House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday she finds the trial of ex-Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin “so disappointing.”
“And maybe my disappointment springs from my expectation that these are our protectors,” the House Speaker said in an interview with USA Today published Wednesday morning.
Pelosi told USA Today that she has not watched a lot of the trial, which began in late March, but she said she has been following news reports. Pelosi said she was particularly struck by one teenage eyewitness, 18-year-old Darnella Frazier. On the second day of the trial, Frazier said she stayed up some nights “apologizing and apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more and not physically interacting and not saving his life.”
Frazier is one of several witnesses, including a nine-year-old girl, who did not appear on the broadcast of the trial because they are minors.
“I feel sad about the spectators, and that that young woman who said she’s up all night because she wonders what she could have done differently,” Pelosi told USA Today. “I think if any of us was there, we would have gone up and just pulled him off him. But we might have gotten shot, and that’s probably why somebody didn’t pull him off.”
Chauvin is on trial in the killing of George Floyd, whose death among many others who died in officer-involved incidents sparked national Black Lives Matter protests and calls to defund the police. He was charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death on May 25, 2020.
Pelosi said she still holds law enforcement in general in high regard, USA Today reported, but “that isn’t a license to kill. And that’s what happened,” she said.
“That was a public assassination of George Floyd,” the House Speaker continued.
With regards to calls to “defund the police” – some within her own party, Pelosi stamped down on the demands. “Forget that. That has no place,” she said. “Safety is essential to everyone’s lives.”
She added that officers “by and large” wear their badges honorably.
“I was raised in a family where, be true to the men in blue – police and fire,” Pelosi said. “They save our lives. They risk their lives. They leave home. They don’t know if they’re coming home. Their families make sacrifices for our safety. So I have a respect for that as I do for our people here.”
Pelosi did voice her support for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would bolster police accountability. Pelosi said the bill, which is currently stalled in the Senate after facing GOP opposition, would also improve police training protocols to reduce escalated confrontations between civilians and law enforcement.
Baltimore Police Department’s Lieutenant Scott Swenson starts off the training session with a video of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Swenson pauses the video at the moment Officer Derek Chauvin presses his knee on George Floyd’s neck.
“8 minutes, 46 seconds. Time to intervene there?” Swenson asks the class.
“Yes,” the new trainees respond in unison. One soon-to-be officer says he would grab Chauvin and “take him off.”
“You sure?” Swenson asks the class, turning to face the group. He reminds the students that the officers accompanying Chauvin had only been on the force for four days, like they themselves would be soon.
“It’s easy to sit here in this room and say you’ll intervene, but will you?” he said. “Make your mind up.”
This is the beginning of Baltimore Police Department sixteen hour de-escalation course – one of several police departments across the nation implementing de-escalation training.
Back in June, Business Insider Today visited the department to see what the training looks like. And while it’s not clear whether de-escalation training is effective, it very well may be one step forward for police departments to regain the trust of their skeptical communities.
“Kill me! Kill me!”
In the first de-escalation scenario, officers are dispatched to a makeshift home where they have limited information about the unfolding scene. One of the role players acts as the suspect’s family member.
“So my cousin’s in there. He’s got the knife, he’s off his meds. He’s in there by himself right now,” the role player says.
The officers-to-be make their way to the door.
“Officer Coleman, BPD,” the trainee yells from behind the door. “This is not worth it. There’s always other options, sir.”
Novice officers go through a rigorous course in Baltimore where they must stop a suspect without applying heavy-handed force. Officers are paired with a partner and enter a room where someone is holding a knife.
During the first scenario, Officer Savannah Porter chooses to protect herself and her partner by deploying a taser instead of finding less lethal options, like closing the door.
“Getting tunnel vision is probably the hardest part. It’s realizing that there is an entire world happening outside of what’s going on,” Porter said.
The training program was created by the Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit for policing that trains departments in de-escalation techniques. New officers are taught to create distance between themselves and a suspect. It also encourages them to find cover to protect themselves, instead of reaching for their weapons.
The second and third scenarios are called “Fluid Knife” and “Static Knife.” Trainees enter a room backwards and are told to turn around to begin the scene. In the “Static Knife” scenario, role player and BPD detective Tony Cabezas walks determinedly toward novice officer Savannah Porter.
“Kill me, kill me!” Cabezas yells.
“Put the knife down!” Savannah shouts back. After realizing the approaching suspect will not drop his knife, Savannah deploys her replica stun gun – “Taser, taser, taser!” she shouts. (New officers don’t carry real weapons during training.)
