Prosecution Focuses on Police Testimony Condemning Chauvin’s Actions
After emotional testimony from witnesses, focus turns to demonstrating that Derek Chauvin violated police procedure. Here’s the latest on the trial.,
The second week of testimony will begin on Monday in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with murdering George Floyd, and the prosecution is expected to continue to call on veteran officers and others who were critical of Mr. Chauvin’s restraint of Mr. Floyd.
On Friday, Lt. Richard Zimmerman, the longest-serving officer on the Minneapolis police force, testified that Mr. Chauvin’s actions were “totally unnecessary” and in violation of police policy. “Pulling him down to the ground facedown and putting your knee on a neck for that amount of time, it’s just uncalled-for,” he said.
As the nation watched last week, witness after witness described an acute sense of lingering pain. The often tearful testimony during the trial’s opening week highlighted how the trauma of May 25, when Mr. Chauvin knelt on Mr. Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes, rippled outward and left witnesses burdened with guilt and crippling self-doubt.
“It was difficult because I felt like there wasn’t really anything I could do,” testified Alyssa Funari, 18, who filmed Mr. Floyd’s arrest.
Prosecutors call all of their witnesses before the defense begins to lay out its case, so the trial’s first week was heavily weighted toward the state’s arguments. Their case was expected to be presented in three phases, focused on witness testimony, police policies and medical evidence.
Eric J. Nelson, the lawyer for Mr. Chauvin, made clear that he would attempt to convince jurors that the videos of Mr. Floyd’s death and the emotional witness testimony did not tell the full story. He signaled that he planned to argue that Mr. Chauvin had been following his training as a police officer, that his knee was not necessarily on Mr. Floyd’s neck, and that Mr. Floyd’s death may have been caused by drugs.
Friday’s proceedings in the trial of Derek Chauvin ended with critical testimony from the longest-serving officer in the Minneapolis Police Department, who testified that Mr. Chauvin’s actions were “totally unnecessary.”
Police testimony against Mr. Chauvin, the former officer charged with killing George Floyd, could be crucial to the prosecution’s case as they move into next week. Friday’s proceedings ended early because the trial is ahead of schedule, the judge said. Here are the highlights.
Lt. Richard Zimmerman, who leads the department’s homicide unit, said Mr. Chauvin’s actions violated police policy. “Pulling him down to the ground facedown and putting your knee on a neck for that amount of time, it’s just uncalled for,” said Lieutenant Zimmerman, who joined the department in 1985. He was one of a group of 14 veteran police officers who published a public letter last June condemning the actions of Mr. Chauvin. The officers said the letter was representative of the opinion of hundreds of police officers. “This is not who we are,” they wrote.
The first witness of the day, Sgt. Jon Edwards, was sent to the Cup Foods convenience store after the arrest to secure the crime scene. Mr. Edwards said he followed protocol by telling officers who were still on the scene to turn on their body cameras and identify the areas where they interacted with Mr. Floyd. He also asked them to try and find witnesses, though most people had already left. Sergeant Edwards did find at least one witness, Charles McMillian, who gave an emotional testimony earlier this week. At the scene that night, Mr. McMillian asked Sergeant Edwards if he was under arrest. When Sergeant Edwards said that he wasn’t, Mr. McMillian said he wanted to leave.
Additional testimony from police officers will be an important tool for prosecutors, who are seeking to show that Mr. Chauvin violated use of force policies and that his actions were unnecessary and unlawful. Eric J. Nelson, Mr. Chauvin’s defense attorney, used his cross-examination of Lieutenant Zimmerman to temper those ideas. Mr. Nelson asked the lieutenant whether people can become combative after waking up from being unconscious. Lieutenant Zimmerman also said police officers are trained to kneel on people’s shoulders, in some circumstances, when they handcuff a person. Throughout the trial, Mr. Nelson has suggested that Mr. Chauvin’s knee was on Mr. Floyd’s back or shoulder, not on his neck.
George Floyd’s death vastly compounded public anger at the Minneapolis Police Department. But conflict was present before officers ever came in contact with Mr. Floyd — so much so that the department’s own chief, Medaria Arradondo, the first Black person to hold the position, had once filed a lawsuit accusing it of tolerating racism.
Only about 20 percent of Minneapolis residents are Black, but about 60 percent of use-of-force incidents with the Minneapolis police involve Black people, according to a New York Times analysis. The city’s police officers use force against Black people at seven times the rate of white people.
