Three former Minneapolis police officers on trial for violating George Floyd’s civil rights should have intervened to stop fellow Officer Derek Chauvin when he had his knee on the Black man’s neck, the head of the Minneapolis Police Department’s homicide unit testified.
“If you see another officer using too much force or doing something illegal, you need to intervene and stop it,” Lt. Richard Zimmerman, the most senior officer in the department, said Thursday at the federal trial for former Officers J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao.
He added that the duty can also mean intervening to begin first aid if another officer fails give it, and that it can mean moving an officer out of the way if necessary.
Asked what Chauvin was doing that was significant to him, Zimmerman replied: “The knee on the neck – the officers should have intervened at that point and stopped it. ... It can be deadly.”
Kueng, Lane and Thao are accused of depriving Floyd, 46, of his civil rights by failing to give him medical aid while he was handcuffed, facedown with Chauvin’s knee pressed onto his neck for 9½ minutes on May 25, 2020. Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back and Lane held down his legs while Thao kept bystanders back.
Kueng and Thao are also accused of failing to intervene to stop the killing, which triggered protests worldwide and a re-examination of racism and policing. Lane’s attorney, Earl Gray, pointed out during Zimmerman’s testimony that his client is not charged with failing to intervene.
Testimony resumes Friday.
Zimmerman, who joined the department in 1985, said he’s been aware of the duty to intervene since he first became a law enforcement officer 41 years ago. Zimmerman also testified in Chauvin’s state trial last year that resulted in murder and manslaughter convictions. He said that keeling on Floyd’s neck was “totally unnecessary.”
The defence has pointed out that Chauvin was the most senior officer at the scene and argued that the others were trained to obey him. Lane and Kueng were rookies, while Thao had been with the department around eight years.
But rank and seniority don’t change the duty to intervene, Zimmerman said. The policy applies to every officer in the city from the chief on down.
“We all wear the same badge,” he said.
Zimmerman also discussed his interviews with the officers immediately after Floyd’s killing
Prosecutor Samantha Trepel, from the Department of Justice civil rights division, played a portion of Lane’s body camera video that showed Zimmerman asking Lane and Kueng and what happened. They recounted elements of their struggle to try to put Floyd in their squad car after they responded to a report of someone passing a counterfeit $20 bill.
“He kind of seemed like he was on something.. ... He was fighting the whole time,” Lane says.
Zimmerman said Lane and Kueng told him nothing about having kept Floyd on the ground without rolling him over, about Chauvin keeping his knee on Chauvin’s neck, about their being unable to find a pulse, or about Lane performing CPR in the ambulance.
Trepel asked officers’ obligation to be truthful applied to the account that Lane and Kueng gave him. Zimmerman said it did.
On cross-examination, Lane’s attorney, Earl Gray, focused how Lane is seen on video calling for an ambulance and upgrading the call to lights-and-sirens as Floyd fades; asking if they should roll Floyd over and being rebuffed; and expressing concern that Floyd might be experiencing “excited delirium.”
Zimmerman agreed he heard Lane say, “I think he’s passing out,” and remembered Kueng telling Lane he couldn’t find a pulse.
“They’ve been doing pretty much everything that they’re taught, right?” Gray asked.
Zimmerman agreed, but elaborated when Trepel later asked about that point.
“Intervening means doing something, not suggesting,” Zimmerman said.
Under cross-examination from Kueng’s attorney, Thomas Plunkett, Zimmerman acknowledged telling FBI investigators he thought poorly of Chauvin and that, “I think it’s pretty much known throughout the department that he’s a jerk.”
Zimmerman agreed that a jerk probably shouldn’t be a field training officer, as Chauvin had been to Kueng.
Kueng, who is Black, Lane, who is white, and Thao, who is Hmong American, are charged with wilfully depriving Floyd of his constitutional rights while acting under government authority. The charges allege that the officers’ actions resulted in Floyd’s death.
Chauvin, who is white, pleaded guilty in December to a federal civil rights charge.
Lane, Kueng and Thao also face a separate state trial in June on charges alleging that they aided and abetted murder and manslaughter.
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