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 Thursday.
“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 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 9 1/2 minutes on May 25, 2020. Kueng and Thao are also accused of failing to intervene to stop the killing, which triggered protests worldwide and a reexamination of racism and policing.
Zimmerman said he’s been aware of the duty to intervene since he first became a law enforcement officer in 1981. He joined the Minneapolis department in 1985 and has been a member of the homicide unit since 1995.
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 defense 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 walking up to Lane and Kueng and asking them what happened. They weren’t sure of Floyd’s condition, but 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.
Kueng tells the lieutenant that they decided to keep Floyd held to the ground. He says Floyd was bleeding, but that an ambulance was en route.
One of the officers said Floyd was still breathing when they loaded him into the ambulance.
Zimmerman said Lane and Kueng told him nothing about having kept Floyd on the ground without rolling him over, about Chauvin keeping his knee or Chauvin’s neck, about their being unable to find a pulse, or about Lane performing CPR in the ambulance.
Earlier Thursday, a forensic scientist with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension testified about drugs that investigators found in the squad car they had struggled to put Floyd into. McKenzie Anderson, who oversaw the processing of the car, acknowledged that she didn’t seize the drugs until a second search of the vehicle in January 2021.
She said they tested positive for methamphetamine. A pill also tested positive for Floyd’s DNA.
On Wednesday, Dr. Vik Bebarta, an emergency physician and toxicologist and professor at the University of Colorado in suburban Denver, testified that Floyd did not die from the low levels of fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system, but from a lack of oxygen to his brain.
Kueng, who is Black, Lane, who is white, and Thao, who is Hmong American, are charged with willfully 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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