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Derek Chauvin trial: Minneapolis police supervisors testify, week 1 wraps early

The jury heard from two Minneapolis police supervisors who responded to the scene after George Floyd's arrest and death.

MINNEAPOLIS — Editor's note: Some of the images depicted in the video and testimony are graphic. Have a question you'd like to hear our trial experts answer? Send it to lraguse@kare11.com or text it to 763-797-7215

Friday, April 2

  • Judge adjourned court before noon Friday with trial ahead of schedule
  • Minneapolis police Lt. Zimmerman called Derek Chauvin's actions 'totally unnecessary'
  • Zimmerman said he has been trained on the dangers of the prone position since 1985, never trained to use knee on neck
  • Thursday jury heard phone call between Minneapolis police sergeant, Chauvin after ambulance left with George Floyd
  • Supervisor said Chauvin did not tell him about specific use of force until later at the hospital

In a major moment for the prosecution Friday, the longest-serving officer in the Minneapolis Police Department condemned Derek Chauvin's use of force against George Floyd in front of the jury.

Lt. Richard Zimmerman responded to the scene of 38th and Chicago after Floyd was taken to the hospital May 25, 2020. But his most striking testimony came when the prosecutor asked him about MPD's use-of-force training.

He told the jury he has been trained in the dangers of the prone position since 1985, and that he has never been trained to put his knee on someone's neck while they are in that position.

Zimmerman reviewed the video that shows Chauvin with his knee on Floyd's neck, in the prone position and handcuffed, for more than nine minutes. He said he believes it was "totally unnecessary" and "uncalled for."

RELATED: Minneapolis police lieutenant: Chauvin's use of force on Floyd was 'totally unnecessary'

Zimmerman also told jurors that once someone is in handcuffs, the threat they pose has diminished and "his wellbeing is your responsibility" as an officer.

Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, second-degree manslaughter and third-degree murder in Floyd's death.

Judge Peter Cahill adjourned before noon on Friday, with the trial moving ahead of schedule in its first week.

Sgt. Jon Edwards also testified earlier in the day about how he responded to 38th and Chicago after Floyd was taken to HCMC. He told the jury about his interactions with former officers Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng, who were involved in Floyd's arrest and restraint.

Thursday, the prosecution shared a never-before-heard phone call between Chauvin and his supervisor after Floyd was taken away by ambulance. The supervisor, Sgt. David Pleoger, told the jury that Chauvin did not tell him what type of force he used, or for how long, until they were at the hospital later that night. Pleoger also testified that he believed the officers' restraint should have ended earlier.

RELATED: Jury hears Derek Chauvin's conversations with supervisor after George Floyd arrest

LIVE UPDATES

Friday, April 2

11:40 a.m.

Judge Peter Cahill dismissed the jury before noon on Friday, after they heard from two Minneapolis police supervisors.

The judge and attorneys will deal with a legal issue Monday morning before the judge comes back for more witness testimony at 9:15 a.m.

Cahill told the jurors Thursday that things are running ahead of schedule in the first week of the trial.

11:10 a.m.

Derek Chauvin's defense attorney, Eric Nelson, began cross-examining Lt. Richard Zimmerman by asking him about his training and experience. He asked Zimmerman if his use-of-force experience currently is primarily through training.

"You're not actively patrolling and arresting people for less serious offenses," he said. Zimmerman confirmed this.

"It's fair to say that you are not a trainer in the Minneapolis Police Academy relative to the use of force, correct?" Nelson asked. Zimmerman said that is correct.

Nelson asked Zimmerman about factors influencing whether the use of force is proportional, and the critical decision-making model that officers are trained to use. 

"What are you looking at in that moment through your own eyes, right?" Nelson asked. "You look at other things that might be hazards or threats."

He referenced other people who might be upset, and "scene security."

"To your knowledge, Minneapolis police officers are trained medically at a fairly low level," Nelson said. Zimmerman confirmed that police officers are trained as first responders, not paramedics.

"If you have to use force against one person to avoid using force against others, that's a factor that officers should use, agreed?" Nelson asked.

"I don't know if I would agree with that," Zimmerman said.

Nelson asked if sometimes when someone is revived, they are more combative than before. Zimmerman said that is true.

Nelson asked Zimmerman about a comment he made to the prosecution that he has never been trained to put his knee on a person's neck.

"In a fight for your life, you as an officer are allowed to use whatever force is reasonable or necessary, correct?" Nelson asked. "And that can even involve improvisation?" Zimmerman said yes.

