MINNEAPOLIS — Jurors returned to the courtroom Friday morning to hear testimony from two more Minneapolis police officers in the trial of former officer Derek Chauvin, charged with George Floyd’s murder.
Veteran officer Lt. Richard Zimmerman told the court Friday that kneeling on the neck of a suspect is potentially lethal and there is “absolutely” an obligation to provide medical intervention as soon as necessary.
“If your knee is on a person’s neck, that can kill ’em,” he said.
On Thursday, a police supervisor told jurors that the officers who subdued George Floyd – who died after an officer knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes – could have stopped restraining tactics once Floyd stopped resisting.
“When Mr. Floyd was no longer offering up any resistance to the officers, they could have ended their restraint,” said David Pleoger, a sergeant who had authority to review use of force complaints in the precinct where Chauvin worked.
Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Floyd, a Black man, died in police custody on May 25, 2020, after Chauvin, who is white, pinned his knee against Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes.
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- Lt. Richard Zimmerman, who has been a Minneapolis police officer since 1985 and the most senior officer, took the stand Friday.
- Jon Edwards, a Minneapolis Police Department sergeant who has been with the force since 2007, is the first witness to testify Friday.
- Meanwhile outside the Hennepin County Government Center, a small group of protesters are frying bacon and making coffee Friday morning. Ashley Dorelus, 26, said they “will be here every day and every night.”
- Jurors have heard from 19 witnesses so far, and several who witnessed the death of George Floyd have cried on the stand describing their attempts to intervene on his behalf.
- Judge Peter Cahill has said court will break before 12:30 p.m. CT.
- On Thursday, Sgt. David Pleoger, a recently retired Minneapolis police officer and Chauvin’s former supervisor, testified about the use of force against Floyd.
- And Floyd’s girlfriend, Courteney Ross, 45, gave jurors a first glimpse of his personal life, discussing how they met and acknowledging drug use was part of their relationship.
- Also Thursday, the prosecution played police body-camera footage from inside the ambulance Floyd was taken to the hospital in and recordings of phone conversations between officers concerning use of force.
Minneapolis police veteran officer testifies on use-of-force training
Lt. Richard Zimmerman, the Minneapolis Police Department’s most senior officer in terms of years served, testified Friday about the training officers receive. He said every officer has to do an annual refresher course on the department’s use of force protocol. This includes physical training.
Zimmerman described the Minneapolis Police Department use of force continuum, which ranges from establishing a presence at a scene; using voice to defuse a situation; using soft force; taking someone by the arm; using harder force, MACE or nightstick; and finally deadly force.
Zimmerman said he was never trained to kneel on the neck of a suspect who is prone, meaning lying flat.
“That would be the top level of force,” he said.
“That person is yours. His safety is your responsibility. His well-being is your responsibility,” he added.
Zimmerman noted that if a person becomes less combative “you could sit them on a curb.” He said he has been trained in the prone position since 1985.
“Once a person is in handcuffed, you need to get them out of the prone position as soon as possible because it restricts their breathing,” said Zimmerman. “If you’re laying on your chest, that’s constricting them (breathing muscles) even more.”
He noted that Minneapolis police officers are trained to abide by the use of force continuum, which involves evaluating and changing the level of force used on a person depending on the threat they face. When a person is in handcuffs, “the threat level goes down all the way,” Zimmerman said.
Police are first responders, which means they can do CPR or chest compressions. They are trained on it every other year or so. He said there is “absolutely” an obligation to provide medical intervention as soon as necessary.
“You need to provide medical care for the person that is in distress,” he said. “You need to provide medical assistance before they (the ambulance) arrive.”
Jon Edwards, a Minneapolis Police Department sergeant currently on leave, told the court Friday that he received a phone call from Sgt. David Pleoger the day George Floyd died. Pleoger was the mid-watch sergeant who testified Thursday.
Pleoger told him “he was at the hospital and he was with a male who may or may not live.”
Upon Pleoger’s request, Edwards went to 38th and Chicago, where Floyd was arrested, where he ensured that officers responding had cameras that were on and working.
