Day 5 of the Derek Chauvin trial was a short day, and brought the testimony of 2 high-ranking officers from the Minneapolis police department.
The first witness of the day was Sgt. Jon Edwards, who was called, by Sgt. Pleoger, to Cup Foods crime scene after being notified of a possible “critical incident” to secure the crime scene. Sgt. Edwards testified that he arrived on the scene around 9:35pm, and followed procedures to secure the scene. Those procedures included instructing two officers who were still at the scene, Thomas Lane and Alex Kueng, to turn over their body cameras; asking the officers to identify the locations where they had interacted with Mr. Floyd; and directing them to put crime-scene tape around the area to preserve potential evidence. Sgt. Edwards also testified that he had summoned other officers to conduct a door-to-door “canvass” for anyone who had witnessed the events, because by that point, most onlookers had left.
Edwards testified “I guess we were just trying to get lucky. Maybe there was somebody still there that was willing to talk to us.” He was able to speak with Charles McMillian, who declined to comment. He was asked if he was under arrest, and when Edwards advised he wasn’t, McMillian left.
By far the most compelling and damaging testimony of the day came from Lt. Richard Zimmerman, the most senior officer in the Minneapolis PD. Lt. Zimmerman has over 40 years of experience, and leads the department’s homicide unit. Zimmerman’s testimony was a total condemnation of Chauvin’s actions on May 25th 2020. He told the jury that he has never in his long career been trained to kneel on a suspect’s neck.
“That would be deadly force…if your knee is on a person’s neck, that can kill them,” he said in response to prosecutors’ questions. Zimmerman described Chauvin’s treatment of George Floyd as “totally unnecessary.” He added, “Pulling him (Floyd) down to the ground face down, and putting your knee on a neck for that amount of time is just uncalled for.” The knee compression on the neck should never have been used, said Zimmerman. But when it was used it should have “absolutely” stopped once Floyd was handcuffed on the ground.
Zimmerman testified that by virtue of his mandatory training, Chauvin knew that his use of force could cause severe injury and possibly death. Chauvin had an affirmative duty to ensure the safety and well-being of Floyd when he took him into custody. “Once you secure a person you need to get them out of the prone position as soon as possible because it restricts their breathing,” Zimmerman explained to the jury. Chauvin did not do that. He never turned Floyd on his side or helped him into a seated position so that he could breathe. When asked if he considered Chauvin’s use of force to be deadly, Zimmerman replied, “Absolutely.”
On cross-examination the defense tried to suggest that since Zimmerman is a senior official who wears a suit and not a uniform, he’s not a regular “beat cop.” He’s not working the streets on a daily basis and facing dangerous threats and “use of force” situations as frequently as Chauvin. When questioned by defense attorney Eric Nelson, Zimmerman agreed that a person in handcuffs could still potentially pose a threat by kicking or thrashing. Nelson asked Zimmerman about the concept of “holding for EMS,” meaning restraining a person while waiting for medical staff to arrive.
On re-direct questioning, prosecutor Matthew Frank asked Zimmerman whether he saw Floyd kicking officers in the body camera video. “No, I didn’t,” Zimmerman said. Frank asked whether “holding for EMS” excuses an officer from providing medical attention or continuously reevaluating whether use of force is necessary. Zimmerman replied it did not.
My take: The testimony of Lt. Zimmerman was powerful not just because of the incriminating opinions he offered but also because he was, essentially, Chauvin’s boss. This gave him added credibility. The jury may well hold Zimmerman’s testimony with greater weight because he represents an authority figure within the Minneapolis police department. He is a cop who testified against one of his own. His willingness to do that will no doubt be sympathetic to the jury. When the man basically at the top says you were 100% in the wrong, that is really going to hurt your defense.
The fact that the videos show that Chauvin ignored Floyd’s frantic complaints that he couldn’t breathe and offered no assistance, and that it was confirmed by Lt. Zimmerman, is huge. The defendant never rendered medical aid when it became obvious that the suspect had lapsed into unconsciousness and had stopped breathing. “An officer always needs to provide immediate medical care when a person in your custody exhibits physical distress,” said Zimmerman. This must be done before medical responders arrive at the scene, yet, Chauvin didn’t lift a finger to help Floyd. This is powerfully persuasive evidence of depraved indifference to human life. This is important in establishing the criteria of a third-degree murder charge.
The state ended the first week of trial with a boom! Court is scheduled to resume Monday morning at 9:15 am.