Zimmerman acknowledged that there is training that involves a knee on a shoulder when handcuffing someone. He also said he has heard the phrase "Hold for EMS." He said that sometimes a person is restrained while waiting for EMS. Zimmerman also agreed that sometimes a person is restrained for their own safety.

Zimmerman agreed that use of force is "a dynamic series of decision-making based on a lot of different information" and some of it may not be captured on a body camera.

After Nelson's questions, prosecutor Matthew Frank asked some questions upon redirect. He asked Zimmerman if the body camera footage captured the bystanders at the scene. He asked if they were "an uncontrollable threat to the officers at the scene." "No," Zimmerman said.

"It doesn't matter the crowd as long as they're not attacking you," he said. "The crowd really doesn't, shouldn't have an effect on your actions."

Frank asked Zimmerman if "holding for EMS" excuses officers from rendering medical aid, and he said no.

10:10 a.m.

The state called Minneapolis police Lt. Richard Zimmerman to the stand as its second witness of the day Friday. He's been in law enforcement since 1981, and has been an officer with the Minneapolis Police Department since 1985. Zimmerman is now the head of the homicide department.

Lt. Zimmerman told the prosecution that his time with the force makes him the most senior officer in MPD.

Zimmerman responded to 38th and Chicago on May 25, 2020 in the aftermath of George Floyd's arrest and death. 

Zimmerman's name was on an open letter to the public from 14 Minneapolis police officers, written after Floyd's death. In that letter they said they "wholeheartedly condemn" Chauvin's actions.

Zimmerman said he responds to “critical incidents,” from deaths to serious injuries of either officers or the public. He said he arrived a little after 9 p.m. and saw crime scene tape around the intersection. 

Prosecutor Matthew Frank showed the jury body camera footage of his arrival.

Zimmerman said he told Sgt. Edwards they needed more officers at the scene, and they needed to "get these guys downtown." He was referencing bringing Lane and Kueng to Room 100 at City Hall, the interview room officers are brought to after a critical incident.

At about 11 p.m., Zimmerman said he turned the scene over to the BCA.

Prosecutor Frank moved on to asking Zimmerman about use-of-force trainings and policies. Zimmerman said all officers are required to take a training every year. He also explained the "use-of-force continuum" that officers have to follow according to MPD policy.

"The use-of-force continuum is guidelines, or it's policy actually, that we have to follow," Zimmerman said. He described the levels, beginning at the lowest.

  • Presence at a scene in uniform
  • Verbal skills to defuse or learn information
  • Soft technique, e.g. escorting the person by their arm
  • Hard technique, e.g. mace or handcuffs
  • Deadly force

Officers can skip to a higher level in the continuum depending on the threat.

"If someone is ... shooting at you, then you go to the top level," he said.

Frank asked if Zimmerman has ever been trained to kneel on someone's neck while they were in a prone position. He said no. Frank asked if that would be considered "force."

"That would be the top tier, the deadly force," he said. "Because if your knee is on someone's neck, that can kill them."

Frank asked what happens after an officer puts a person in handcuffs.

"His safety is your responsibility," he said. "His wellbeing is your responsibility."

Zimmerman said a person being cuffed changes the level of force that can be used.

"Once a person is cuffed, the threat level goes down all the way to, they're cuffed, how can they really hurt you?" he said. "That person is handcuffed, and the threat level is just not there."

Zimmerman said once a person becomes less combative, the use of force should change as well.

"If they become less combative, you may just have them sit down on the curb," he said. "The idea is to calm the person down and if they are not a threat to you at that point, you try to, you know, to help them so that they're not as upset as they may have been in the beginning."

Frank asked Zimmerman about the "prone position."

"Once you handcuff a person you need to get them out of the prone position as quickly as possible, because it restricts their breathing," he said.

Zimmerman said being handcuffed "stretches the muscles back through your chest and it makes it more difficult to breathe."

Frank asked Zimmerman how long he has had training in the dangers of the prone position. "Since 1985," he responded.

He said the training teaches them to turn the person on the side and get them off their chest. "If you're laying on your chest, that's constricting your breathing even more," he said.

Zimmerman said officers are "absolutely" trained to provide medical assistance to a person in distress, even if an ambulance has been called.

Zimmerman said he has watched bystander and police body camera video of George Floyd's arrest and restraint. Frank asked him what he thought of the force used by Chauvin, and the length of time it was used.

"Totally unnecessary," he said. "First of all, pulling him down to the ground facedown and 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 type of force."

