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Lt. Richard Zimmerman Testifies That Safety of Detainees Is Officers’ Responsibility

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The longest-serving police officer in the Minneapolis Police Department indicated on Friday that Derek Chauvin had violated department policy by failing to move George Floyd off of his stomach as he knelt on him for more than nine minutes.

Lt. Richard Zimmerman, who leads the department’s homicide unit and responded to the scene of Mr. Floyd’s death after he was taken away in an ambulance, testified in court that officers are taught to move a handcuffed person out of the prone position as quickly as possible and that they had never been trained to kneel on people’s necks while they were handcuffed and lying on their stomachs.

He said police officers had a duty to take care of someone who they have handcuffed.

“His safety is your responsibility,” Lieutenant Zimmerman said. “His well-being is your responsibility.”

He said officers are supposed to turn people onto their side or have them sit up after handcuffing them because keeping them handcuffed and lying on their stomach can make it difficult to breathe.

“You need to get them off their chest,” he said. “If you’re lying on your chest, that’s constricting your breathing even more.”

His testimony came on the fifth day of the trial of Mr. Chauvin, the former police officer charged with murder in Mr. Floyd’s death. Prosecutors have sought to show that Mr. Chauvin’s actions were unusually violent and that he failed to follow the department’s policy on taking care of a handcuffed A lawyer for Mr. Chauvin has suggested that Mr. Floyd was turned slightly to the side and has tried to move jurors’ attention away from the widely-seen video that shows Mr. Chauvin kneeling on Mr. Floyd for more than nine minutes.

Lieutenant Zimmerman acknowledged that people who are handcuffed can still be combative and try to kick officers, but that they usually only present a minor threat.

“Once a person is cuffed, the threat level goes down all the way,” he said. “They’re cuffed; how can they really hurt you?”

Lieutenant Zimmerman has been with the department since 1985 and was among a group of 14 veteran police officers who published a public letter last June to condemn Derek Chauvin, who is now charged with murder in Mr. Floyd’s death. “This is not who we are,” the letter said.

Friday was not the first time that Lieutenant Zimmerman had testified in a high-profile case involving police violence. In 2019, he testified that the scene of a fatal shooting by a Minneapolis police officer was well-lit, contradicting an argument from the officers’ lawyers that the lighting in the area was poor.

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