The longest-serving police officer with the Minneapolis police department said on Friday in court that former officer Derek Chauvin used a “totally unnecessary” amount of force last May when he kneeled on George Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes while he was handcuffed.
“Totally unnecessary,” lieutenant Richard Zimmerman said when asked whether that sort of move was justified. “First of all, pulling him down to the ground face-down and putting your knee on a neck for that amount of time is just uncalled for. 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 have felt to use that kind of force.”
Mr Chauvin, a white former Minneapolis police officer, is facing murder charges after he was recorded on video kneeling on the neck of Mr Floyd, an unarmed Black man in handcuffs, for more than nine minutes during an arrest for a counterfeit $20 bill last May.
Deciding whether Mr Chauvin used an appropriate, sanctioned amount of force on Mr Floyd is one of the central questions of this case.
Lieutenant Zimmerman has been with the Minneapolis police since 1985, and he told the court that he’s never been trained to use that technique. Later in his testimony, he said that it’s possible an officer’s knee could be placed on someone’s upper back momentarily while they are detaining someone in handcuffs.
“That would be the top tier: the deadly force…because of the fact that if your knee is on somebody’s neck, that could kill him,” he said.
Mr Zimmerman also described how officers are taught to use force on a “continuum,” with more or less being applied as the situation on the ground changes. Once a suspect is in handcuffs, Mr Zimmerman continued, the threat level goes way down.
“Once a person is cuffed, the threat level goes down all the way. They’re cuffed, how can they really hurt you?” he said. “The threat level is just not there.”
Instead, Mr Zimmerman said, the obligation then becomes to care for the person in custody, including offering timely medical aid like CPR or sitting them up to allow for easier breathing if they’re in distress.
“That person is yours,” he said. “He’s your responsibility. His safety is your responsibility. His well being is your responsibility.”
Mr Zimmerman was not formally involved in the department’s use of force review after Mr Floyd’s fatal arrest, but arrived to the scene shortly afterward to help secure it and direct officers before the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension took over a formal “critical incident” review.