Top Minneapolis Homicide Cop Pretty Sure Derek Chauvin Could've Refrained From Killing George Floyd Entirely
Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin's murder trial ended its first week with damning testimony from Chauvin's own colleagues who said there was no justification for Chauvin killing George Floyd. David Ploeger, Chauvin's former shift supervisor, confirmed on Thursday that callously choking the life out of suspects wasn't part of his training. This is good news for Black Minneapolis residents.
Lt. Richard Zimmerman, who has served in the Minneapolis police department since 1985, testified Friday that it was “totally unnecessary" for Chauvin to use Floyd's neck as a knee rest for nine minutes and 29 seconds. Zimmerman leads the homicide unit, so his expert opinion on this homicide is relevant. He described Chauvin's grotesque actions last May as "top-tier, deadly force."
"If your knee is on a person's neck, that can kill him," Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman further testified that once Floyd was handcuffed, he could see "no reason for why the officers felt they were in danger, if that's what they felt. And that's what they would have to feel to be able to use that kind of force."
Eric Nelson, who represents Chauvin because it's America and someone must, pointed out on cross-examination that Zimmerman hasn't worked as a patrol officer for years and isn't an expert on “defensive tactics," which is a twisted way to describe what Chauvin did to Floyd.
Zimmerman also backed up Ploeger's testimony that Minneapolis cops aren't trained assassins. Zimmerman stated that cops actually have an affirmative responsibility for the continued health of citizens they place in custody.
ZIMMERMAN: That person is yours. He's your responsibility. His safety is your responsibility. His well-being is your responsibility.
His repeated use of “responsibility" hammers home that Chauvin wasn't a passive bystander at Floyd's death. It also flips the normal script for law enforcement. When a cop kills a civilian, the focus is on the supposed threat to their lives. Much is made of a cop's supposed “duty" to return home from their shift, no matter what. Zimmerman argues that the police have a duty to care that extends beyond themselves and other officers. It's like they're public servants.
Once someone is cuffed, Zimmerman explained, the legitimate threat level “goes down all the way." Sure, a suspect can still prove combative while handcuffed and even try to attack an officer, but Zimmerman noted the officer can just sort of get out of the way. He kept focusing on the fact that a handcuffed person is defenseless and not a serious threat.
Zimmerman also testified that cuffing a suspect is a de-escalation tool. The goal is calming down the suspect, and if they become less combative, a cop could just let them sit on the curb. There's no need to torture them, unless you're an absolute monster.
ZIMMERMAN: They are not a threat to you at that point. You try to help them, so they are not as upset as they were in the beginning.
Wow, Zimmerman sounded like he believed cops should treat suspects like human beings.
George Floyd was nervous, confused, and scared, and Chauvin did everything possible to make that worse. Zimmerman stated that once a suspect is handcuffed, a cop needs to get them out of the prone position as soon as possible because it restricts their breathing. Nine minutes and 29 seconds is not ASAP. It's RIP.
The jury also heard that Chauvin would've been trained to know it's harder for a handcuffed person to breathe. This makes it even worse that Chauvin cruelly ignored Floyd's pained cries of “I can't breathe."
Chauvin's defense has pathetically argued that the traumatized crowd of onlookers was responsible for Floyd's death because they distracted Chauvin so much he apparently forgot he was killing someone. Zimmerman addressed this ridiculous and unsubstantiated claim.
ZIMMERMAN: The crowd, as long as they're not attacking you, the crowd really doesn't, shouldn't, have an effect on your actions.
This was such a Minnesota nice way of calling bullshit. Zimmerman should have his own "Law & Order" spin off.
There's still reason to worry that Chauvin might walk, but so far the prosecution has presented a devastating case.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle. Tickets are on sale now for his latest Nordo collaboration, "Curiouser and Curiouser," an adaptation of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass." It promises to feel like an actual evening with SER (for good or for ill).