“Not every situation can be de-escalated. When de-escalation training first came out, there was a lot of concern from officers. ‘Does this mean that my safety has to be compromised?’ ‘Does this mean that I have to be hurt or for this to be effective?’ And the answer is no,” Swenson said.
To get a better understanding of what the new officers go through, I gave the “Static Knife” scenario a try. Swenson, as my partner, entered the room with me. When we turned around, we were facing a man holding a prop knife close to his wrist.
“My life is over,” Calbezas said.
I timidly asked if he’d mind putting it down so we could talk as the knife hovered over his wrist. We went back and forth for about 15 minutes before he began to calm down, eventually dropping the knife altogether.
Now, in full instructor mode, Calbezas admits he was taken aback by my constant questioning. Swenson, who’s back to being an instructor and no longer my partner, chimes in.
“So how do we get officers to talk like you and hit all those points,” he said, “while still keeping themselves – everybody around them – safe?”
The old way of policing isn’t working.
“De-escalation, for the most part, was when a suspect stops resisting, you stop using force,” Swenson said.
It’s a different type of training, one that most officers who’ve been on the force for a long time never went through.
That goes for Angel Villaronga, a former Baltimore police officer who de-escalated a standoff in 2017 with a man who was holding a knife and threatening to kill himself or goad the responding officers into shooting him.
The footage shows Villaronga speaking calmly to the suspect, even when the suspect begins yelling and walking down the street, expanding the responding officers’ perimeter. After some back and forth, the suspect succumbs to Villaronga’s pleas and gives him the knife.
“At the end of the day, I do have a uniform. I do have a job to do. But killing you? That’s not a part of my job,” Villaronga said.
Many of the new officers we spoke with said they come to Baltimore because they see the city is viewed as a tough policing assignment. One officer who is a Baltimore native, Keona Holley, says most new officers in her cohort aren’t from Baltimore, and the community suffers because of it.
“The community needs Baltimore city police officers that are here because they care,” she said. “And people that’s not born and raised in Baltimore, they don’t understand how I feel. This is my home. The community is hurting.”
Black residents are used to witnessing police brutality.
A recent survey of Baltimore residents found more than 60% of respondents were not satisfied with their police department. More than half said they witnessed police using excessive force.
Seasoned community organizer Ray Kelly says he’s seen it all firsthand.
“That’s the American way – to use force. That’s how America became America,” Kelly said.
Those recommendations were later reflected in the department’s consent decree.
“My subject matter, expertise, doesn’t come from any years of college,” Kelly said. “I’m from the streets. I’ve been arrested. I’ve been mistreated by police.”
Born just a couple of years after the Baltimore Riots, Kelly has witnessed what he says is disfranchisement.
“This community’s been so disinvested over the past few decades that we’ve learned to take care of our own,” he said.
When it comes to policing, Black people in the city are used to seeing problems with policing in their backyard – most memorably when Freddie Gray was arrested in 2015. Multiplevideoaccounts from the arrest showed the 25-year-old Black man struggling and screaming while officers dragged him into a van in his neighborhood of Sandtown-Winchester. He sustained a neck and spinal injury that led to his death a week later.
Thousands of people took to the streets to protest police brutality. The incident sent shockwaves across the nation. Inside the Baltimore Police Department, Swenson remembers training some of the officers involved.
“They would have went through the typical 80 hours of defensive tactics, 16 hours of the baton,” he shared. “They wouldn’t have gotten the de-escalation training program as you saw it today. We knew we had to make some changes.”
The Department of Justice launched an investigation that eventually led to the department’s consent decree, which mandated training like de-escalation.
Still, it’s not clear if de-escalation training actually works.
But a recent CBS survey of 155 large police departments found that the majority had some sort of de-escalation training. Still, that represents only a fraction of the almost 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the U.S.
On top of that, research shows de-escalation training has not been systematically evaluated. Of the trainings that have been reviewed, there have only been moderate benefits of improvement for officers and their communities.
One way to measure the success of a de-escalation program is through a reduction in use-of-force incidents. A recently released study found the implementation of the Police Executive Research Forum’s de-escalation training model in the Louisville Police Department helped reduce use-of-force incidents by 28%, citizen injuries by 26%, and officer injuries by 36%.
After I asked Swenson if he thought it took something like a Freddie Gray incident for police departments to change, he paused for a few seconds.
“Unfortunately I’d say a lot of changes are often written in mistakes of the past,” he admitted. “Sometimes it takes a catalyst to force you into looking at what you’re doing and making the necessary changes.”
