A homicide lieutenant — the most senior member of the Minneapolis Police Department — told jurors Friday that kneeling on the neck of someone who is handcuffed and flat on the ground is “deadly force” and was “totally unnecessary.”
Lt. Richard Zimmerman, a 36-year veteran of the department, delivered the damning testimony on the fifth day of ex-officer Derek Chauvin’s trial for the alleged murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, after Floyd passed a counterfeit $20 bill.
“Have you ever, in all the years you’ve been working for Minneapolis Police Department, been trained to kneel on the neck of someone who is handcuffed behind their back in the prone position?” asked Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank in Hennepin County District Court.
“No, I haven’t,” replied Zimmerman, as Chauvin, 45, furiously scribbled notes on a yellow legal pad. “That would be the top tier, the deadly force … because if you kneel on a person’s neck, that could kill them.”
Zimmerman said he previously reviewed the haunting footage of Chauvin pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds as he cried “I can’t breathe” 27 times and called out for his mother.
“What do you think about that use of force during that time period?” the prosecutor asked.
“Totally unnecessary,” he said. “Pulling him down to the ground face-down and putting a knee on a neck for that amount of time is just uncalled for. I saw no reason why the officers felt they were in danger.”
Zimmerman’s testimony echoed that of retired Sgt. David Pleoger, who testified on Thursday that the cops should have let Floyd get up after he “was no longer offering resistance.”
After Floyd had stopped moving, Chauvin kept his knee pressed against his neck for more than four minutes until an ambulance arrived and a paramedic asked him to remove it.
Zimmerman said all officers are trained that once you handcuff a person, you need to take them out of the prone position as soon as possible because it restricts their breathing.
He added that officers are obligated to provide first aid if a suspect is in distress.
On cross-examination, defense attorney Eric Nelson suggested that Zimmerman, as an investigator, can’t relate to the danger that a patrol officer may have felt.
After Floyd was taken to the hospital, Zimmerman arrived on the scene and turned over the investigation to the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to avoid a conflict of interest.
Prosecutors have argued that Chauvin used “excessive and unreasonable” force during the deadly encounter, while the defense contends that Floyd died as a result of drug use and a heart ailment.
Chauvin, who was fired one day after Floyd’s death, is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He faces up to 40 years in prison on the top count.
Three other former Minneapolis police officers — Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng — are due to stand trial on charges of aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter in the case.
The trial wrapped up early Friday and is expected to resume Monday morning.