MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Kneeling on George Floyd’s neck while he was handcuffed and lying on his stomach was top-tier, deadly force and “totally unnecessary,” the head of the Minneapolis Police Department’s homicide division testified Friday.
“If your knee is on a person’s neck, that can kill him,” said Lt. Richard Zimmerman, adding that when a person is handcuffed behind their back, “your muscles are pulling back ... and if you’re laying on your chest, that’s constricting your breathing even more.”
Zimmerman, who said he is the most senior person on the police force, also testified at Derek Chauvin’s murder trial that once Floyd was handcuffed, he saw “no reason for 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.”
“So in your opinion, should that restraint have stopped once he was handcuffed and thrown on the ground?” prosecutor Matthew Frank asked.
“Absolutely,” replied Zimmerman.
He said he has never been trained to kneel on someone’s neck if they’re handcuffed behind their back and in the prone position.
He also testified that officers have a duty to provide care for a person in distress, even if an ambulance has been called.
Officers kept restraining Floyd — with Chauvin kneeling on his neck, another kneeling on Floyd’s back and a third holding his feet — until the ambulance arrived, even after he became unresponsive.
Under cross examination, Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson peppered Zimmerman with questions about the use of force, pointing out that officers must consider the entire situation — including what is happening with a suspect, whether the suspect is under the influence, and other surrounding hazards, such as a crowd.
The defense has argued that Chauvin did what he was trained to do when he encountered Floyd last May and that Floyd’s death was caused not by the knee on his neck — as prosecutors contend — but by drugs, his underlying health conditions and adrenaline. An autopsy found fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system.
Chauvin, 45 and white, is charged with killing Floyd by pinning his knee on the 46-year-old Black man’s neck for 9 minutes, 29 seconds, as he lay face-down in handcuffs.