‘Totally Unnecessary’: Veteran Police Officer Rebukes Derek Chauvin’s Conduct

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‘Totally Unnecessary’: Veteran Police Officer Rebukes Derek Chauvin’s Conduct

Post by maestrob » Sat Apr 03, 2021 8:39 am

The longest-serving officer on the Minneapolis police force said Mr. Chauvin had violated department policy when he knelt on George Floyd for more than nine minutes.

By Tim Arango and Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs
April 2, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS — The police officer had seen hundreds of crime scenes, interviewed scores of witnesses and made his share of arrests over more than 35 years working cases in Minneapolis.

But when Lt. Richard Zimmerman watched a video of one of his colleagues kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, he saw what he described in a courtroom on Friday as a “totally unnecessary” violation of department 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,” testified Lieutenant Zimmerman, who is the longest-serving officer on the Minneapolis police force. His comments came at the end of the first week in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer charged with murdering Mr. Floyd along a Minneapolis street last May.

Police officers have often been accused of sticking together on questions of misconduct — avoiding breaking a so-called blue wall of silence — so the sworn testimony against Mr. Chauvin by a high-ranking officer was all the more extraordinary.

Only a day earlier, another police official, who had directly supervised Mr. Chauvin, testified that Mr. Chauvin and two other officers should have stopped restraining Mr. Floyd sooner. And in the coming week the city’s police chief, Medaria Arradondo, who has called Mr. Floyd’s death a “murder,” is also expected to condemn Mr. Chauvin’s actions from the witness stand.

All of it seemed to undermine an assertion that Mr. Chauvin’s lawyers have made a central point in the former officer’s defense — that Mr. Chauvin’s behavior as he arrested Mr. Floyd was within the bounds of his police training.

Lieutenant Zimmerman, 62, who peppered his testimony with references to his long career in law enforcement and concurred with a lawyer’s suggestion that he had joined the department as an “old-school cop” in 1985, was unwavering in his assessment of Mr. Chauvin’s actions. He often turned to speak directly to the 12 jurors who are expected to decide the verdict.

“If you’re kneeling on a person’s neck, that can kill him,” said Lieutenant Zimmerman, who has led the Minneapolis department’s homicide unit since 2008. Officers are supposed to turn people onto their sides or sit them up once they are restrained, he said, because leaving them in prone positions can make it hard to breathe.

Mr. Chauvin and two other police officers had continued to pin Mr. Floyd, who was handcuffed, against the ground after he was no longer responsive. That decision, Lieutenant Zimmerman suggested, meant the officers had violated their duty to take care of someone in their custody.

“His safety is your responsibility,” he told the court. “His well-being is your responsibility.”

Lieutenant Zimmerman testified on the fifth day of the high-profile trial, which began 10 months after Mr. Floyd’s death set off global protests over racism and police abuse. Jurors have heard from more than a dozen witnesses, including the teenager who filmed the widely viewed video of Mr. Chauvin kneeling on Mr. Floyd for more than nine minutes, the convenience store clerk who told his manager that Mr. Floyd had paid for cigarettes using a fake $20 bill, and Mr. Floyd’s girlfriend, who described their shared struggle with opioid addiction.

The testimony from police officials, though, marked a shift to a different phase of the case: Prosecutors have said they will show that Mr. Chauvin’s actions were unusually brutal — and amounted to a crime.

In cross-examining Lieutenant Zimmerman, Eric J. Nelson, the lawyer for Mr. Chauvin, suggested that the lieutenant’s experience on the streets might be dated. Lieutenant Zimmerman had not regularly patrolled the streets as a uniformed officer since 1993, Mr. Nelson noted, offering that he might no longer be familiar with the force needed. At one point, Mr. Nelson asked Lieutenant Zimmerman when he had last gotten into a fight with someone while on duty; 2018, the lieutenant answered.

Under questioning, Lieutenant Zimmerman acknowledged that people sometimes become more combative when revived after a period of unconsciousness and said that police officers had been trained to kneel on people’s shoulders, in some circumstances, while handcuffing them.

He said that once people are handcuffed, they usually present only a minor threat, though they can still be combative and try to hurt officers, such as by kicking them.

“Once a person is cuffed, the threat level goes down all the way,” Lieutenant Zimmerman said. “They’re cuffed; how can they really hurt you?”

In body camera footage shown to jurors, Mr. Floyd can be seen in handcuffs when Mr. Chauvin first kneels on his neck. Paramedics testified this week that his heart had stopped by the time they arrived.

All of the witnesses so far have been called by prosecutors, who are expected to call more witnesses next week, after which Mr. Chauvin’s defense team can begin laying out its arguments in earnest.

In opening statements, the defense has suggested that Mr. Floyd’s death, which the county medical examiner ruled a homicide, may actually have been caused by the fentanyl and methamphetamine found in his system. Mr. Chauvin’s defense team has also indicated that he was following procedures that he had learned in his training.

