Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo's unequivocal and historic testimony condemning now-former officer Derek Chauvin's actions that led to George Floyd's death is seen by some veteran lawyers as a fresh crack in the longstanding "blue wall" code of silence by police.
"What could be the possible interest in the police trying to defend that?" civil rights attorney Al Goins said. "Their best defense as a department is to try to say this is wrong, this is not who we are, and that's not who we want to be in the future."
Arradondo spent most of Monday on the witness stand, recounting in detail how he learned of Floyd's death, and how Chauvin's conduct was out of step with department policies at nearly every turn.
In calm, clear testimony regarding the force being used on the handcuffed Floyd, the chief called Chauvin's conduct a violation of policy and training and said it "is certainly not part of our ethics or values."
It is incredibly rare for a police chief to take the stand against one of his own former officers, so Arradondo's remarks immediately ricocheted around social media and were rebroadcast on TV news outlets across the country in one of the most extraordinary moments of the trial. But his comments also took on broader implications for a department whose culture has long discouraged officers from criticizing a colleague's conduct — at least publicly.
Chauvin faces murder and manslaughter charges, while the two officers who held Floyd's back and legs, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng, and a third officer who stood guard, Tou Thao, have each been charged with aiding and abetting murder.
Some watching the trial saw Arradondo's testimony, coupled with that of other police witnesses — homicide Lt. Richard Zimmerman, Sgt. Jon Edwards and David Pleoger, a retired MPD sergeant — as striking a blow to the "blue wall of silence" that usually protects police wrongdoing.
Goins said the video of Floyd's death made it harder for police officials to defend the actions to the public.
He said he frequently faced resistance when representing victims of police brutality, and not only from fellow officers, but also sheriff's deputies, prosecutors and other criminal justice representatives who tried to cover up bad police behavior.
"In those cases where there were close calls, I think they had no incentive to try to say, 'Nope, we're gonna root this out.' Their incentives operated the other way, to try to close ranks," Goins said.
Arradondo has previously called Floyd's death a "murder."
Some critics on social media said that Arradondo's testimony was self-serving and that by painting his former officer as an outlier, or "bad apple," he was deflecting attention from the aggressive tactics that the department trains its officers on. Others pointed out that Arradondo disciplined an officer who spoke as an anonymous source for a GQ magazine article criticizing the department's "toxic culture."
Last week, Zimmerman, the longest-tenured officer in the department, testified that he saw Chauvin's actions kneeling on Floyd's neck as "totally unnecessary." The longtime homicide chief was among the group of officers who issued a public letter condemning Floyd's killing and pledging to "work with you and for you to regain your trust."
"Like us, Derek Chauvin took an oath to hold the sanctity of life most precious," the letter read. "Derek Chauvin failed as a human and stripped George Floyd of his dignity and life. This is not who we are."
In many ways, the Chauvin case stood in stark contrast to the last major police brutality case in Minneapolis, of now-former officer Mohamed Noor.
In that trial, prosecutors openly complained of officers changing their accounts of what happened on the night Noor shot Justine Ruszczyk Damond while responding to her 911 call. Dozens of officers also refused to come in for voluntary statements, on the advice of their union, prompting prosecutors to take the unusual step of issuing subpoenas to compel their cooperation. Attorneys on both sides of the Chauvin case said in court earlier this year that they faced no such resistance from officers.
The Hennepin County Attorney's Office, which prosecuted Noor, also repeatedly accused the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) of falling short in its investigation of the shooting, including failing to test key evidence and interview certain witnesses.
Relations between the county attorney's office and the union that represents the city's rank-and-file officers soured after the 2018 trial of Efrem Hamilton, a downtown officer who was charged and later acquitted of firing at a car full of teenagers whom he mistook for suspects in a shooting. No one was injured in the incident. But allegations of dishonesty surfaced during that trial, when an assistant county attorney openly questioned whether a veteran homicide detective gave differing accounts of what happened, prompting a defense objection that the prosecutor was being "argumentative" with her own witness.
In 2019, St. Paul officer Brian Ficcadenti described the existence of an unwritten "code of silence" among officers while testifying in the trial of St. Paul officer Brett Palkowitsch, who was charged with violating the civil rights of Frank Baker, kicking him as he was being bitten by a police dog. Ficcadenti told prosecutors that he was reluctant to criticize Palkowitsch because it might invite retaliation from fellow officers for informing on another officer.
At the time of Chauvin's trial, the presiding judge agreed to bar prosecutors from mentioning the existence of "a blue wall of silence," regarding officers' interactions with their union during the investigation — attorneys for the four since-fired officers on trial for Floyd's death have made a similar request.
The officers' testimony in Chauvin's trial is in line with administrative attempts to shift the culture of policing, both in Minneapolis and elsewhere. Since Floyd's death, several states have passed laws requiring officers to intervene, and not just report, when they encounter another officer using excessive force, including Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Nevada and New Jersey. In California, lawmakers last year considered legislation that would criminalize the "blue wall of silence," punishing officers for failing to intervene when witnessing colleagues using potentially excessive force.