George Floyd Trial: Police Department Sergeant and Lieutenant Testify
On Friday, court proceedings in the Derek Chauvin trial briefly resumed with the questioning of Minneapolis police department officers Sergeant John Edwards and Lieutenant Richard Zimmerman.
The prosecution began their questioning with Sergeant John Edwards. Sgt. Edwards had limited activity in the George Floyd case, arriving at the scene after George Floyd had arrived in hospital. He was to take over Sgt. David Pleoger’s duties at the scene of the arrest. Sgt. Pleoger reportedly informed Sgt. Edwards that he was present at the hospital with George Floyd, who Pleoger reflected “may or may not live.” Subsequently, Pleoger asked Sgt. Edwards to respond to the incident location.
Edwards testimony was largely limited in its utility. The officer testified that he arrived at the scene of George Floyd’s arrest to “lock it down” for the purpose of “preserv[ing] evidence,” engaging in routine activities such as securing areas with crime scene tape and going “door to door” searching for witnesses. The prosecution then proceeded to show a variety of bodycam footage from Sgt. Edwards and other officers, questioning Sgt. Edwards on his administrative activities at the scene. Edwards later confirmed that confirmation of George Floyd’s death required for the scene to be prepared to be handed over to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) for further investigation. Edwards testified that he cordoned off the entirety of the street and provided perimeter security as the BCA removed George Floyd’s vehicle and the squad car used for George Floyd’s arrest.
Sgt. Edwards was not subject to cross-examination by the defence. The prosecution then called their next witness, Lieutenant Richard Zimmerman, to the stand. Lt. Zimmerman was the most senior officer in the Minneapolis police department.
Lt. Zimmerman was subject to direct examination from the prosecution focusing largely on his extensive experience in the force and his conduct at the scene of George Floyd’s arrest. Zimmerman noted that the arrival of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension effectively negated the police department’s investigative duties at the scene, with the police department purely providing assistance to the BCA for “whatever they might need.”
The prosecution then reverted back to Zimmerman’s training. Zimmerman noted that every member of the Minneapolis police department received a variety of training regularly, including annual training on “the use of force” where officers would engage in activities “taking people down and rolling around.” The prosecution focused on the police department’s use of force policies, a subject they had placed emphasis on during the questioning of other officers in the case, and asked Zimmerman questions related to handcuffing. Zimmerman confirmed that the “safety” and “wellbeing” of a person being handcuffed was the “responsibility” of the officer, and noted that once a suspect had been handcuffed the “threat level goes down all the way.”
Notably, the Lt. asserted that “some guy might try to kick you or something, but you can move out of the way . . or if they become less combative you may just have them sit down on a curb to calm the person down.” On Wednesday, the court showed extensive bodycam footage of the arrest of George Floyd in which Floyd can be seen violently kicking out at officers after falling from the squad car vehicle as he asked officers to allow him to lay on the ground. The act prompted the officers to restrain Mr Floyd, and officer Thau was noted to have gone to the back of the squad car to look for further restraint devices.
The prosecution then asked Zimmerman to elaborate on the “prone position.” Zimmerman, confirming that the dangers of the prone position had been regularly taught to police officers since his arrival in the force in 1985, stated:
“Well, once you secure or handcuff a person, you need to get them out of the prone position as soon as possible because it restricts their breathing. [Handcuffing] stretches the muscles back through their chest and it makes it more difficult to breathe . . Once a person has been cuffed, you need to turn them on their side or have them sit up, you have to get them off their chest.”
The prosecution, referring to bystander videos and bodycam footage, then asked Zimmerman directly about Chauvin’s usage of his knee to restrain George Floyd. Zimmerman confirmed, based on the video evidence, that the use of the knee was a definite “use of force,” characterising it as “totally unnecessary”:
“Putting your knee on the 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 feel to use that kind of force. That restraint should have stopped once [Floyd] was handcuffed and prone on the ground.”
Defence attorney Eric Nelson then took to the stand for cross-examination of Lt. Zimmerman. Nelson’s opening questions led to Zimmerman’s acknowledgement that he had not been on patrol in Minneapolis for 28 years, having been promoted in 1993 to a sergeant where his roles were largely “investigative in nature” and “more of a follow-up type role.” Focussing on Zimmerman’s experience, or lack thereof, in the use of force, Nelson asked:
“Is it fair to say that your experience with the use of force of late has been primarily through training, meaning you’re not out actively patrolling and arresting people for less serious offences?”
Lt. Zimmerman agreed with Nelson on this point. He confirmed that the last time he had been in a physical fight with a person was in 2018, conceding that his experience in the use of force came primarily from “annual defensive tactics training.” Nelson proceeded to ask Zimmerman about training in the “prone handcuffing technique,” and Zimmerman confirmed that he had “been trained to put the knee on the shoulder” and that it was a fair method of restraint in certain circumstances. Ultimately, Zimmerman agreed that the use of force is a “dynamic series of decision making based on a lot of different information.”
The prosecution returned for a brief re-examination of Zimmerman focusing largely on topics already covered previously before the court was adjourned for the remainder of the day.