A veteran Minneapolis police lieutenant testified Friday that it was "totally unnecessary" for Derek Chauvin to put his knee on a handcuffed George Floyd's neck during his arrest last spring.
"First of all," Lt. Richard Zimmerman said during Chauvin's murder trial in Hennepin County District Court, "pulling him down to the ground facedown and putting your knee on a neck for that amount of time is just uncalled for."
The head of the Police Department's homicide unit added, "I saw no reason why the officers felt they were in danger if that's what they felt, and that's what they would have to have felt to have to use that kind of force."
In your opinion, should that restraint have stopped once he was handcuffed and prone on the ground?
Zimmerman said department policy requires that prone suspects who are handcuffed — as was Floyd on the night of his death — must be taken off their chest as soon as possible.
The lieutenant went through the Police Department's use of force policy and brought up several provisions that run counter to what the prosecution is contending Chauvin and other officers did wrong on May 25, when Floyd was kept-face down and cuffed behind his back for more than nine minutes as he became unresponsive and died later that night.
Prosecutor Matthew Frank asked Zimmerman whether he was ever trained to put a knee on the neck of someone in handcuffs.
"No, I haven't," he said.
Zimmerman said such a tactic would fall under the most extreme level of force by an officer, that being "deadly force."
"If your knee is on someone's neck, that could kill them," he said.
Frank then asked how much a threat a suspect would be once handcuffed.
"The threat level goes down all the way," the lieutenant said. "They are cuffed; how can they hurt you? ... You getting injured is way down," apart from possibly getting kicked, he continued.
Once the cuffs are on a suspect, "that person is yours," said Zimmerman, who joined the department 36 years ago. "He is your responsibility. His safety is your responsibility. His well-being is your responsibility."
Under cross examination, defense attorney Eric Nelson noted that Zimmerman has not worked as a patrol officer for several years and does not teach defensive tactics. He also noted that police officers sometimes need to "improvise" to protect themselves regardless of training.
"You would agree, however, in a fight for your life, you as an officer are allowed to use whatever force is reasonable and necessary, correct?"
"Minneapolis Police Department policy allows an officer to use 'whatever means available' to protect yourself, correct?" Nelson asked.
The lieutenant under questioning acknowledged that handcuffed suspects can still pose a danger.
"That person can continue to thrash his body around, correct, and part of the reason police officers restrain people is for their own safety, correct?" Nelson asked.
"Correct," Zimmerman said.
The prosecution rose again and sought to undermine several of the defense's points raised while questioning Zimmerman.
Most notably, Frank asked the lieutenant whether he found the circumstances of Floyd's arrest called for Chauvin "to improvise by putting his knee on Mr. Floyd for 9 minutes and 29 seconds?" To which Zimmerman replied, "No, I did not."
Zimmerman also said his review of police body camera video revealed no kicking by Floyd once he was subdued on the pavement.
Judge Peter Cahill adjourned proceeding for the day shortly after 11:30 a.m. once Zimmerman was done testifying and said court would reconvene Monday morning.
The first witness called Friday was Jon Edwards, a Minneapolis police sergeant, who has been on the force since 2007.
Edwards said he was just beginning his shift on the night of May 25, when he was alerted by the previous shift's supervisory sergeant that Floyd "may or may not live." Edwards added that he was directed to the intersection where Floyd was arrested "just in case we had to secure that area and make contact with any of the officers" still there.
Edwards said he got to E. 38th Street and S. Chicago Avenue about 9:30 p.m., met with officers J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane, who ordered them to turn on their body-worn cameras. The officers then explained where they interacted with Floyd. Edwards said he directed them to up crime scene tape to "preserve any potential evidence that was there."
He ordered them out of their squad and began canvassing witnesses. He encountered Charles McMillian, one of the first witnesses to Floyd's detainment and death who testified earlier this week. At the time, McMillian refused to give Edwards his name or provide information.
"I told him he would be very valuable if he would provide us with information," Edwards said. "He told me he refused to say anything and wondered if he was under arrest; and I told him no, and he told me he wanted to leave."
Edwards explained that state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension personnel arrived and took over control of the crime scene as Kueng and Lane were escorted to City Hall for a debriefing. The officers' squad and Floyd's SUV were towed away by the BCA as evidence in what was classified as a "critical incident."
Law enforcement control of the crime scene was lifted shortly before 4 a.m., Edwards said.
The sergeant's testimony helped lay a foundation for the testimony of Zimmerman, who worked in the homicide unit at that time and joined Edwards and the other officers the scene of Floyd's arrest.
Zimmerman testified that he was at home when he learned of the incident and his presence at the intersection was needed.
The lieutenant arrived and asked, "What's going on?" to law enforcement on the scene, according to officer bodycam footage shown in court.
Zimmerman located Kueng and Lane, then "determined they were involved officers" connected to Floyd's arrest, he said.
"We needed some more people out here," Zimmerman testified telling Edwards, as well as "we need to get these two guys downtown" for their debriefing.
Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter. The other officers on the scene, Lane, Kueng and Tou Thao, are expected to go on trial in August on charges of aiding and abetting Chauvin.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482