MINNEAPOLIS — A 36-year Minneapolis police veteran testified Friday, April 2, that former cop Derek Chauvin's kneeling on the back of George Floyd's neck was "totally unnecessary."

Lt. Richard Zimmerman, a Minneapolis Police Department homicide officer, on Friday, April 2, told the jury that police officers have a range of "use of force" options in dealing with a threat, but nowhere is an officer trained to kneel on a person when they are hand-cuffed and in a prone position.

"If your knee is on a person's neck, it can kill them," Zimmerman said.

The testimony in the trial of Chauvin, who faces murder and manslaughter charges in the death of Floyd, was perhaps the most damning for Chauvin's case.

Zimmerman called Chauvin's actions in subduing Floyd — handcuffed, on the ground, knee jammed in Floyd's neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds — "totally unnecessary."

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A 36-year Minneapolis police veteran and former Fillmore County Sherriff's deputy before that, Zimmerman said that police officers are trained to use force proportional to the threat they face. As the threat level rises, a police officer's use of force options escalates, up to and including deadly force.

Zimmerman was asked by prosecutor Matthew Frank about the use of force options once a suspect is handcuffed.

"Once the person is handcuffed, the threat level goes down all the way," Zimmerman said. "How can they hurt you?"

Zimmerman said that once a person is handcuffed and no longer combative, a suspect should be adjusted out of the prone position and allowed to sit up or be turned on their side "because it restricts their breathing."

He also told the jury that a police officer assumes responsibility for a suspect once the person is in handcuffs. And if the person is in physical distress, the officer has an obligation to provide medical care.

"He is your responsibility," Zimmerman said. "His safety is your responsibility."

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But under cross-examination, Chauvin's attorney Eric Nelson focused on the fact that Zimmerman's experiences and perspective as an homicide investigator provided limited relevance to an officer patrolling today's streets. Nelson pointed out that the tactics that Minneapolis police use today in dealing with threats have changed and evolved since 1985, when Zimmerman joined the Minneapolis police force.

"You're not out patrolling the streets, making arrests, things of that nature," Nelson said.

He asked Zimmerman when was the last time he had been in a fight. Zimmerman said in 2018.

Nelson also returned to a theme that he has made throughout the five days of testimony: That a police officer in a threatening situation is constantly taking in new information and adjusting tactics and decisions based on that info.

Police officers in some life-threatening situations are allowed to improvise, including using a "paint can" to defend themselves, he said to Zimmerman.

"In the fight for your life, you are allowed to use any force that is reasonable and necessary," Nelson asked of Zimmerman. "A Minneapolis police officer is allowed to use any force necessary to protect himself and others."

Nelson also got Zimmerman to agree that a suspect in handcuffs can still present a threat to an officer, because they can "continue to kick the officer and thrash his body around."

Zimmerman was involved in securing the scene at intersection of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue on May 25, 2020, the night that Floyd died.

Sometime later, Zimmerman was among a number of Minneapolis police officers who signed an open letter condemning Chauvin's actions.

"Like us, Derek Chauvin took an oath to hold the sanctity of life most precious," the letter read. "Derek Chauvin failed as a human being and stripped George Floyd of his dignity and his life. This is not who we are."

Minneapolis police Sgt. Jon Edwards testifies Friday morning, April 2, 2021, in Hennepin County District Court.
Minneapolis police Sgt. Jon Edwards testifies Friday morning, April 2, 2021, in Hennepin County District Court.

Minneapolis Police Sgt. Jon Edwards took the stand before Zimmerman on an abbreviated day in court. Edwards testified about securing the scene at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis in the immediate moments after Floyd's death.

Edwards testified that he had just finished roll call around 8:30 p.m. May 25, 2020, when he received a phone call from now-retired Sgt. David Pleoger. Pleoger said he was at the hospital with a man who may or may not live, Edwards recalled.

With little other detail, Edwards headed down to the intersection in front of Cup Foods, where he met former officers J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane. Edwards instructed both men to turn on their body-worn cameras and told them to tape off the areas where they interacted with Floyd.

Edwards called in a number of officers on his shift to come down to the scene and help canvas the area for witnesses. The sergeant said he instructed Lane and Kueng to "chill out," as he knew there would be escort sergeants coming to escort the town down to be interviewed.

Edwards was the second Minneapolis police sergeant to testify as part of the trial. On Thursday, Pleoger testified that he felt Chauvin's restraint of Floyd should have ended "when Mr. Floyd was no longer offering up any resistance."

Court will be back in session at 9:15 a.m. Monday, April 5.

Forum News Service reporter Emily Cutts contributed to this report.