Some, like Villaronga, say it takes empathy to de-escalate situations.
“Sometimes that’s just not taught. It’s just grown into you,” he said.
Meanwhile, many community members simply hope for sustained reform.
“As Black people, we’ve been watching these types of actions for over 50 years,” Kelly said. “The hope is that one day we won’t have to deal with another Freddie Gray incident, George Floyd.”
“If we can eliminate the killing of unarmed Black men by the police, then that’ll rejuvenate nationwide hope that things can change around the country.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in December 2020.
In late May, after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Portland, Oregon, erupted as a hotbed for protest activity, with demonstrators taking to the streets for more than 100 consecutive days.
It also became a flashpoint for clashes between police and protesters. Demonstrators were at many times peaceful but in some instances engaged in violence and vandalism, while federal and local law enforcement repeatedly used aggressive tactics in response to the protests.
But legal documents filed by attorneys for the Department of Justice last month have started to paint a picture of just how frequently officers turned to force.
Portland Police Bureau officers used force “more than 6,000 times” during “crowd-control events” between May 29 and November 15 – an average of 35 times per day – the attorneys said, summarizing the DOJ’s review of PPB officers’ conduct as part of a previous settlement agreement.
“PPB has failed to maintain substantial compliance with the Agreement’s force-policy requirements,” they said.
PPB did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment on this story.
“Some of this force deviated from force policy, and supervisors frequently validated individual uses of force with little or no discussion of reasonableness of the force used,” the DOJ attorneys said. “Many [after-action reviews] did not include any witness interviews or officer interviews. Many [reviews] contained similar or identical, i.e., cut-and-paste, language.”
The DOJ’s review also found that commands from top brass often didn’t translate effectively to front-line officers, leading to the agency to conclude that in some cases, those officers’ “movements were chaotic and could have been executed better.”
The review also determined that PPB improperly justified its use of force by claiming all members of a protest were engaged in “active aggression” simply by being part of a crowd where some people were being aggressive. In one example, according to the document, an officer justified firing a “less-lethal impact munition” at an individual because they “engaged in ‘furtive conversation’ and ran away.”
The DOJ did acknowledge, however, that officers in Portland faced “substantial challenges” stemming from the wave of protests, which it said often included a “criminal element,” as well as a rise in violent crime across the city and budget cuts that hindered training.
Portland faced a particularly complex blend of protest activity last year, some of which has continued into 2021.
The legislation would ban the use of neck restraints at the federal level, get rid of “qualified immunity” for police officers, and prohibit no-knock warrants in federal drug cases.
Under current law, qualified immunity prevents public officials from being held personally liable for wrongdoing that occurs while on the job, making it difficult to sue police officers. Democrats tried to get rid of it last year, saying doing so would make it easier for police officers to be held accountable for misconduct.
The latest reform bill was passed after President Joe Biden indicated support for it on Twitter and in a statement on Monday.
“To make our communities safer, we must begin by rebuilding trust between law enforcement and the people they are entrusted to serve and protect. We cannot rebuild that trust if we do not hold police officers accountable for abuses of power and tackle systemic misconduct – and systemic racism – in police departments,” the statement said.
House Democrats tried to pass a version of the bill last year but were blocked by the Republican-controlled Senate. The bill now heads to the Senate, where Democrats need at least 10 Republican votes in order for it to become law.
Some Republicans have said the bill would make it harder for police to do their jobs. On the House floor Wednesday, GOP Rep. Carlos Gimenez of Florida said the bill would “weaken and possibly destroy our community’s police forces,” NPR reported.
But Rep. Karen Bass, who introduced the latest legislation, said she believes lawmakers will work together to pass the bill in the Senate, NBC reported. “Many of our Republican colleagues said they thought they could get to yes on this, but they had some difficulties,” Bass said of last year’s bill.
The bill also outlaws racial profiling, establishes a national registry of police misconduct, and requires state and local agencies to report use of force data by categories that includes race, sex, and religion.
The arc of history may ultimately bend toward justice, but Linda Tirado says she isn’t waiting around for the passage of time.
“I think that, every step in the process, the judicial system has a chance to kind of nudge things toward being more right,” Tirado said in an interview following a legal victory that could have broad ramifications for police and how they treat reporters. “And I think that any time you can nudge things towards being more correct or more just, that’s a net good outcome, not only for me but for anybody who’s going to be affected by this.”
