The head of the Minneapolis Police’s homicide unit called Derek Chauvin’s use of force against George Floyd “totally unnecessary” on Friday (April 2), which marked the fifth day of the former cop’s murder trial. Minneapolis Police Lt. Richard Zimmerman took the stand late Friday morning before court adjourned for the weekend.
During his testimony, Zimmerman said Minneapolis police officers are not trained to kneel on the neck of someone who is handcuffed. Zimmerman, who is the most senior officer within the department, said kneeling on someone’s neck while they’re handcuffed would be considered “top tier” “deadly force.”
When prosecutors asked why, Zimmerman responded, “Because of the fact that if your knee is on a person’s neck, that could kill them.”
Zimmerman and prosecutors also discussed the fact that Floyd was handcuffed while Chauvin restrained him. Zimmerman said being handcuffed behind the back restricts a person’s airflow and makes it harder for them to breathe. He also said that officers are expected to lower their use of force after handcuffing a person since they become less of a 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, you know?... You could have some guy try to kick you or something, but you can move out of the way. That person is handcuffed, you know, so the threat level is just not there.”
Zimmerman also discussed how once a person is handcuffed, their “well-being” becomes that officer’s “responsibility.”
“If they become less combative, you may just have them sit down on the curb,” he said. “The idea is to calm the person down and if they are not a threat to you at that point, you try to help them so that they’re not as upset as they may have been in the beginning.”
Chauvin held Floyd down in the prone position, which meant Floyd was lying on his face and stomach. Zimmerman explained that once a person is secured, “you need to get them out of the prone position as soon as possible because it restricts their breathing.”
“Once a person is cuffed, you need to turn them on their side or have them sit up. You need to get them off their chest,” he said. “Your muscles are pulling back when you’re handcuffed and if you’re laying on your chest, that’s constricting your breathing even more.”
On Monday (March 29), prosecutors said Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds as he repeatedly cried out that he could not breathe. Zimmerman said the use of force that Chauvin used against Floyd was “totally unnecessary.”
“First of all, pulling him down to the ground face down and putting your knee on the neck for that amount of time is just uncalled for,” he said. “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 feel to use that kind of force.”
Chauvin is charged with second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death. His trial will resume on Monday (April 5).