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Minnesota Headlines

Wright’s family wants stiffer charge for Minnesota ex-cop

By SCOTT BAUER and MIKE HOUSEHOLDER Associated Press
BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. (AP) — Daunte Wright’s family members joined with community leaders Thursday in calling for more serious charges against the white former police officer who fatally shot him, comparing her case to the murder charge brought against a Black officer who killed a white woman in nearby Minneapolis.
Former Brooklyn Center police Officer Kim Potter was charged with second-degree manslaughter in Sunday’s shooting of Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, during a traffic stop. The former police chief in Brooklyn Center, a majority nonwhite suburb, said Potter mistakenly fired her handgun when she meant to use her Taser. Both the chief and Potter resigned Tuesday.
Potter — who was released on $100,000 bond hours after her arrest Wednesday — appeared alongside her attorney, Earl Gray, at her initial appearance Thursday over Zoom, saying little. Gray kept his camera on himself for most of the hearing, swiveling it to show Potter only briefly. Her next court appearance was set for May 17.
Wright’s death has been followed by protests every night this week outside the city’s police station, with some demonstrators hurling objects at officers who have responded at times with gas and rubber bullets before clearing the scene with a riot line. Hundreds of protesters gathered again Thursday night, shouting obscenities at police and shaking the security fence, hours after police in Chicago released graphic body camera video of an officer fatally shooting 13-year-old Adam Toledo in March.
“It is happening in every single city, every single day across the country,” Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told protesters earlier in the evening, before leading them in a chant of “Say his name! Adam Toledo!””
Protesters also tied air fresheners to the fencing at the police station, a nod to Wright’s mother saying that her son told her he had been pulled over for an air freshener dangling from his mirror. Police say Wright was stopped for expired registration.
Brooklyn City officials also announced a 10 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew for the small, working-class city just outside Minneapolis — but made the announcement only 90 minutes before it was set to go into affect.
Wright’s family members, like the protesters, say there’s no excuse for the shooting.
“Unfortunately, there’s never going to be justice for us,” Wright’s mother, Katie Wright, said at a news conference Thursday. “Justice isn’t even a word to me. I do want accountability.”
Wright family attorney Ben Crump said “full accountability, to get equal justice” is all the family wants — “nothing more, nothing less.”
Crump and other advocates for Wright point to the 2017 case of Mohamed Noor. The Black former Minneapolis police officer fatally shot Justine Ruszczyk Damond, a white woman who was a dual citizen of the U.S. and Australia, in the alley behind her home after she called 911 to report what she thought was a woman being assaulted.
Noor was convicted of third-degree murder in addition to second-degree manslaughter and sentenced to 12 1/2 years in prison. Potter’s charge carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence. Intent isn’t a necessary component of either charge. A key difference is that third-degree murder requires someone to act with a “depraved mind,” a term that has been the subject of legal disputes, but includes an act eminently dangerous to others, performed without regard for human life.
Noor testified that he fired to protect his partner’s life after hearing a loud bang on the squad car and seeing a woman at his partner’s window raising her arm. Prosecutors criticized Noor for shooting without seeing a weapon or Damond’s hands.
Many critics of the police believe the race of those involved in the Wright shooting played a role in which charges were brought.
“If the officer was Black, perhaps even a minority man, and the victim was a young, white female affluent kid, the chief would have fired him immediately and the county prosecutor would have charged him with murder, without a doubt,” Hussein said earlier Thursday.
Potter could have easily been charged with third-degree murder, which carries a 25-year maximum sentence, said Rachel Moran, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. But she noted that Potter will likely argue using the gun was a mistake, while Noor never said he didn’t intend to use his weapon.
“This is kind of the compromise charge, which isn’t to say it’s not serious. It is,” Moran said. “But they’re not reaching for the most serious charge they could theoretically file. They’re also not washing their hands and saying she has no criminal liability.”
The prosecutor who brought the case, Washington County Attorney Pete Orput, did not return messages seeking comment.
Wright’s death came as the broader Minneapolis area awaits the outcome of the trial of Derek Chauvin, one of four officers charged in George Floyd’s death last May. Crump pointed to that trial as having the potential to set a precedent for “police officers being held accountable and sent to prison for killing Black people.”
Police say Wright was pulled over for expired tags, but they sought to arrest him after discovering he had an outstanding warrant. The warrant was for his failure to appear in court on charges that he fled from officers and possessed a gun without a permit during an encounter with Minneapolis police in June.
Body camera video shows Wright struggling with police after they say they’re going to arrest him. Potter, a 26-year veteran, pulls her service pistol and is heard yelling “Taser!” three times before she fires and then says, “Holy (expletive), I shot him.”
Experts say cases of officers mistakenly firing their gun instead of a Taser are rare, usually less than once a year nationwide.
Wright’s funeral will be April 22 at the New Salem Missionary Baptist Church in Minneapolis, his attorney said.
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Bauer contributed from Madison, Wisconsin. Associated Press writers Doug Glass and Mohamed Ibrahim in Minneapolis; Tim Sullivan in Brooklyn Center; Suman Naishadham in Phoenix; and Stephen Groves in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, contributed to this report.
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Find AP’s full coverage of the death of Daunte Wright at: https://apnews.com/hub/death-of-daunte-wright
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The story has been corrected to show that Wright, not Potter, struggled with police.

Categories
Minnesota Headlines

Nearly 1.5 million fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in MN

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — State health officials say more than 3.4 million coronavirus vaccine doses have been administered in Minnesota and 1.5 million people have been fully vaccinated.
Almost half the vaccine eligible population, age 16 and older, has gotten at least one dose of vaccine, the Minnesota Department of Health said.
State health officials reported six more COVID-19 deaths on Friday and 2,299 infections, bringing the state totals to 6,995 deaths and 552,117 infections.
“We continue to say, we really are in a race against time to get Minnesotans protected,” said state health commissioner Jan Malcolm.
State data shows the vaccines appear to be highly effective in Minnesota, but that a tiny percentage of fully vaccinated Minnesotans contracted COVID-19.
Of the 1.5 million people fully vaccinated in Minnesota, 561 individuals contracted COVID-19 with 66 needing hospitalization, nine requiring intensive care and six fatalities, the latest data from the Department of Health showed.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were effective at 90% after two doses, the Centers for Disease Control reported recently after a real-world study beyond the controlled studies.
State leaders urged residents to continue wearing masks and socially distance in public, as well as staying home when sick, to reduce transmitting the virus.

Categories
Minnesota Headlines

What to expect in closings for ex-cop’s trial in Floyd death

By STEVE KARNOWSKI and DOUG GLASS Associated Press
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — For three weeks, prosecutors at the trial of a former Minneapolis police officer charged with killing George Floyd played and replayed video, supplementing the bystander video that shocked the world with multiple other angles of Floyd’s arrest. And over and over, Derek Chauvin’s attorney argued that the visual evidence is deceptive, and that Floyd was killed by his drug use and a bad heart.
On Monday, attorneys on both sides will seek to drive home their cases in closing arguments that cover much of the same ground, seeking to tie their evidence into neat packages for jurors.
Prosecutors will draw on expert testimony, videos and other evidence to explain how the white officer’s actions on May 25, when he pinned the Black man’s neck to the pavement with his knee for nearly 9 1/2 minutes, were “a substantial cause” of Floyd’s death. And they’ll highlight testimony from top Minneapolis police officials and outside use-of-force experts that an “objectively reasonable” officer would not have used that kind of force.
Meanwhile, defense attorney Eric Nelson will try to persuade jurors that elements of testimony he elicited from prosecution witnesses and his own witnesses add up to reasonable doubt over what caused Floyd’s death, whether Chauvin is responsible, or whether Floyd deserves a substantial amount of the blame.
“If I was Nelson, I’d do a lot of things, because a lot of things need to be done,” Joe Friedberg, a local defense attorney not involved in the case, said. “He’s in desperate trouble here.”
Both sides gave some insight this week after Nelson asked Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill to acquit Chauvin. It was a routine motion that was quickly rejected, but both sides covered the main points they will probably make in closing arguments.
Nelson argued that the state’s use-of-force witnesses gave contradictory evidence on the point at which Chauvin’s use of force became unreasonable. That could be a tough sell, and even Nelson acknowledged that they all agreed it was objectively unreasonable.
Nelson might have more success with another argument that he will surely make again Monday. That’s to hammer at the difference between the four prosecution experts who concluded Floyd died of asphyxiation and the county medical examiner, Dr. Andrew Baker, who did not.
Baker did, though, classify Floyd’s death as a homicide and said his heart stopped as a result of police “subdual, restraint and neck compression.”
Friedberg said he expected Nelson to highlight the lack of forensic evidence of neck injury, as well as studies that raised doubts about “positional asphyxia” — that is, the dangers of a person suffocating while being restrained as Floyd was.
He also said he expects Nelson to emphasize Floyd’s drug use and resistance.
“He has to begin with the fact that the way George Floyd lived, taking these drugs, you hold yourself open to being arrested, and when you’re arrested the law requires that you do not resist,” Friedberg said. “When you resist … it’s a crime. It accelerates the abilities of police to take further action.”
Mary Moriarty, the former longtime chief public defender in Hennepin County, said she expected Nelson to use a familiar defense for police officers: the difficult nature of their jobs.
“I’m sure he’ll say it’s not fair for people in the comfort of their offices or the courtroom, who have the opportunity to look at video over and over again, to second-guess the actions of a police officer,” Moriarty said.
Chauvin invoked his right not to testify, but former U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger said Nelson might try to convince the jury that Chauvin meant no harm by pointing to body camera video in which the officer is heard telling a bystander: “We gotta control this guy ’cause he’s a sizable guy … and it looks like he’s probably on something.”
Prosecutors will present their closing first, followed by the defense, and then prosecution rebuttal. There are no time limits, but legal experts said attorneys have to weigh whether going too long risks losing the jury’s attention or even hurting their case.
Tom Heffelfinger, a former U.S. attorney in Minnesota, said he expects arguments to take all day, with prosecutors spending a lot of time explaining how the evidence the jury heard fits the legal specifics of the charges of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Friedberg said prosecutors would likely begin by personalizing Floyd, conceding that he had used drugs but still “had a right to live, as everyone in this country has a right to live.”
Both Friedberg and Moriarty expect prosecutors to again play parts of the devastating video that dominated the first week of the trial, much of which caused bystander witnesses to break down in court as they recalled their frustration at not being able to stop Floyd’s death.
Moriarty said she also expected still photos to be highlighted, including one that showed Floyd’s hand on a police SUV’s wheel in what a medical expert testified was his desperate attempt to raise his right side off the ground to breathe.
She also expected prosecutors to try to score points against Nelson’s frequent portrayal of the 15 or so bystanders as an angry crowd that may have made officers feel threatened and distracted them from Floyd’s care.
“It’s a chance for the state to show some righteous indignation,” she said.
A deep prosecution team presented the state’s case, and two of the most prominent attorneys — Steve Schleicher and Jerry Blackwell — were scheduled to share in the closing argument. Moriarty said Blackwell was likely to be an effective last word to the jury.
“I think he has come across as the most dynamic lawyer they have,” Moriarty said. “And this is also about race, despite the defense saying it isn’t about race. There’s something compelling about a Black man doing the closing arguments.”
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Find AP’s full coverage of the death of George Floyd at: https://apnews.com/hub/death-of-george-floyd

Categories
Minnesota Headlines

Chauvin skips testifying as trial in Floyd death nears end

By AMY FORLITI, STEVE KARNOWSKI and TAMMY WEBBER Associated Press
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Former Officer Derek Chauvin ‘s trial in George Floyd’s death will be in a jury’s hands by early next week, after his brief defense wrapped up with Chauvin passing on a chance to take the stand and tell the public for the first time what he was thinking when he pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck.
Closing arguments are set to begin Monday, after which a racially diverse jury will begin deliberating at a barbed-wire-ringed courthouse in a city on edge — not just because of the Chauvin case but because of the deadly police shooting of a 20-year-old Black man in a Minneapolis suburb last weekend. Minneapolis public schools announced they would revert to distance learning starting Wednesday in anticipation of a verdict.
Before the jury was brought in Thursday, Chauvin, his COVID-19 mask removed in a rare courtroom moment, ended weeks of speculation by informing the judge he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to testify.
Shortly afterward, the defense rested its case, after a total of two days of testimony, compared with two weeks for the prosecution.
Judge Peter Cahill reminded the jurors they will be sequestered starting Monday and said: “If I were you, I would plan for long and hope for short.”
Chauvin, 45, is charged with murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death after the 46-year-old Black man was arrested on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 at a neighborhood market last May.
Bystander video of Floyd gasping that he couldn’t breathe as bystanders yelled at Chauvin to get off him triggered worldwide protests, violence and a furious examination of racism and policing in the U.S.
The most serious charge against the now-fired white officer, second-degree murder, carries up to 40 years in prison, though state guidelines call for about 12.
Prosecutors say Floyd died because the officer’s knee was pressed against Floyd’s neck or close to it for 9 1/2 minutes as he lay on the pavement on his stomach, his hands cuffed behind him and his face jammed against the ground.
Law enforcement veterans inside and outside the Minneapolis department testified for the prosecution that Chauvin used excessive force and went against his training, while medical experts said Floyd died of asphyxia, or lack of oxygen, because his breathing was constricted by the way he was held down.
Chauvin attorney Eric Nelso n called a police use-of-force expert and a forensic pathologist to help make the case that Chauvin acted reasonably against a struggling suspect and that Floyd died because of an underlying heart condition and his illegal drug use. Floyd had high blood pressure and narrowed arteries, and fentanyl and methamphetamine were found in his system.
The only time Chauvin has been heard defending himself was when the jury listened to body-camera footage from the scene. After an ambulance had taken Floyd away, Chauvin told a bystander: “We gotta control this guy ’cause he’s a sizable guy… and it looks like he’s probably on something.”
The decision of whether Chauvin should testify carried risks either way.
Taking the stand could have opened him up to devastating cross-examination, with prosecutors replaying the video of the arrest and forcing Chauvin to explain, one frame at a time, why he kept pressing down on Floyd.
But testifying could have also given the jury the opportunity to look at his unmasked face and see or hear any remorse or sympathy he might feel.
Also, what was going through Chauvin’s mind could be crucial: Legal experts say that an officer who believes his or her life was at risk can be found to have acted legally even if, in hindsight, it turns out there was no such danger.
In one final bit of testimony on Thursday, the prosecution briefly recalled a lung and critical care expert to knock down a defense witness’ theory that carbon monoxide poisoning from a squad car’s exhaust might have contributed to Floyd’s death. Dr. Martin Tobin noted hospital tests that showed Floyd’s level was at most 2%, within the normal range.
With the trial in session, Minneapolis has been bracing for a possible repeat of the protests and violence that broke out last spring over Floyd’s death.
The case has unfolded amid days of protests in the adjoining suburb of Brooklyn Center, after Officer Kim Potter, who is white, apparently mistook her gun for a Taser and fatally shot Daunte Wright. She resigned and was charged with manslaughter.
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Find AP’s full coverage of the death of George Floyd at: https://apnews.com/hub/death-of-george-floyd
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Webber reported from Fenton, Michigan. Associated Press video journalist Angie Wang contributed from Atlanta.

Categories
Minnesota Headlines

Minnesota mayor blasts police tactics to control protesters

By TODD RICHMOND and MOHAMED IBRAHIM Associated Press
BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. (AP) — Elected leaders in the Minneapolis suburb where a police officer fatally shot Daunte Wright want officers to scale back their tactics amid nightly protests, leaving some law enforcement called in to assist asking whether the city still wants their help.
Hundreds of demonstrators have gathered outside the heavily guarded Brooklyn Center police station every night since former Officer Kim Potter, who is white, shot the 20-year-old Black motorist during a traffic stop on Sunday. Protesters have shouted profanities, launched fireworks, shaken a security fence surrounding the building and lobbed water bottles at officers. Police have driven away protesters with tear gas grenades, rubber bullets, flash-bang grenades and long lines of riot police.
People who live in the area say many of their neighbors are staying in hotels or with relatives to avoid the noise as well as the tear gas that seeps into their homes.
“We can’t just have our window open any more without thinking about if there’s going to be some gas coming in,” said 16-year-old Xzavion Martin, adding that rubber bullets and other projectiles have landed on his apartment’s second-story balcony. “There’s kids in this building that are really scared to come back.”
The tactics have not sat well with Brooklyn Center city officials, who passed a resolution Monday banning the city’s officers from using tear gas and other chemicals, chokeholds, and police lines to arrest demonstrators.
Mayor Mike Elliott, who is Black, said at a news conference Wednesday that “gassing is not a human way of policing” and he didn’t agree with police using pepper spray, tear gas and paintballs against demonstrators. Elliott didn’t respond to multiple messages from the Associated Press on Friday.
But Brooklyn Center police aren’t dealing with protesters on their own. Other agencies, including the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Department and the Minnesota National Guard, have provided support at the city’s request in a joint effort dubbed Operation Safety Net. The city’s resolution isn’t binding on those agencies.
Protests have continued since Potter was charged Wednesday with second-degree manslaughter. The former police chief in the majority nonwhite suburb said Potter fired her pistol when she meant to use her Taser, but protesters and Wright’s family say there’s no excuse for the shooting. Both Potter and the chief resigned Tuesday.
Sheriff David Hutchinson asked Elliott in a letter Wednesday to clarify whether he still wanted the department’s help. The mayor wrote in a letter Thursday that his city still needs help but pressed assisting agencies not to engage with protesters.
“It is my view that as long as protesters are peaceful and not directly interacting with law enforcement, law enforcement should not engage with them,” Elliott wrote. “Again, this is a request and not an attempt to limit necessary law enforcement response.”
As the sun set Friday, protesters marching near the Brooklyn Center police department chanted “National Guard — Go home.” The crowd of several hundred people marched away from the fencing outside the police department where clashes had occurred earlier in the week. As they marched in the street, people bounced up and down to music that played from a loudspeaker.
Police over a loudspeaker ordered the protest to disperse and warned demonstrators that they would be arrested. Law enforcement also fired irritants into a crowd that had gathered near a fenced gate into the police department.
Several water bottles had been hurled over the fence towards law enforcement officers.
Sheriff’s spokesman Jeremy Zoss said Friday that no agencies have pulled out of Brooklyn Center. Scott Wasserman, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety, said Operation Safety Net’s tactics will not change.
Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat and commander-in-chief of the Minnesota National Guard, said at a Thursday news conference that he’s concerned about tactics but that police are trying to protect the community.
Shay Jones, who lives in an apartment across the street from the police station, said her 15-year-old daughter has been sick since tear gas seeped into their home. Jones, 32, also said some protesters broke a lock on the building, running through the stairs and hallways and writing on walls.
“All these ‘booms,'” she said. “Oh, man … you can’t even sleep at night.”
Tensions were already high amid the nearby trial of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin in the death last year of George Floyd. Then on Thursday, Chicago officials released graphic video showing an officer fatally shooting 13-year-old Adam Toledo, a Latino boy, in March. And On Friday, transcripts were released showing that a grand jury investigating the police suffocation death of Daniel Prude last year in Rochester, New York, voted 15-5 not to charge the three officers involved in his restraint.
Brooklyn Center has instituted curfews since Wright’s death.
Local Progress Minnesota, a group of liberal-leaning local elected officials, echoed the call for an end to using tear gas and decried the curfews.
“The last few nights have been marred with unconscionable acts of oppression,” the group said in a letter. “This is not how we build a safer place for one another.”
Walz told reporters that protesters might have burned down the police station and other buildings if police hadn’t intervened — a lesson he says he learned after a Minneapolis police station burned during protests last year over Floyd’s death. Those demonstrations damaged more than 1,000 buildings across the Twin Cities area.
“I trust our safety officials to be very judicious and think about this,” Walz said.
Police say Wright was pulled over for expired tags, but they sought to arrest him after discovering he had an outstanding warrant. The warrant was for his failure to appear in court on charges that he fled from officers and possessed a gun without a permit during an encounter with Minneapolis police in June.
Body camera video shows Wright struggling with police after they say they’re going to arrest him. Potter, a 26-year veteran, pulls her service pistol and is heard repeatedly yelling “Taser!” before firing. She then says, “Holy (expletive), I shot him.”
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AP journalist Stephen Groves reported from Brooklyn Center, Minn. Richmond contributed from Madison, Wisconsin.
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Mohamed Ibrahim is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
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Find AP’s full coverage of the death of Daunte Wright at: https://apnews.com/hub/death-of-daunte-wright

Categories
Minnesota Headlines

EXPLAINER: ‘Contributing’ factors in Floyd death key to case

By KATHLEEN FOODY Associated Press
CHICAGO (AP) — Doctors charged with determining the cause of an individual’s death try to learn all they can about the person’s life, medical experts testified Friday at former Officer Derek Chauvin’s murder trial.
The results of an autopsy, lab tests and conversations with medical providers and others who knew the person are boiled down to a few entries on a death certificate, including the cause and manner of death.
But the document also provides information about other conditions that contributed to, but didn’t cause, the death.
In George Floyd’s case, the Hennepin County chief medical examiner concluded last year that Floyd died from cardiopulmonary arrest — his heart stopped — complicated by the way police restrained him and compressed his neck as the Black man lay on the pavement.
The certificate also listed ” other contributing conditions ” as narrowed arteries, high blood pressure, fentanyl intoxication and recent methamphetamine use.
Why does that additional information belong on a death certificate?
Fundamentally, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determines what must be included on a death certificate, with some variation between states, experts said.
“The other significant conditions are things that played a role in the death, but didn’t directly cause the death,” testified Dr. Andrew Baker, the chief medical examiner for Hennepin County.
In this case, Baker said Floyd’s health conditions and use of drugs did not “cause the subdual or neck restraint” by police.
Documenting contributing conditions also can add to an understanding of public health, Dr. Lindsey Thomas, a forensic pathologist who retired in 2017 from the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office, testified Friday. Each piece of information on a death certificate becomes a data point for public health officials, she said.
“We aren’t just thinking about this particular person and their cause and manner of death,” she said. “We’re also thinking, ‘The state and federal government collect data on why do people die.'”
Dr. Michael Graham, a professor of forensic pathology at Saint Louis University’s School of Medicine who is not involved in the Chauvin case, said that’s why it is important for medical examiners to be precise in listing contributing conditions. If someone dies in a car crash, a minor sexually transmitted disease isn’t relevant to their death, he said.
“If we’re trying to base policy on why people die, putting stuff on there that’s unrelated to why they die is really contrary to helping public health,” Graham said.
Eric Nelson, Chauvin’s defense attorney, has argued that the officer did as he was trained and suggested that Floyd’s death was caused by his use of illegal drugs and existing health conditions.
Nelson repeatedly questioned Thomas and Baker on Friday about whether the presence of drugs in Floyd’s system or his heart disease contributed to the man’s death. Both maintained that neither caused Floyd’s death.
Floyd did have severe heart disease, an enlarged heart and narrowing of two arteries.
“And in my opinion, the law enforcement subdual, restraint and the neck compression was just more than Mr. Floyd could take by virtue of that, those heart conditions,” Baker said.
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Find AP’s full coverage of the death of George Floyd at: https://apnews.com/hub/death-of-george-floyd

Categories
Minnesota Headlines

Medical examiner blames police pressure for Floyd’s death

By AMY FORLITI, STEVE KARNOWSKI and TAMMY WEBBER Associated Press
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The chief medical examiner who ruled George Floyd’s death a homicide testified Friday that the way police held him down and compressed his neck “was just more than Mr. Floyd could take,” given the condition of his heart.
Dr. Andrew Baker, the Hennepin County medical examiner, took the stand at the murder trial of former Officer Derek Chauvin for pressing his knee on or close to Floyd’s neck for what prosecutors say was as much as 9 1/2 minutes as the 46-year-old Black man lay on the pavement last May.
Asked about his finding that police “subdual, restraint and neck compression” caused Floyd’s heart to stop, Baker said that Floyd had severe underlying heart disease and an enlarged heart that needed more oxygen than normal to function, as well as narrowing of two heart arteries.
Baker said being involved in a scuffle raises adrenaline, which asks the heart to beat even faster and supply more oxygen.
“And in my opinion, the law enforcement subdual, restraint and the neck compression was just more than Mr. Floyd could take by virtue of that, those heart conditions,” the medical examiner said.
Other medical experts, including a leading lung specialist, have gone further, testifying that Floyd died of asphyxia — or insufficient oxygen — because his breathing was constricted as he lay on his stomach with his hands cuffed behind his back, his face jammed against the ground and Chauvin’s knee on his neck.
Baker has not ruled asphyxiation as a cause of Floyd’s death. And at one point, he said he is not an expert on lack of oxygen because he doesn’t treat living people, and he would defer certain questions to experts on breathing.
Baker also said that based on his viewing of the video, he believed Chauvin’s knee was “primarily on the back, or the side or the area in between on Mr. Floyd’s neck.” And he said that in his opinion, the placement of Chauvin’s knee would not have cut off Floyd’s airway.
Chauvin, 45, is charged with murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death May 25. Floyd was arrested outside a neighborhood market after being accused of trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill.
Bystander video of Floyd crying that he couldn’t breathe as onlookers yelled at the white officer to get off him sparked protests and scattered violence around the U.S.
Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson has argued that the now-fired officer did what he was trained to do and that Floyd’s illegal drug use and underlying health conditions killed him. An autopsy found fentanyl and methamphetamine in Floyd’s system.
Ted Sampsell-Jones, a law professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota, said evidence about Floyd’s cause of death is shaping up to be the biggest weakness for prosecutors. He said that with Baker’s testimony, the jury is starting to see that the prosecution has been forced to distance itself from its own medical examiner.
“It could possibly raise a reasonable doubt about cause of death,” he said.
However, Sampsell-Jones said the legal standard for establishing causation is quite low. The state has to show only that Chauvin’s conduct was a substantial contributing cause.
“If the state had to show that Chauvin’s conduct was the sole or even primary cause of death, the case would be in real trouble,” he said.
In his testimony, Baker said that neither Floyd’s heart problems nor drugs caused his death. Under cross-examination, though, he agreed with Nelson that those factors “played a role” in the death.
A medical expert who testified Thursday said a healthy person subjected to what Floyd endured would also have died.
Nelson asked Baker whether he has certified deaths by fentanyl overdose at levels lower than that seen in Floyd’s blood, and Baker said yes. But Baker also noted that levels of fentanyl must be considered in the context of how long someone had used the drug, any tolerance built up to it, and what other substances may be involved.
The medical examiner said that he did not watch the harrowing video of the arrest before examining Floyd so that he would not be unduly influenced by what he saw.
“I did not want to bias my exam by going in with any preconceived notions that might lead me down one pathway or another,” he said.
Other medical experts called as prosecution witnesses have likewise blamed Floyd’s death on the way he was pinned down on the ground.
Dr. Lindsey Thomas, a forensic pathologist who retired in 2017 from the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office and did not work on Floyd’s case, testified earlier Friday that she agreed with Baker’s findings, but appeared to go further, saying the “primary mechanism of death” was insufficient oxygen.
She said she reached that conclusion mostly from video that showed Floyd struggling to breathe.
During cross-examination, Nelson noted that Floyd’s bigger heart needed more blood and was working hard in a moment of stress and adrenaline, and that one of his arteries had a 90% blockage.
The defense attorney pressed Thomas by posing a hypothetical question.
“Let’s assume you found Mr. Floyd dead in his residence. No police involvement, no drugs, right? The only thing you found would be these facts about his heart. What would you conclude to be the cause of death?” Nelson asked.
“In that very narrow set of circumstances, I would probably conclude that the cause of death was his heart disease,” Thomas replied.
In response to another hypothetical posed by Nelson, she agreed that she would certify Floyd’s death as a drug overdose if there were no other explanations.
But during re-questioning, prosecutor Jerry Blackwell ridiculed the defense attorney’s hypotheticals.
“Aren’t those questions a lot like asking, ‘Mrs. Lincoln, if we take John Wilkes Booth out of this …'” Blackwell began, before Nelson objected.
For the first time, a seat designated for Chauvin’s family was occupied Friday, by a woman. She wasn’t immediately identified. Chauvin’s marriage ended in divorce in the months after Floyd’s death.
Also on Friday, Judge Peter Cahill called in a juror and questioned her about whether she had been subject to any outside influences. She replied that she briefly saw TV coverage with the sound off and said that her mother-in-law had texted her, “Looks like it was a bad day” but that she didn’t reply.
The judge allowed her to remain on the jury.
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Find AP’s full coverage of the death of George Floyd at: https://apnews.com/hub/death-of-george-floyd
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Webber reported from Fenton, Michigan.

Categories
Minnesota Headlines

EXPLAINER: How Chauvin trial has impacted its witnesses

By RYAN J. FOLEY Associated Press
The first days of testimony at the trial of a former Minneapolis police officer charged in George Floyd’s death were dominated by witnesses to his arrest and countless videos that forced them to relive the trauma of it all over again.
One man who shouted “You can’t win!” at Floyd as the Black man struggled with police, bowed his head and sobbed on the stand. The teenager who shot widely seen bystander video cried as she talked about her guilt over not being able to help Floyd. A firefighter trained as an EMT broke down as she described her frustration because police prevented her from acting to save Floyd’s life. The young cashier who reported that Floyd used a $20 counterfeit bill to buy cigarettes — prompting a call to police — recalled his guilt as he watched Floyd struggling to breathe.
Attorneys on both sides at the trial of former Officer Derek Chauvin face a delicate balance in questioning witnesses who have experienced such pain while trying to advance their cases. The testimony raises questions about how witnesses who have suffered trauma are treated when they participate in the criminal justice system.
New York Law School criminal law professor Kirk Burkhalter, a former detective who leads a program on police reform, said the bystander testimony has been a powerful reminder of how police misconduct is a betrayal to the entire community.
“These people have been walking around with this pain for a year, unbeknownst to us,” he said. “They were victims of a crime. We just cannot forget that. They were trying to do their civic duty and they were prevented from interceding in something that was just completely horrible.”
Chauvin’s defense has even tried to paint some of the witnesses as part of a dangerous crowd, adding more pain, he said.
ARE THESE WITNESSES CONSIDERED CRIME VICTIMS?
Probably not. The law generally does not recognize the emotional toll on witnesses as a harm, Burkhalter said.
In Minnesota law, a victim is anyone who incurs “loss or harm as a result of a crime, including a good faith effort to prevent a crime.” Some of the witnesses testified that they sought to stop Chauvin from using force against Floyd, and even called the police to report his actions. They also described the emotional harm they have endured.
The legal distinction between a witness and a victim is important. Victims have rights in criminal cases, including the right to be notified and object to any proposed plea agreements, and to give victim impact statements at sentencing hearings.
DO WITNESSES QUALIFY FOR GOVERNMENT AID TO DEAL WITH THEIR TRAUMA?
Potentially. Witnesses to crimes may apply for mental health counseling and other benefits from the Minnesota Crime Victims Reparations Board.
Eligibility depends on individual circumstances and is decided on a case-by-case basis, said Doug Neville, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. If approved, they could be eligible for up to $7,500 in counseling and healing services.
WHAT LEGAL PROTECTIONS DO WITNESSES HAVE?
Most of the laws and professional guidelines governing the treatment of witnesses are designed to protect their physical safety against retaliation and limit the inconvenience of having to testify.
National District Attorneys Association guidelines note that one of the greatest needs for witnesses is the assurance of safety against threats, harassment or intimidation. In Minnesota, a prosecutor can take steps to protect witnesses from having to reveal their home or employment addresses, telephone numbers and dates of birth.
Generally, witnesses are also compensated for their time and the expense of testifying, including $20 per day in Minnesota plus mileage and meals. They are to be notified when to show up, with any delays minimized. And employers in Minnesota cannot retaliate against witnesses who have to take time off to testify.
WHAT ABOUT THEIR EMOTIONAL WELL-BEING?
Prosecutors have a duty to present the truth in court proceedings, and that can include gut-wrenching testimony from people who witnessed disturbing and distressing events.
At Chauvin’s trial, prosecuting attorneys frequently paused when witnesses were overcome, inviting them to take as much time as they needed. Chauvin’s attorney often skipped cross-examining witnesses, including a 9-year-old girl.
How much trauma witnesses have to relive on the stand largely depends on the attorneys’ strategies and what evidence the judge allows, said University of Iowa law professor Emily Hughes, a criminal law expert. Some may be unavoidable.
“In order for the prosecution to meet their burden and put in the evidence they need, they sometimes do have to put in really hard, traumatic facts,” Hughes said. “At the same time, sometimes the two sides are able to stipulate to certain information to protect witnesses or jurors or people from having to relive an experience like that again. When and how that happens is very much a case-by-case, witness-by-witness or fact-by-fact situation.”
Prosecutors have played bystander video of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck as he lay face-down in handcuffs. They have argued that he persisted even after several onlookers tried to intervene and yelled at him to stop. Chauvin’s defense has argued that the videos show an angry crowd that made it harder to subdue Floyd.
DO WITNESSES WHO ARE MINORS HAVE ANY ADDITIONAL PROTECTIONS?
Yes. A judge this week sided with prosecutors in blocking live television coverage of the testimony of four witnesses who were minors when they witnessed Floyd’s arrest. He allowed audio of their testimony.
The judge ruled that it would be up to the news media to determine whether to identify those witnesses by their names or to keep them confidential. One child witness appeared with an adult support person as allowed under Minnesota law.
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Find AP’s full coverage of the death of George Floyd at: https://apnews.com/hub/death-of-george-floyd

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Minnesota Headlines

Lawsuit over correction’s handling of COVID-19 will proceed

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A Ramsey County judge has ruled a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota can proceed against the Minnesota Department of Corrections over its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Judge Sara Grewing ruled this week that all Minnesota inmates could be included in a class-action suit, and that Gov. Tim Walz and Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm can be added as defendants, WCCO-TV reported.
The lawsuit alleges that just one-fifth of Minnesota’s approximately 7,600 inmates have been fully vaccinated. Grewing will later decide whether or not the state’s inmate vaccination effort violated state law.
“At this point in the fight against COVID-19, it is universally accepted that people working and living together are at exponentially heightened risk for contracting COVID-19,” Grewing said.
Department of Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell says all inmates will be vaccinated by April 9.

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Minnesota Headlines

Lieutenant: Kneeling on Floyd’s neck ‘totally unnecessary’

By STEVE KARNOWSKI, AMY FORLITI and TAMMY WEBBER Associated Press
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Kneeling on George Floyd ‘s neck while he was handcuffed and lying on his stomach was top-tier, deadly force and “totally unnecessary,” the head of the Minneapolis Police Department’s homicide division testified Friday.
“If your knee is on a person’s neck, that can kill him,” said Lt. Richard Zimmerman, adding that when a person is handcuffed behind their back, “your muscles are pulling back … and if you’re laying on your chest, that’s constricting your breathing even more.”
Zimmerman, who said he is the most senior person on the police force, also testified at Derek Chauvin’s murder trial that once Floyd was handcuffed, he saw “no reason for why the officers felt they were in danger — if that’s what they felt — and that’s what they would have to feel to be able to use that kind of force.”
“So in your opinion, should that restraint have stopped once he was handcuffed and thrown on the ground?” prosecutor Matthew Frank asked.
“Absolutely,” replied Zimmerman, who said he has received use-of-force training annually — as all officers do — since joining the city force in 1985.
He said he has never been trained to kneel on someone’s neck if they’re handcuffed behind their back and in the prone position.
“Once you secure or handcuff a person, you need to get them out of the prone position as soon as possible because it restricts their breathing,” Zimmerman said, adding “you need to turn them on their side or have them sit up.”
He also testified that officers have a duty to provide care for a person in distress, even if an ambulance has been called.
Officers kept restraining Floyd — with Chauvin kneeling on his neck, another kneeling on Floyd’s back and a third holding his feet — until the ambulance arrived, even after he became unresponsive.
One officer asked twice if they should roll Floyd on his side to aid his breathing, and later said calmly that he thought Floyd was passing out. Another checked Floyd’s wrist for a pulse and said he couldn’t find one.
The officers also rebuffed offers of help from an off-duty Minneapolis firefighter who wanted to administer aid or tell officers how to do it.
Under cross examination, Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson peppered Zimmerman with questions about the use of force, pointing out that officers must consider the entire situation — including what is happening with a suspect, whether the suspect is under the influence, and other surrounding hazards, such as a crowd.
The defense has argued that Chauvin did what he was trained to do when he encountered Floyd last May and that Floyd’s death was caused not by the knee on his neck — as prosecutors contend — but by drugs, his underlying health conditions and adrenaline. An autopsy found fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system.
Chauvin is also heard on body-camera footage defending his decision to an onlooker after Floyd was taken away by paramedics, saying: “We gotta control this guy ’cause he’s a sizable guy … and it looks like he’s probably on something.”
Chauvin, 45 and white, is charged with killing Floyd by pinning his knee on the 46-year-old Black man’s neck for 9 minutes, 29 seconds, as he lay face-down in handcuffs. Floyd had been accused of passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a neighborhood market.
Zimmerman agreed with Nelson that a person who is handcuffed still can pose a threat and can continue to thrash around.
And he agreed when Nelson asked if officers who believe they’re in a fight for their lives could use “whatever force is reasonable and necessary,” including by improvising.
“Did you see any need for Officer Chauvin to improvise by putting his knee on Mr. Floyd for 9 minutes and 29 seconds?” Frank later asked Zimmerman.
“No, I did not,” said Zimmerman, who said that based on his review of police body camera footage, the officers did not appear to be in danger from Floyd or about 15 onlookers.
Nelson has suggested that the bystanders — many of whom were shouting at Chauvin to get off Floyd — may have distracted officers and affected their response. The prosecution, however, noted that officers on the scene did not call for backup.
“The crowd, as long as they’re not attacking you, the crowd really doesn’t, shouldn’t, have an effect on your actions,” Zimmerman said.
Floyd’s death triggered large protests around the U.S., scattered violence and widespread soul-searching over racism and police brutality. Chauvin, who was fired, is charged with murder and manslaughter. The most serious charge against him carries up to 40 years in prison.
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Webber reported from Fenton, Michigan.
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Find AP’s full coverage of the death of George Floyd at: https://apnews.com/hub/death-of-george-floyd