Derek Chauvin Kneeling on George Floyd Was ‘Totally Unnecessary,’ #1 Minneapolis Cop Testifies

"Pulling him down to the ground face down and putting a knee on the neck for that amount of time is just uncalled for," Lt. Richard Zimmerman told the jury Friday.
April 2, 2021, 5:39pm
Witness Lt. Richard Zimmerman of the Minneapolis Police Department testifies Friday, April 2, 2021, in the trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minneapolis.
Witness Lt. Richard Zimmerman of the Minneapolis Police Department testifies Friday, April 2, 2021, in the trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minneapolis. (Court TV via AP, Pool)

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The Minneapolis Police Department’s most senior officer just testified that Derek Chauvin’s restraint of George Floyd was “top-tier deadly force”—and also that it was “totally unnecessary.” 

On Friday morning, Lt. Richard Zimmerman, the head of the Minneapolis Police Department’s Homicide Unit for more than 12 years, gave the jury his professional interpretation of what transpired on May 25, when Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes after he allegedly used counterfeit money at Cup Foods on the city’s southside. Zimmerman said that, in his more than 40 years of experience, he has never been trained to place his knee on a person’s neck while subduing them.

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"Pulling him down to the ground face down and putting a knee on the neck for that amount of time is just uncalled for," Zimmerman said in the Hennepin County Courthouse in downtown Minneapolis. "I saw no reason why the officers would have felt they were in danger if that’s what they felt. And that's what they would have felt to use that kind of force.”

“Absolutely I would have stopped," he concluded.

Zimmerman’s testimony was the most damning so far against Chauvin, the former police officer charged with second- and-third degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the 46-year old Black man’s death. Zimmerman has been vocal about his thoughts on Chauvin’s use of force long before the trial and was one of 13 Minneapolis police officers to condemn the disgraced officer’s actions in an open letter to the Star Tribune.

In court on Friday, Zimmerman not only condemned Chauvin’s use of force but also explained why Floyd never should have been handcuffed, face-down, on the ground in the first place. Zimmerman said he’s been aware of the dangers of keeping a handcuffed person in the prone position since 1985.

"Once a person is cuffed, the threat level goes down right away. They’re cuffed, how can they really hurt you?”Zimmerman testified. "Once you have secured or handcuff a person, you need to get them out of the prone position as soon as possible because it restricts their breathing. It stretches the muscles back through their chest and it makes it more difficult to breathe.”

Zimmerman’s testimony marked the third cop in a row and the fifth Minneapolis public servant to take the stand.  On Day Four of the trial, prosecutors questioned Chauvin’s former sergeant, who said Chauvin and the other officers pinning Floyd down should have stopped sooner. The jury also heard from two paramedics, who said that Floyd didn’t have a pulse when Chauvin was still on top of him. One even said there was no reason why the officers couldn’t have started chest compressions.

Zimmerman seemed to agree.

“That person is yours, your responsibility. His safety is your responsibility, his well-being is your responsibility,” Zimmerman said. “You need to provide medical care for a person that is in distress.”

During cross-examination, the defense forced Zimmerman to admit that use of force tactics and other protocol may have changed since he joined law enforcement in the 80s. Zimmerman also revealed that he isn’t responsible for training any officers.

Friday concluded the first full week in the criminal trial of Chauvin, who faces up to 65 years in prison if convicted. Lt. Jon Edwards, who works in community policing at the Minneapolis Police Department, also took the stand and provided some insight into how officers secured the scene of Floyd’s death.