Yet Sgt. David Pleoger, who was Mr. Chauvin’s supervisor and who testified for the prosecution on Thursday, said that officers should have stopped holding Mr. Floyd down once he became unresponsive.

He also said that Mr. Chauvin had at first not divulged that he knelt on Mr. Floyd. In an initial phone call with Sergeant Pleoger, minutes after Mr. Floyd was taken to a hospital, Mr. Chauvin said that he and other officers “had to hold the guy down” because Mr. Floyd would not stay in the back of a police car and was “going crazy.” About 30 minutes later, when officials learned that Mr. Floyd’s condition was grave, Sergeant Pleoger said, Mr. Chauvin acknowledged that he had pressed on Mr. Floyd’s neck.

Lieutenant Zimmerman’s courtroom testimony was not the first time he had rebuked Mr. Chauvin’s conduct, nor the first time he had testified against a fellow officer. In a 2019 murder case against Mohamed Noor, a Minneapolis police officer who fatally shot an unarmed woman, Lieutenant Zimmerman testified that the scene of the shooting was well-lit, contradicting claims by Mr. Noor’s lawyers that it had been difficult to see. Mr. Noor was convicted of third-degree murder, the less serious of two murder charges that Mr. Chauvin faces.

After Mr. Floyd’s death and the unrest that followed, Lieutenant Zimmerman was among 14 veteran police officers who published a public letter condemning Mr. Chauvin. He had “failed as a human and stripped George Floyd of his dignity and life,” the officers wrote, adding that a “vast majority” of police officers felt the same. The officers said in the letter, which was addressed to the citizens of Minneapolis, that they hoped to regain the public’s trust.

“This is not who we are,” they wrote.

Tim Arango reported from Minneapolis, and Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs from New York. Neil MacFarquhar contributed reporting from New York.

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/02/us/d ... e=Homepage

And here's the link to June, 2020 reporting in the Minneapolis Star Tribune which discusses the letter referred to in the above article:

https://www.startribune.com/minneapolis ... fresh=true

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Re: ‘Totally Unnecessary’: Veteran Police Officer Rebukes Derek Chauvin’s Conduct

Post by maestrob » Sun Apr 04, 2021 12:16 pm

Listening to Those Who Saw George Floyd Die

The witnesses who testified this week are still tormented by that day.

By Frank Bruni
Opinion Columnist

April 3, 2021

It has been more than 10 months since George Floyd was pinned to the Minneapolis pavement, a knee hard on his neck as the life drained senselessly out of him and he moaned, again and again, “I can’t breathe.” The small group of people who were there — along with countless others who watched the horrifying video — have had all that time to come to terms with it, or at least to try.

Still, Charles McMillian all but collapsed on the witness stand, a 61-year-old man crying beyond control at his recollection of what he saw that day. He can’t shake it. That’s true of witness after witness at this excruciating trial. They’re not so much haunted as tormented by their memories of Floyd’s last minutes.

McMillian possibly articulated one of the reasons with the words he squeezed out between his sobs.

“Oh, my God,” he said. “I couldn’t help but feel helpless.”

“Helpless.” Even the witnesses who didn’t say that said it in one way or another. Helplessness is a big part of what this trial is about.

Floyd felt helpless once police officers descended on him. What he’d experienced and observed in his life to that point convinced him that the odds were stacked against him and that he was in danger. “Please don’t shoot me,” he begged when they ordered him out of his car. The fear in his voice — heard on video played in the courtroom — was real.

Witnesses felt helpless as Derek Chauvin, the former officer now on trial, knelt on Floyd’s neck for minute after unconscionable minute. Chauvin was in uniform. He was the law. Can you actually call the police on the police? It’s like some rhetorical riddle, signaling a world out of whack. Three witnesses actually did call the police on the police, but it was too late.

Listening to witnesses’ testimony, which was often punctuated with tears, I got the sense that some of them felt helpless not only to stop what was being done to George Floyd but also to affect the larger forces that conspired in his death and trap so many Black Americans like him in a place of great vulnerability and pain.

“When I look at George Floyd, I look at my dad,” Darnella Frazier testified. She took the video of his death that went viral. “I look at my brothers. I look at my cousins, my uncles, because they are all Black.”

“I look at how that could have been one of them,” she added. She also said that there have “been nights I’ve stayed up apologizing and apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more.”

She was 17 then. There were four police officers on or around him. She couldn’t see a way to help.

But society isn’t helpless. That’s why we have trials like this one. They’re our attempts to find the truth, to address any injustice, to declare our values — here’s what we will permit, and here’s what we won’t — and perhaps make us better in the long run.

Chauvin is charged with murder. At some point the trial, whose first week just concluded, will turn toward forensics and feuding claims over the specific cause of Floyd’s death. Chauvin’s defense attorney, Eric Nelson, will mine autopsy results for ambiguity. He’ll assert reasonable doubt that Chauvin’s knee was the murder weapon.

