The most senior officer on the Minneapolis police department testified last Thursday that actions like those used on George Floyd are not part of police department training, saying “if your knee is on a person’s neck, that could kill them.”
Lt. Richard Zimmerman, who supervises the Minneapolis Police Department homicide unit, testified that actions like those used on Floyd are not part of police department training.
Former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin put his knee on Floyd’s neck while he lay handcuffed outside of Cup Foods as Floyd told Chauvin and three other officers that he could not breathe.
Zimmerman is the longest serving officer in the department, he told prosecutor Matthew Frank, and has been trained every year in the use of force.
He said he has never been trained by the Minneapolis Police Department to kneel on the back of a suspect.
“That would be the top tier, the deadly force,” Zimmerman told prosecutor Matthew Frank.
There is a continuum of force that officers can use depending on the situation, that ranges from simply being on scene, to verbal skills, a “soft” technique like escorting a person by their arm, or hard techniques like handcuffs, all the way up to deadly force.
Once a person is in custody, their safety and well-being are the officers’ responsibility.
“Once you secure a person you need to get them out of the prone position as soon as possible because it restricts their breathing,” Zimmerman told the court. “Once a person is cuffed, you need to turn them on their side or have them sit up.”
Suspects are a much smaller threat to officers after they are in handcuffs.
“Once a person is cuffed, the threat level goes down all the way. They are cuffed, how can they really hurt you,” he said. “You getting injured is way down. 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.”
When someone stops resisting, officers should work to calm them down.
“If they become less combative, you may just have them sit down on a curb. 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 are not as upset as they may have been in the beginning,” Zimmerman testified.
On the night Floyd died, Zimmerman arrived at the corner where Cup Foods is located around 10 p.m. local time and walked up to officers J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane, body camera video showed.
Zimmerman determined they were “involved officers” and needed to go to city hall to be interviewed, he said.
Other officers were needed at the scene, so he testified he called in an on-call homicide team.
The state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) took over the case when the hospital determined Floyd had died, Zimmerman explained to the court.