ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) — Video played Thursday at the federal civil rights trial of three former Minneapolis police officers who assisted in George Floyd’s deadly arrest revealed that two of the officers told a superior Floyd was breathing despite observing aloud earlier that he had no pulse.
The officers, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng, are on trial for violating Floyd’s civil rights during his May 2020 arrest, restraint and death at the knee of their colleague Derek Chauvin. So is Tou Thao, who kept bystanders away from Floyd and the other officers.
The video was introduced to accompany testimony by Lieutenant Richard Zimmerman of the Minneapolis Police Department’s homicide division. Zimmerman, the MPD’s senior-most officer, testified in Chauvin’s state court trial last April that Chauvin’s restraint of Floyd was “just uncalled for.”
In Thursday’s proceedings in the trial of Kueng, Lane and Thao, Zimmerman said he came to the scene at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue after a commander told him that “officers were arresting [Floyd] and he somehow ended up in the hospital.”
Prosecutor Samantha Trepel soon played video of Zimmerman’s arrival on the scene from Lane’s body-worn camera, during which Kueng and Lane discussed the details of their arrival on the scene, but left out Chauvin’s restraint of Floyd entirely. Video of Floyd’s arrest showed Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes before he was taken from the scene by medics. Floyd died soon afterward.
Lane also told Zimmerman that Floyd was still breathing, though he did not specify a timeline, and Kueng could be heard agreeing. Both officers are shown in other body camera footage looking for and saying they were unable to find Floyd’s pulse. Lane also departed the scene with paramedics and unsuccessfully performed CPR.
Prosecutors preceded playing the video with testimony from Zimmerman as to the police department’s policies, including a policy requiring intervention in misconduct and one requiring truthfulness.
“Why does the Minneapolis Police Department have a policy on being truthful?” Trepel asked Zimmerman.
“They have a policy on it, but it’s the cornerstone of police work,” Zimmerman responded.
He also said that he hadn’t seen any of the officers intervene to help Floyd or stop Chauvin’s restraint. Floyd should have been rolled on his side, he said, and a 2019 MPD policy imposes a duty on officers to intervene in colleagues’ misconduct.
“They didn’t take care of the victim, Mr. Floyd,” he said of the trio. Bystanders amassing on the sidewalk, he said, “weren’t trying to interfere in a way that would be detrimental to the officers.”
Speaking later during redirect, Zimmerman clarified that Lane’s suggestions to Chauvin that they roll Floyd on his side in to what police trainers throughout the trial have called the “recovery position” did not satisfy the duty to intervene. “You can make suggestions to do anything, but intervening is not suggesting, it means just that– intervening,” he said.
On cross-examination, defense attorneys Earl Gray, Robert Paule and Thomas Plunkett – representing Lane, Thao and Kueng, respectively – sought to discredit Zimmerman, with Paule saying he was “Monday-morning quarterbacking” and Plunkett casting aspersions as to his recollection of interactions with the officers.
On one particular point, Plunkett said he would bet Zimmerman a quarter that video would not show the officers telling him about their level of experience. Zimmerman dug in, saying that they had.
Plunkett and Gray, negotiating a series of hearsay objections, also pointed to Zimmerman’s statements to FBI investigators that Chauvin had a reputation as a “prick” and a “jerk” among his colleagues.
“If somebody is known as a prick and a jerk, they really shouldn’t be an FTO [field training officer], should they?” Plunkett asked.
“Probably not, no,” Zimmerman responded.
In fighting hearsay objections, Gray and Plunkett told U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson that they were making an effort to display the mentality of the police department. All three defense attorneys have spent much of the trial putting the culture and training of the department – which is facing two civil rights investigations – in the spotlight, but have largely avoided explicitly blaming the department for Floyd’s death.
The video is the first new wrinkle this week in a trial that until now has largely repeated evidence and testimony from Chauvin’s trial last April.
Thursday morning was dominated by cross-examination of McKenzie Anderson, a forensic scientist with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, who also testified in Chauvin’s trial. Anderson answered several questions from defense attorneys about pills containing methamphetamine found in the squad car where the officers attempted to detain Floyd. Gray particularly focused on the fact that the drugs were not found until December 2020 and that they were discovered to have Floyd’s saliva on them.
Preceding Anderson this week have been a series of prosecution experts, primarily testifying to their opinions as to the cause of Floyd’s’ death. Defense attorneys have advanced several theories, including that Floyd’s death was related to drug use or to a disputed condition known as excited delirium syndrome. The experts, toxicologist Dr. Vik Bebarta and pulmonologist Dr. David Systrom, both opined that Floyd died of asphyxia. Those opinions slightly differ from the determination of medical examiner Dr. Andrew Baker, who said he viewed Floyd’s death as “multifactorial” and related not only to his restraint but also to preexisting heart problems.
Following redirect and brief recross, Magnuson adjourned court early to allow jurors an easier commute through a gathering snowstorm.
The prosecution is expected to conclude its case Friday or early next week, marking the midway point in a trial expected to last all month. The trial will also take a break on Feb. 18 to accommodate the sentencing of Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly Potter for her manslaughter convictions in connection to the death of Black man Daunte Wright. Gray and his colleague Paul Engh represented Potter in that case.
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