Body-weight pinning, which Derek Chauvin used on Mr. Floyd, is one of the most popular use-of-force mechanisms in Minneapolis, and it, too, is employed in a racially disparate way. Since 2015, Minneapolis officers have used it about 2,200 times against Black people, more than twice as many times as they have used it against white people.
The influence of the city’s police union, the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, has made reforming the department a struggle, some analysts say. But since Mr. Floyd’s death, there have been some limited changes.
In December 2020, the Minneapolis City Council voted to divert $8 million dollars — almost 4.5 percent — from a proposed $179 million police budget. The diverted funds will go to the city’s Office of Violence Prevention, with the goal of building a team of mental health professionals and city workers to respond to crises and process minor complaints without police involvement.
Before Mr. Floyd, numerous others had reported abuse at the hands of Mr. Chauvin, including Zoya Code, who said Mr. Chauvin had forced her to the ground with his knee on her after he answered a call in a domestic dispute. Over almost 20 years with the police department, Mr. Chauvin had at least 22 complaints or internal investigations, but only one resulted in discipline.
That pattern is common: Since 2012, only 1 percent of adjudicated complaints against Minneapolis police officers resulted in disciplinary action, according to city records.
In the South Minneapolis neighborhood where protesters burned the Third Precinct police station and numerous commercial properties in the wake of George Floyd’s death last year, two longtime residents, Phillip Cox and Mario Pacheco Jr., described complicated feelings about the destruction and about the trial of Derek Chauvin.
It was difficult to see the wreckage of their local shopping area, Mr. Pacheco, an antique and collectibles merchant, said on Thursday. But, he added, “It’s sad when you miss the Arby’s that was destroyed more than you miss the precinct.”
Since last summer’s unrest, some properties have been gutted and renovated. The police station is surrounded by fences, and stacked concrete barriers block the melted front entrance. At many smaller establishments and damaged residences, restoration has yet to begin. Even a nearby post office is still in ruins.
Mr. Cox, a machinist, said he had been watching the trial of Mr. Chauvin, the former police officer charged with murder in Mr. Floyd’s death, on television.
“I’m catching the trial here and there,” he said. “I’m glad they didn’t move it out of the county and that everyone can see it. Hopefully that will help change things about policing everywhere, not just in Minneapolis.”
The men said they didn’t support calls to abolish the police, but described the neighborhood as a tough place to grow up and recalled being treated roughly by local officers.
Both men said it had been hard to watch the footage of Mr. Chauvin’s treatment of Mr. Floyd.
“I never met George Floyd, but he seemed like a regular guy, like us,” Mr. Pacheco said.
Mr. Cox said, “As I think about the trial more, I am ashamed of my local law enforcement for not putting a stop to this kind of behavior and policing practices.”
“There are good police,” Mr. Pacheco said. “I don’t wish harm upon no one. But with Chauvin, I really hope they do make an example, so then the next policeman will take this trial into consideration.”
On May 25, Minneapolis police officers arrested George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, after a convenience store employee called 911 to report that Mr. Floyd had bought cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. Seventeen minutes after the first squad car arrived at the scene, Mr. Floyd was unconscious and pinned beneath three police officers, showing no signs of life.
By combining videos from bystanders and security cameras, reviewing official documents and consulting experts, The New York Times reconstructed in detail the minutes leading to Mr. Floyd’s death. Our video shows officers taking a series of actions that violated the policies of the Minneapolis Police Department and turned fatal, leaving Mr. Floyd unable to breathe, even as he and onlookers called out for help.
The trial of Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd is unusual for many reasons: It is being livestreamed from Minneapolis, attendance is severely limited because of the coronavirus and the public’s interest in the case may make this one of the highest-profile trials in recent memory.
The trial can be watched on nytimes.com, via a livestream provided by Court TV, which is also airing the trial in full. Witness testimony and lawyers’ presentations of evidence should last several weeks before the jury begins to deliberate over the verdict.
Among the people allowed in the courtroom, on the 18th floor of the Hennepin County Government Center, are: the judge, jurors, witnesses, court staff, lawyers, Mr. Chauvin and only a handful of spectators.
The judge, Peter A. Cahill, wrote in an order on March 1 that only one member of Mr. Floyd’s family and one member of Mr. Chauvin’s family would be allowed in the room at any time. Two seats are reserved for reporters, and various journalists, including from The New York Times, are rotating throughout the trial.
The lawyers, spectators, jurors and witnesses are required to wear masks when they are not speaking. Spectators are prohibited from having any visible images, logos, letters or numbers on their masks or clothing, according to Judge Cahill’s order.