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'Totally Unnecessary': MPD Senior Officer Testifies Regarding Chauvin's Use Of Force

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Totally unnecessary - that is what a top lieutenant in the Minneapolis Police Department said today about the way that former police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into the neck of George Floyd. He testified on the fifth day of Chauvin's murder trial. NPR's Adrian Florido has been covering the proceedings and joins us again from Minneapolis. Hey, Adrian.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: All right, so today wrapped up the trial's first week, which, as you and I have been talking about, has been packed with so much emotional testimony, like from bystanders who watched Floyd die to first responders who couldn't revive him. But today the trial seemed to shift a little, right? Tell us a little bit about that.

FLORIDO: Yeah, today the prosecution worked to build its case that Derek Chauvin used excessive force on George Floyd, and to do that, they called Lieutenant Richard Zimmerman to the stand, and he is the longest-serving police officer in the Minneapolis PD. He's been on the force since 1985. He's the head of the homicide division. And importantly, after George Floyd's death, he was one of the department employees who publicly condemned what Chauvin did. Prosecutor Matthew Frank spent time today asking him about the dangers of restraining a suspect by laying them facedown.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MATTHEW FRANK: Have you ever, in all the years you've been working for the Minneapolis Police Department, been trained to kneel on the neck of someone who is handcuffed behind their back in a prone position?

RICHARD ZIMMERMAN: No, I haven't.

FRANK: Is that - if that were done, would that be considered force?

ZIMMERMAN: Absolutely.

FRANK: What level of force might that be?

ZIMMERMAN: That would be the top tier, the deadly force.

FRANK: Why?

ZIMMERMAN: Because of the fact that if your knee is on a person's neck, that can kill them.

FLORIDO: So not mincing words there, obviously.

CHANG: Right. Well, what exactly did Lieutenant Zimmerman say about the way Chauvin handled George Floyd?

FLORIDO: So here is the same prosecutor asking Zimmerman a question about what he saw in the body cam footage of George Floyd's arrest.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FRANK: What is your - you know, your view of that use of force during that time here?

ZIMMERMAN: Totally unnecessary.

FRANK: What do you mean?

ZIMMERMAN: Well, first of all, pulling him down to the ground, facedown, and putting your knee on a 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.

FLORIDO: And he said the danger is what Chauvin would have had to feel to justify keeping his knee on Floyd's neck for that long.

CHANG: I mean, it's not every day that you hear a police officer, especially a senior police officer, criticize another officer, even a former one, right?

FLORIDO: Right. Yeah. But on cross-examination, Chauvin's attorney Eric Nelson worked to poke holes in his testimony, his main focus being the latitude that police officers are allowed during - under the police department's use of force policy when they're responding to incidents. So here's Nelson asking the same witness a question.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ERIC NELSON: You would agree, however, that in a fight for your life - generally speaking, in a fight for your life, you as an officer are allowed to use whatever force is reasonable and necessary, correct?

ZIMMERMAN: Yes.

NELSON: And that can even involve improvisation. Agreed?

ZIMMERMAN: Yes.

NELSON: Minneapolis Police Department policy allows a police officer to use whatever means are available to him to protect himself and others, right?

ZIMMERMAN: Yes.

FLORIDO: The defense attorney there obviously giving clues about the kind of arguments he's going to make when it's his turn to present his case that Chauvin feared for his life, that he was dealing with a dynamic situation - a struggling suspect, an angry crowd.

CHANG: And real quick - when do we expect the defense to start calling their own witnesses?

FLORIDO: Well, the prosecution is expected to wrap up their case by the end of next week, and then it'll be the defense's turn, we expect, starting the following week.

CHANG: That is NPR's Adrian Florido in Minneapolis. Thank you, Adrian.

FLORIDO: Thank you also.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.