The oldest police officer with the Minneapolis Police Department said on Friday that Derek Chauvin violated department policy by failing to move George Floyd out of his stomach as he knelt on top of him for more than nine minutes.
Lt. Richard Zimmerman, who heads the ministry’s homicide unit and intervened at the scene of Mr. Floyd’s death after he was taken in an ambulance, testified in court that officers are learning to move a person handcuffed out of the prone position as quickly as possible and that they had never been trained to kneel on people’s necks while they were handcuffed and lying on their stomachs.
He said the police had a duty to take care of someone they had handcuffed.
“His safety is your responsibility,” Lt. Zimmerman said. “Its well-being is your responsibility.”
He said officers are supposed to put people on their side or sit them down after handcuffing them, as keeping them handcuffed and lying on their stomachs can make it difficult to breathe.
“You have to get them off their chest,” he said. “If you’re lying on your chest, it restricts your breathing even more.”
His testimony took place on the fifth day of the trial of Mr. Chauvin, the former police officer charged with murder in Mr. Floyd’s death. Prosecutors sought to show that Mr. Chauvin’s actions were unusually violent and that he had failed to comply with departmental policy regarding the care of a handcuffed. A lawyer for Mr. Chauvin suggested that Mr. Floyd had been turned slightly to the side and attempted to distract jurors from the widely viewed video which shows Mr. Chauvin kneeling on Mr. Floyd for over nine minutes.
Lt. Zimmerman acknowledged that people in handcuffs can still be combative and try to kick officers, but usually pose only a minor threat.
“Once a person is handcuffed, the threat level drops completely,” he said. “They are handcuffed; how can they really hurt you?
Lt. Zimmerman has been with the ministry since 1985 and was one of a group of 14 veteran police officers who issued a public letter last June to convict Derek Chauvin, who is now charged with murder on the death of Mr. Floyd. “It’s not who we are,” the letter said.
Friday was not the first time Lieutenant Zimmerman has testified in a high-profile case involving police violence. In 2019, he testified that the scene of a fatal shooting by a Minneapolis police officer was well lit, contradicting an argument by police attorneys that the lighting in the area was poor.