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Retired Minnesota Police Officers React To George Floyd's Killing


After George Floyd died in Minneapolis, his family hired independent medical examiners to determine his cause of death. Yesterday afternoon they released what they'd found. At the time, I was sitting in a hotel lobby with two retired Minneapolis police officers.

ALISA CLEMONS: At the time, there was only, like, five of us on the department, so Gwen was probably the sixth.

KING: Lieutenant Gwen Gunter left the force in 2012. Sergeant Alisa Clemons (ph) left in 2001. I read them the message that had come across my phone.

The autopsy report just came out, and it says that George Floyd was killed. George Floyd died from asphyxiation by pressure.

It said it was a homicide. Alisa Clemons fell back in her chair and clapped.

You clapped your hands.

CLEMONS: Absolutely.

KING: Why?

CLEMONS: Because that seals it in cement for me.

GWEN GUNTER: Because you know it's going to cement the case.

CLEMONS: It cements the case against him, and it cements the conviction that we should get from that case.

KING: When Gunter didn't get excited...

GUNTER: For me, it confirmed what we already knew. So to me, I - it just - that's what it did. It just confirmed what we already knew.

KING: I've been talking to protesters here since Saturday. Many of them have had bad or even terrible experiences with the police. Some of them even said George Floyd's death wasn't an aberration. I wanted to know what police officers thought, but they can't really talk. Retired police officers can. Clemons and Gunter didn't want to see the brutal video of Mr. Floyd being killed, but they did. What struck them as former cops was that Derek Chauvin didn't look in any way agitated.

GUNTER: There obviously wasn't an adrenaline dump, or we were past that because he had his hand in his pocket.

CLEMONS: Absolutely.

GUNTER: And anyone using force appropriately or necessary wouldn't have their hand in their pocket. That's your - you've reached - your adrenaline has dropped. You're in what we call code yellow, maybe in code white. I mean, he's got his hand in his pocket. There are levels for force - or there are levels that we operate on.


GUNTER: And code white is where there's no threat, there's no sign of a threat, you're not anticipating any threats. He was clearly code white because his hand was in his pocket, so there was no threat.

CLEMONS: Clearly code white.

GUNTER: So you try to be in what we call code yellow.

KING: Meaning you're not...

CLEMONS: Getting ready, kind of.

KING: ...Completely chill, but you're aware. You're alert.

GUNTER: You're aware of your surroundings, you know?

KING: They know all this stuff because they were on the job for so long. They're proud to have been Minneapolis police officers. That doesn't mean they go easy on the force. Alisa sued the department twice for discrimination, harassment and retaliation. She won twice. They know there are bad cops, but they haven't seen anything like this video.

GUNTER: We've always rendered aid, and I didn't see that. I didn't even see that they were concerned. You know, when the ambulance came and put him in the ambulance, you know, I'm looking at the cops, and there's just no - it was like there was something missing. There was no connection that this man was in need of help. As a matter of fact, sarge and I both heard on the video the dispatcher say ambulance is coming. Code two, which means there are two ways the ambulance is going to come - code two and code three. Code three, you're running lights and siren, and you're getting there as fast as you can. Code two means you're, you know, take your time. You know, it's not as serious.

KING: Gunter says there's really only one of two conclusions you can reach after watching that video.

GUNTER: This person either wasn't trained properly or wasn't adhering to their training properly.

KING: But...

GUNTER: But that didn't enter my mind when I saw this. I was like, he's intentionally not, you know, applying it properly. Like, there's no...

CLEMONS: Because he kept digging his knee in.

GUNTER: There was no adjustment. There was no...

CLEMONS: But when there's - this is different, and it needs to be said, this is different, so that people don't think that we condone other shootings. It needs to be said that this is different.

GUNTER: You watched him die. You watched him take his last breath. And I don't think there has been anything like this video that we've seen. And I think because of that, it's touched a visceral part of you that just responded. And immediately following that I felt this uncontrollable rage to the point where I didn't want any comfort. I didn't want to hear comforting words. I wanted to put my fist through the wall.

KING: So they've joined the demonstrators. They want all four police officers to be prosecuted. They've put themselves in those officers' shoes. They've asked themselves, could that have been me? They each decided no. It could never have been. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.