 29 seconds, to forensic pathologists, use of force experts and members of the Minneapolis Police Department.
Among the most important in this long list was the oldest member of that department, Chief Medaria Arradondo.
Of course, it is rare for an officer-involved death to go to criminal trial, but it is even rarer, perhaps unprecedented, experts say, for a police chief to testify against one of his own former officers.
Arradondo’s testimony is likely to be a powerful weapon in the prosecution’s case, as the defense will attempt to argue that Derek Chauvin’s prolonged use of a knee-to-neck restraint was in line with the use of force guidance.
“It’s quite a remarkable move on the part of the prosecution,” said Dr. Cedric Alexander, former chief of police and director of public safety for DeKalb County, Georgia.
He added: “It is very rare that you see a boss appear for the defense or the prosecution. But each of these types of events brings its own set of circumstances. And in this particular case, in which you have a knee in the neck and they ask you ‘was that technique trained?’ Being able to have the chief of police … to testify under oath is clearly going to be important. “
Although a spokesman for the Minneapolis Police Department declined to comment on the nature of the chief’s testimony, Blackwell made clear in his opening statement that Arradondo was unlikely to do what he wanted.
“He will tell you that Mr. Chauvin’s conduct was not consistent with the training of the Minneapolis Police Department,” Blackwell said. “You don’t beat around the bush with words. It’s very clear. He will be very decisive, that this was an excessive force ”.
A unanimous decision is needed to convict Chauvin on any of the three charges he faces, second degree murder, third degree murder and manslaughter, making strong testimony along with the plethora of videos and imperative medical evidence for prosecution.
By contrast, in 2016, in the murder trial of former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager, who shot unarmed Walter Scott in the back while on the run, in a fatal incident also captured on shocking video, the police chief North Charleston’s Eddie Driggers testified for the defense. Driggers told the jury that Slager seemed to comply with the guidance of the department before he opened fire and described it as a “very good officer”During the testimony.
The judge eventually declared a mistrial with the jury stalled 11 to 1 in favor of the conviction. Slager later pleaded guilty to federal civil rights charges in a separate indictment and was sentenced to 20 years.
Arradondo, Minneapolis’ first black police chief and a life-long veteran of the embattled police force, took office in 2017 and became the center of national attention as soon as Floyd’s death occurred. He moved to fire the four officers involved in the incident within days, in the face of significant criticism from the Minneapolis Police Union, which accused him of acting. “without due process”.
“This was a violation of humanity,” Arradondo said a few days after Floyd was killed. “This was a violation of the oath that most of the men and women who donned this uniform [take] – this is absolutely against it. This is contrary to what we believe ”.
At the same time, the majority of the city council explored efforts to disband the entire police force and then voted to divert significant police funds. $ 8 million, in other public services, including new mental health teams created to respond to certain 911 calls. The department also saw a “staggering” number of officers seeking disability payments in the wake of the uprising that gripped the city. raising fears of staff shortages.
“The boss is under tremendous pressure,” said Laurie Robinson, former deputy attorney general of the United States and co-chair of the Barack Obama Task Force on 21st Century Surveillance, created in the wake of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri. . “This may be the toughest police chief job in the country right now, amid the tensions surrounding this trial, the pressures from the community facing the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, the calls for changes in the department and community protection. that is dealing with the rise in gun violence and crime. “
Some local activists recognized the importance of Arradondo’s upcoming testimony, but argued that it was only a first step.
“It is good that I testify against Chauvin, but at the same time we need justice,” said DJ Hooker, a 26-year-old local organizer of the Black Lives Matter movement. “Condemning Chauvin is a way to obtain justice. Having the other three murderous cops convicted is another way to do justice. But also, achieve a systemic change. That is also justice. And that is also what we must work on to achieve it. “
Hooker pointed to the demand for greater community control over the hiring and firing of officers through an elected civil council as an example of systemic change.
Alexander, also a former president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, said the fact that Arradondo was the city’s first black chief could add further pressure to the testimony. In 2007, then lieutenant, Arradondo himself, along with four other officers, sued the department for racial discrimination in a case that was settled $ 740,000.
“Certainly being the chief of color in a situation that involves a white officer and a black subject and is so racially sensitive could put additional stress on a chief of color. But the reality is that you approach this as you would any other situation. And that’s with facts, and that’s with balance. “
Both Robinson and Alexander agree that Arradondo’s testimony could lead to more police chiefs being called to the witness stand in the future.
“The public is certainly asking for more transparency and more accountability. So I wouldn’t be surprised in the future if you see more police executives being asked to testify, either for the defense or the prosecution, ”Alexander said.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism