Spokane police Chief Craig Meidl weighed in Thursday on the arrest and death of an unarmed Black man in Minneapolis that has sparked mass protests in that city and drawn criticism from law enforcement leaders across the country.
A bystander filmed Minneapolis officers arresting 46-year-old George Floyd on Monday evening after they were called to investigate a report of a man trying to pass a counterfeit bill at a nearby business.
The video shows Officer Derek Chauvin holding a prone, handcuffed Floyd to the ground with a knee on the back of his neck for nearly 8 minutes. Floyd can be heard groaning and saying “I can’t breathe” before he stops moving and appears to lose consciousness.
Floyd was pronounced dead at a hospital a short time later. The incident has been met with nearly universal outrage, including among law enforcement officials.
“The death of Mr. Floyd is deeply disturbing and should be of concern to all Americans,” Houston police Chief Art Acevedo, who heads the Major Cities Chiefs Association, said in a statement. “The officers’ actions are inconsistent with the training and protocols of our profession.”
Based on the video, Meidl told The Spokesman-Review he saw a few things wrong with Chauvin’s tactics.
Surveillance footage from a Minneapolis restaurant appears to contradict police claims that Floyd resisted arrest. But, speaking generally, Meidl said it’s sometimes necessary to place a knee on a person’s upper back – just below the neck – to gain control if they are resisting.
Chauvin, Meidl said, appeared to place too much weight directly on Floyd’s neck. And he remained in that position for far too long.
“Once you get the handcuffs on, things change,” Meidl said. “You have to adjust your level of force or restraints based on the actions of the individual that you’re dealing with.”
Referring to Floyd, Meidl said, “Once he was proned out on the ground and controlled – and, especially, you can see he’s not resisting – that’s when you need to get off of that person.”
Minneapolis police Chief Medaria Arradondo fired four officers, including Chauvin, within 24 hours of Floyd’s death, and the city’s mayor has called for them to face criminal charges. Minneapolis has been rocked by protests that have turned violent and resulted in some businesses being looted.
State authorities and the FBI have opened investigations into Floyd’s death. But already, police chiefs across the country – including the heads of the Major Cities Chiefs Association and the International Association of Chiefs of Police – have issued statements of support for Arradondo’s decision to fire the four officers.
William Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations, told Yahoo News he “can’t see any legal justification, any self-defense justification or any moral justification” for Chauvin’s actions.
“Even though this happened in Minneapolis and we’re in Spokane, I think what people need to understand is, for the African American communities, this was no different than as if it happened right outside their front door,” Meidl said Thursday in a Facebook Live interview with the Black Lens.
Meidl told The Spokesman-Review he understands the demand for swift disciplinary actions against those four officers.
“You’re seeing more and more chiefs acknowledge that saying we’ve got to wait for the investigation to be done and coming out with some statement two or three months later – that’s not what the community wants,” Meidl said.
But he stopped short of supporting the decision to fire the officers so quickly. Such a decision requires a fair and thorough investigation, and skipping or speeding through that process could expose the department to legal challenges and allow arbitrators to reverse an officer’s termination, Meidl said.
“With the information that we have available to us through the media, and the things that we all saw, it is reasonable to say that there is a good chance he would potentially lose his position,” Meidl said. “If I were the (Minneapolis) chief, I would put them off on administrative leave and let the process work exactly the way we’re required to make it work.”
Meidl noted that last month, after an internal investigation, he fired an officer, Kristofer Henderson, who had kicked a suspect in the groin – a move that prosecutors characterized as retaliatory. At the time, an attorney representing Henderson said the Spokane Police Guild had authorized a grievance process with the city and Henderson hoped to be reinstated.
Kurtis Robinson, president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, said he has a good working relationship with Meidl but feels efforts at police accountability and civilian oversight have been hampered by the Spokane Police Guild, which represents the department’s rank and file.
Robinson agreed with Meidl that Floyd’s death hits close to home.
“We have been dealing with the harsh reality of hyperaggression and hypersensitivity in dealing with law enforcement, as Black and Brown people, all of our lives,” Robinson said. “And so, when something like this does happen, it is in many ways like it just happened right here, and it just happened to someone we know. We feel the same sorrow … It definitely deeply impacts us.”
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