The longest-serving police officer in the Minneapolis Police Department said on Friday that Derek Chauvin had violated department policy by kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes as he lay handcuffed on his stomach.
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 what Mr. Chauvin had done was “totally unnecessary.”
“Pulling him down to the ground facedown and putting your knee on a neck for that amount of time, it’s just uncalled for,” said Lieutenant Zimmerman, who joined the department in 1985.
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, and it followed testimony from Mr. Chauvin’s supervisor, who also criticized his actions. That supervisor, Sgt. David Pleoger, said on Thursday that Mr. Chauvin should have stopped holding Mr. Floyd down once he became unresponsive and that Mr. Chauvin had not initially divulged that he knelt on Mr. Floyd.
Prosecutors have sought to show that Mr. Chauvin’s actions were unusually violent and that he failed to follow the department’s policies on force.
Lieutenant Zimmerman testified that officers are taught to move handcuffed people out of the prone position as quickly as possible — by turning them on their side or sitting them up — and that officers had never been trained to kneel on people’s necks while they were handcuffed and lying on their stomachs.
“You need to get them off their chest,” he said. “If you’re lying on your chest, that’s constricting your breathing even more.”
Eric J. Nelson, the lawyer for Mr. Chauvin, used his cross-examination of Lieutenant Zimmerman to note that he worked in the investigations unit and may not be as familiar with the force that uniformed officers have to use on patrol. Lieutenant Zimmerman agreed with Mr. Nelson when he asked if people can become more combative after waking back up from being unconscious. Lieutenant Zimmerman also said police officers had been trained to kneel on a person’s shoulder, in some circumstances, while they put handcuffs on the person.
Mr. Nelson suggested earlier this week that Mr. Floyd was turned slightly to his side; he 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 said on Friday that police officers had a duty to take care of a person they had handcuffed.
What Happened on May 25?
- On May 25, 2020, Minneapolis police officers arrested George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, after a convenience store clerk claimed he used a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes.
- Mr. Floyd died after Derek Chauvin, one of the police officers, handcuffed him and pinned him to the ground with a knee, an episode that was captured on video.
What Happened to Derek Chauvin?
How Floyd’s Death Ignited a Movement
“His safety is your responsibility,” Lieutenant Zimmerman said. “His well-being is your responsibility.”
Lieutenant Zimmerman acknowledged that people who are handcuffed can still be combative and try to hurt officers, such as by kicking them, but he said 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 was among a group of 14 veteran police officers who published a public letter last June to condemn Mr. Chauvin. “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.