He arrived around 9:35 p.m., about an hour after Floyd’s initial arrest, at the area around Cup Foods where he asked officers J. Alexander Keung and Thomas Lane what happened with Floyd. At that point, they placed crime scene tape around the area to preserve evidence.
Edwards didn’t learn that the interaction with Floyd was a critical incident or that Chauvin was involved until later that night. Based on what learned from Keung and Lane, he told other responding officers to canvass the area, go door-to-door to look for witnesses and obtain a synopsis of what they may have seen.
He asked the officers to get out of their squad car, which was running, and that all of Keung and Lane’s belongings be left in the car. The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension arrived to take possession of the squad car and Floyd’s car.
Edwards spoke with the manager of Cup Foods who said he didn’t witness anything. He learned later that Floyd had died after homicide investigators arrived on scene.
Keung and Lane went with other officers to the interview room at City Hall. Agents from the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension then took over the scene and told Edwards and his officers could take down the crime scene tape and leave the area.
David Pleoger, a recently retired Minneapolis police officer who was responsible for reviewing officers’ use of force, testified for nearly an hour Thursday afternoon.
After receiving a call from 911 dispatcher Jena Scurry — who testified Monday and said she didn’t mean to be a “snitch,” but that she had seen what happened to Floyd —Pleoger said he called Chauvin on his cellphone.
Much of the conversation was not recorded because Chauvin turned off his body camera, as allowed per policy. Pleoger said Chauvin told him restraint was used, Floyd suffered a medical emergency and they had called an ambulance. Pleoger told the court he didn’t think Chauvin told him that it was him who had held Floyd down or that he had placed a knee on Floyd’s neck.
“Would you agree that a person may be restrained only to the degree necessary to keep them under control,” Schleicher asked.
“Yes and no more restraint,” Pleoger said.
Schleicher also asked when the restraint of Floyd should have ended.
Pleoger replied, “When Mr. Floyd was no longer offering up any resistance to the officers, they could have ended their restraint.”
Derek Smith, a paramedic with Hennepin County EMS, said he noticed that Floyd wasn’t moving, was handcuffed and was being given no medical attention when he responded to the scene. He checked for a pulse and found none. He said Floyd’s pupils were large and dilated.
“In lay terms, I thought he was dead. I told my partner, I think he’s dead, and I want to move this out of here,” he said.
Smith checked for a pulse again, found none and took off Floyd’s handcuffs with his handcuff keys before removing him from the scene.
He told the officer riding in the ambulance to start compressions and he checked for pulse again. Smith said he was working the cardiac arrest “essentially alone,” so he called for backup.
Smith administered a shock to Floyd and said he saw some pulseless electrical activity on the way to the hospital during a periodic check-in. Smith referred to Floyd as “deceased” when he was dropped off at the hospital.
As for why an officer rode with Smith to the hospital and he ordered that officer to do chest compressions, he told defense attorney Eric Nelson: “Any lay person can do chest compressions,” he said.
Earlier Thursday, Smith’s partner, Seth Bravinder, also took the the witness stand.
The Backstory:Derek Chauvin trial, repeated showing of George Floyd video, traumatizes witnesses, community — and journalists
George Floyd’s girlfriend Courteney Ross gives jurors first glimpse of his personal life
George Floyd’s girlfriend broke down in tears on the witness stand Thursday as she gave jurors an intimate glimpse at the “mama’s boy,” amateur athlete, restaurant lover and struggling drug user whose death prompted nationwide protests against police use of force last summer.
Courteney Ross said she had a relationship with Floyd for about three years after they met in Minneapolis in August 2017.
Floyd was usually very active, Ross said, and worked out every day. He often lifted weights. “Floyd loved playing sports with anyone who wanted to, including neighborhood kids. He’s that person who’d just run to the store,” she said.
He never complained about shortness of breath, she said.
Ross acknowledged that drug use was part of their relationship. The couple sometimes split up for a period but always got back together, she said.
“Floyd and I both suffered from opiate addiction,” she said. “We both suffered from chronic pain. Mine was in my neck. His was in his back. We both had prescriptions. After prescriptions were filled, we got addicted, and we both tried, very hard, to break the addictions, many times.” Read more.