It left her partially blinded, in pain – the headaches persist to this day – and racking up tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills for two surgeries. In a lawsuit filed last year, Tirado alleged that she was not the victim of a mere accident, but of a conspiracy, involving city leaders, police, and recently retired union boss (and Trump rally speaker) Bob Kroll, to tolerate rank-and-file officers targeting the press.
Last August, Kroll filed a motion to dismiss the amended complaint. The police chief did as well. The city filed a motion to dismiss part of the amended complaint. (The city did not dismiss Tirado’s “common-law battery claim.”)
“How am I doing? It’s pretty mixed, man,” Tirado said in an interview, eight months later. “It’s a pandemic, and I don’t have sight in my left eye.”
Tirado has slowly returned to her craft; she now specializes in extreme close-up photography, while still venturing out to cover protests from time to time. “When I’m using a camera, I find I’m able to see what I could before, and that’s been really kind of soothing,” she said.
Beyond the comfort of a routine, Tirado also has that court victory.
In a February 22 order, US Judge John R. Tunheim wrote that what happened to Tirado was not only “serious and troubling,” but seemed to be part of pattern that gestures toward a policy of institutional disregard for the US Constitution.
“Although not every incident involved the use of foam bullets or projectiles,” Tunheim wrote, “the alleged police misconduct toward journalists occurred under similar circumstances: journalists were identifiable as press, separated from protestors and at a distance from police, and were not engaging in any threatening or unlawful conduct.”
The judge, while not in a position to issue a final judgment, did determine that Tirado’s lawyers (at the powerhouse firm Sidley Austin) had made a compelling case that the lawsuit should move forward. To dismiss it as but a single injustice from one police action would give police a de facto “window” for violating the constitution on the basis that, legally – as the city and its law enforcement argued – it is not possible to demonstrate a pervasive, formal custom of abuse based on actions that transpired over a period of just a few days.
In Minneapolis, over a half-dozen other journalists alleged abuse at the hands of police around the time of Tirado’s injury. These incidents were widely reported, her attorneys note, arguing that subsequent failure to rein in police suggests widespread complacency, if not outright support.
“There are important constitutional rights that we believe were violated,” Tai-Heng Cheng, global head of international arbitration and trade at Sidley Austin, told Insider. He took up the case not because it’s a singular injustice, but because it speaks to a broader and systemic wrong in the United States. “This case of course is important not just for Linda, but for journalists everywhere – and especially for journalists who put their lives at risk in covering civil protests in America.”
This week’s ruling means that Tirado’s legal team can now proceed with discovery, gaining access to communication between the city, the police, and their union. The goal is to demonstrate that the repeated targeting of the media was known, and hardly discouraged.
A spokesperson for the city of Minneapolis declined to comment.
Law enforcement elsewhere will likely be watching the case, and not just on the local level. In Portland, for example, Trip Jennings, who has worked with PBS and National Geographic, told Insider last June – just weeks after Tirado was shot – that he believed he was likewise targeted by law enforcement with a less-lethal round. His vision was saved by protective eyewear (Tirado had protection too, but any safety gear will struggle to withstand a direct hit).
On March 8, meanwhile, a trial will begin in another case: that of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with killing George Floyd.
“I’m going to be watching that with close attention,” Tirado said. She has friends who will be covering it and any protests that take place outside. “My concern right now is, well, I hope we all collectively learned some lessons because what we don’t need is for happened to me to ever happen again to any citizen,” she said, “but particularly a journalist who is reporting out a story.”
Prosecutors can introduce two previous incidents of alleged excessive force in their case against Derek Chauvin, the former police officer charged with murdering George Floyd, a judge ruled Tuesday.
Floyd was killed in 2020 after Chauvin, then a Minneapolis police officer, pressed him to the ground with a knee on his neck for almost nine minutes. Bodycam footage shows Floyd pleaded for his life before expiring, complaining that “I can’t breathe.” His death set off weeks of protests around the country against police brutality.
In 2015, the Star Tribune reported, the ex-cop used a stun gun on a suspect and restrained him in a “side-recovery position” that jeopardized his life, according to first responders.
In 2017, Chauvin also pinned a woman to the ground by jamming his knee on her neck, the Star Tribune reported, citing prosecutors who argued that he did so “beyond the point when such force was needed.”
In Tuesday’s ruling, Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill said both incidents can be cited at trial. But Cahill also ruled that other, similar episodes could not be introduced.
Over the course of his career, Chauvin was subject to 18 complaints from members of the public.
Three other officers have also been charged in relation to Floyd’s killing.