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Veteran Homicide Lieutenant Testifies at Derek Chauvin Trial: Kneeling on Neck of Prone, Handcuffed Person Is Deadly Force


A Minneapolis homicide lieutenant took the stand in the trial of fired police officer Derek Chauvin, 45, on Friday, where he testified he was never trained to kneel on the neck of a prone person who was handcuffed behind the back because doing so would constitute deadly force. Lt. Richard Zimmerman said it was “uncalled for” when Chauvin used those tactics on George Floyd, 46. Having seen bystander video and body cam footage of the incident, Zimmerman said he saw no reason why the officers believed they were in danger, if that’s what they believed.

Defense lawyer Eric Nelson is trying to show that Chauvin’s actions were reasonable under the circumstances. Officers had been arresting Floyd for allegedly tendering a counterfeit $20 bill; a crowd of bystanders formed. The medical examiner said that Floyd had heart disease, fentanyl in his system, and evidence of recent meth use — but determined the death was a homicide. In opening statements, prosecutor Jerry Blackwell acknowledged Floyd’s general condition but asserted Floyd would not have died were it not for Chauvin’s decision to kneel on his neck for minutes.

As seen on video, bystanders chided the police for how they treated the dying, handcuffed, increasingly unresponsive Floyd. Yes, they cursed at the assembled officers, but as far as MMA-trained security guard Donald Williams and off-duty Minneapolis firefighter Genevieve Hansen were concerned, they were trying to save a man’s life.

“You can’t paint me out to be angry,” Williams said Tuesday while denying that he was a danger to law enforcement

Nonetheless, Nelson maintained his theme that bystanders created a dangerous environment and diverted officers’ attention from Floyd.

During cross-examination, Nelson acknowledged that Zimmerman had never been trained to use a knee on the neck of a suspect, but the defense attorney said an officer can use any means necessary in a fight for life. The lieutenant agreed.

The defense lawyer presented the hypothetical of using a nearby paint can as a weapon.

The attorney also asked questions to exhibit that handcuffed man could still be a danger — such as by kicking.

Nelson worked to mitigate Zimmerman’s testimony by pointing out that the lieutenant, as an investigative officer, would be less likely to use higher levels of force than patrol officers and suggested that most of his experience with the use of force had come through training. Zimmerman said the last time he got into a physical fight was in 2018.

During redirect, prosecutor Matthew Frank pointed out that while the lieutenant was a student, not a teacher in such measures, it was well known that the prone position is dangerous. Zimmerman agreed.

He testified to not seeing Floyd kick the officers. When asked, he agreed that holding a detainee for EMS did not excuse an officer for providing medical attention or from continuing to using the decision-making model for use of force. He agreed that Chauvin did not need to improvise at the scene by putting a knee on Floyd for nine minutes and 29 seconds.

[Screengrab via Law&Crime Network]

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