"In your opinion, should that restraint have stopped once he was handcuffed and prone to the ground?" Frank asked.

"Absolutely," Zimmerman said.

9:20 a.m.

The first witness of the day Friday and one of the last of the week was Minneapolis police Sgt. Jon Edwards. 

Edwards has been a Minneapolis officer for 14 years. He started in the cadet program, which is for new recruits who have graduated college.

Sgt. Edwards said he was working the "dog watch" on May 25, 2020, beginning at 8:30 p.m.

Sgt. Edwards said he was working the "dog watch" on May 25, 2020, beginning at 8:30 p.m. Edwards said that night he got a call from Sgt. David Pleoger, who testified previously. Edwards said Pleoger told him he was at the hospital with a man who "may or may not live."

"He asked me if I would be willing to respond to the location of 38th and Chicago because he was tied up at the hospital at the time," Edwards said. Pleoger was waiting to hear a condition update on George Floyd.

Edwards said he was wanted at the scene "just in case we had to secure that area" because the situation had the potential to become a "critical incident." That's an officer-involved incident where someone has died.

Sgt. Edwards arrived at 38th and Chicago at about 9:35 p.m., he said. Former officers J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane were the only people there.

He said the first thing he did was tell the officers to turn their body cameras on. He then had them place crime scene tape around the area to "preserve any potential evidence that was there."

Edwards told prosecutor Steve Schleicher that he was preparing the scene as if it would become a critical incident, although he had little information at that point. He called in other officers to canvass the area, looking for potential witnesses.

Edwards said he talked to a man named Charles who would not give his full name. "I explained to him that he'd be very valuable to us if he had something to say or if he saw something," he said. The man said he did not want to talk, and asked if he was under arrest. Edwards said no, and then the man said he wanted to leave.

Edwards did not have Lane and Kueng look for witnesses, he said.

"I asked them to chill out, because later on I knew from Sgt. Pleoger that he had a couple of escort sergeants coming down to transport them to the interview room," he said.

Once they heard that Floyd had died and the situation was officially a "critical incident," Edwards said Lane and Kueng were escorted away to be interviewed.

The BCA arrived later to take over the investigation. After the squad car was towed away, Edwards said the BCA directed police to take down the crime scene tape and then leave.

Chauvin's defense attorney declined to cross-examine Edwards.

Thursday, April 1

Courteney Ross spoke about Floyd's drug use and their ongoing battles with addiction. Through tears, she talked about their life together. She said when they first met he asked to pray with her, and they had their first kiss at the Salvation Army where he worked as a security guard. 

She testified about an overdose Floyd experienced on March 6, 2020 and said that there were times one of them was using drugs, but not the other. Floyd had gone through treatment programs, Ross confirmed.

Prosecutor Matthew Frank asked Courteney Ross several questions about Floyd's condition after consuming opioids prior to May 25, 2020.

Ross said Floyd was OK after taking pills that had a "different" effect in March. She said he was also acting normal after taking the pills he bought in May about a week before his death.

"He was playing football, hanging out, eating, just a normal day," she said.

RELATED: George Floyd's girlfriend, Courteney Ross, testifies about their relationship, opioid addiction

Following her testimony, the court heard from two paramedics called by police to the scene near Cup Foods on May 25. Minneapolis paramedic Seth Zachary Bravinder said they were originally called on a "code 2" for a potential mouth injury on a patient, which was upgraded to a "code 3" within a minute and a half. This is a more serious emergency call for medical aid. 

When Derek Smith, a second Hennepin County paramedic, was called to the stand on Thursday afternoon, he testified that he told his partner, "I think he's dead, and I want to move this out of here." 

Chauvin's police supervisor was the final person to testify on Thursday, a now-retired sergeant who responded to the scene where Floyd was arrested. 

Sgt. David Pleoger said Chauvin did not tell him specifically what type of force was used. When Prosecutor Steve Schleicher asked him if he knew how long the restraint lasted, he said, "No, I didn't have any idea."

Pleoger said he learned more about the restraint after talking with the other officers. 

Pleoger said he believed Chauvin told him that they had tried to put Floyd in the car, he became combative, and he had injured his nose or his mouth. He said Chauvin told him after holding him down, Floyd suffered a medical emergency and an ambulance was called.

Schleicher asked Pleoger if restraint should stop after the person is no longer resisting, and he said "yeah."

RELATED: Derek Chauvin trial: Jury hears from George Floyd's girlfriend, police supervisor