The most senior police officer in the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) testified in the Derek Chauvin murder trial on Friday, saying Chauvin's use of force against George Floyd was "totally unnecessary."
Chauvin is on trial for murder and manslaughter charges in connection to 46-year-old Floyd's May 25, 2020, death. The now-former MPD officer knelt on Floyd's neck, while he was handcuffed and face down on the ground, for more than nine minutes, including after Floyd had gone unconscious.
Police had been called to the scene near 38th and Chicago in Minneapolis that evening on a report that Floyd used a fake $20 bill at Cup Foods.
"Pulling him down to the ground, facedown, and putting your knee on a neck for that amount of time, it's just uncalled for," Lt. Richard Zimmerman, who is the head of the MPD's homicide unit, testified in Hennepin County District Court on Friday.
Zimmerman testified about his training as a police officer, including annual use-of-force training, explaining there are different levels of force that are appropriate depending on the situation. And once a person is handcuffed "the threat level goes down all the way" and a higher level of force is no longer necessary, "the threat level is just not there."
"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 be able to use that kind of force," he said.
Zimmerman was never trained to kneel on a suspect's neck because it's dangerous, categorizing the act as deadly force.
"If your knee is on a person's neck, that can kill them," Zimmerman told prosecutor Matthew Frank.
Training calls for turning someone in the prone position on their side instead of their chest to help them breathe, especially once they're handcuffed, Zimmerman said. Floyd said multiple times he couldn't breathe before he died.
When Frank asked if, in his opinion, the restraint on Floyd should have stopped after he was handcuffed and prone to the ground, Zimmerman said, "Absolutely."
Zimmerman, a witness for the prosecution, responds to every suspicious death in the city. On May 25, 2020, he arrived at 38th and Chicago — not knowing much about what had happened — shortly before 10 p.m., a few hours after the incident, to find officer Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng standing at the corner of the intersection. After discovering they were involved in Floyd's death, he separated them and instructed them to be taken in for questioning.
Former officers Lane and Kueng, along with former officer Tou Thao, have also been charged with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter in Floyd's death. They'll be tried together in August.
Friday marked the 17th day of the trial (the fifth day of testimony) and was a half-day, with jurors being dismissed for the weekend before noon after hearing from two of the prosecution's witnesses Friday, Zimmerman and MPD Sgt. John Edwards.
Edwards, who testified before Zimmerman took the witness stand, said that he responded to 38th and Chicago around 9:30 p.m. to help secure the scene and speak to witnesses, including Charles McMillian, who saw Floyd's arrest and testified about it earlier this week.
Judge Peter Cahill dismissed jurors early on Friday because they're ahead of schedule for the trial that is expected to last 2-4 weeks. The trial will continue on Monday.