But Chauvin’s inhumanity is indisputable, and the depth of the mark that it left on the people who intersected with it has been heartbreaking to behold. What happened near the corner of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue on May 25, 2020, was a chilling lesson in power and powerlessness. It both validated and stoked their fears.

“I felt like I was in danger,” Frazier said. “I felt threatened.”

“I was scared,” said Kaylynn Ashley Gilbert, who was also 17 when she came upon that gruesome scene, where four men who were supposed “to protect and to serve,” in the motto of many police departments, were ordering bystanders to keep away as Floyd, losing breath, cried out for his mother.

“I don’t know if you’ve ever seen anybody be killed,” testified another witness, Genevieve Hansen, an off-duty firefighter who also found herself at the scene. “But it’s upsetting.” That was putting it mildly, to judge by her expression and her voice, in which there was still so much rage and so much regret that she couldn’t intervene.

“I was desperate to help,” Hansen said. But she was helpless.

She grabbed a tissue to sop up her tears. That gesture defined the first week of the trial as surely as laments of helplessness did. Floyd’s girlfriend, Courteney Ross, seemed to go through a whole box of tissues.

She recalled that some of his first words to her, on the day they met, were a question: “Can I pray with you?” He could see that she was going through a rough time. He wanted to help.

Seeking context for Floyd’s cries to his dead mother just before his own death, one of the prosecutors asked Ross about Floyd’s relation with his mother and how the loss of her affected him.

“He seemed kind of like a shell of himself,” Ross said. “He was broken.”

Her testimony was meant to shed light not on how Chauvin behaved but on how Floyd lived, and that made it essential. She reminded anyone paying attention — and a great many of us are paying close attention — that Floyd, now a symbol, was also a man: loving, loved, strong, weak, with virtues, with vices.

And so very, very vulnerable.

The witnesses who were there at the end of his life came face to face with that. I think they came face to face, too, with their own vulnerability — with the confirmation of how many people are unsafe, and sometimes even helpless, when we let hatred and bigotry fester.

Unable to alter that big picture, a few of the witnesses wondered what, if anything, they might have done differently on that one day.

“If I would’ve just not taken the bill, this could’ve been avoided,” said Christopher Martin, the clerk at Cup Foods, where Floyd used a fake $20, prompting a manager to summon the police.

Martin, 19, seemed to be struggling with a kind of survivor’s guilt. So did other witnesses. They shouldn’t, but I can’t say the same for many of the rest of us. We too seldom turn toward the ills that factored into George Floyd’s fate. We too often look the other way.

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/03/opin ... e=Homepage

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Re: ‘Totally Unnecessary’: Veteran Police Officer Rebukes Derek Chauvin’s Conduct

Post by maestrob » Thu Apr 08, 2021 12:38 pm

‘Awful but Lawful’

Our legal system allows for extrajudicial killings by the police without real consequence.

By Charles M. Blow
Opinion Columnist

April 7, 2021

Along with many others, I have long argued that the reason so few police officers are ever charged in their killings of unarmed Black people (and few of those charged are ever convicted) is that our legal system has effectively rendered those killings legal. This is the case regardless of how horrendous the killings are or how much evidence, including video, makes clear what took place.

The defense in the trial of Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd raised this very concept Wednesday when questioning Sgt. Jody Stiger, a Los Angeles Police Department use-of-force expert who was a witness for the prosecution.

Eric Nelson, an attorney for Chauvin, asked if Sergeant Stiger had ever had anything to do with a training called “awful but lawful, or lawful but awful.” He said that he had. Nelson continued his questioning: “The general concept is that sometimes the use of force, it looks really bad, right, and sometimes it may be so, it may be caught on video, right, and it looks bad, right?”

Sergeant Stiger responds, “yes.”

Nelson then says, “But, it is still lawful.”

The officer concludes, “Yes, based on that department’s policies or based on that state’s law.”

This concept seems, on its face, morally depraved: The bar for actions, and in this case use of lethal force, isn’t propriety or decency, but the likelihood of legal exposure and jeopardy.

But the very existence of “awful but lawful” training reminds us that this concept isn’t new.

As Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, and J. Scott Thomson, the chief operating officer of Holtec Security International and former president of the forum, wrote in The New York Times in 2016, “just because the police can legally use deadly force doesn’t always mean they should,” and “The goal is to prevent lawful-but-awful outcomes while increasing officer safety.”

They explained that “the legal standard used in police shootings allows prosecutors and grand juries to conclude that although an officer’s shooting of a suspect may be questionable, it isn’t criminal.” They went on to trace the origins of the standard:

“The standard came from a 1989 Supreme Court decision, Graham v. Connor. The justices ruled that an officer’s use of force must be ‘objectively reasonable.’ But the court went on to caution that ‘police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments — in circumstances that are tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving — about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.’”

Police officers operate in the field — and enter courtrooms, if it ever comes to that — with a staggering amount of “blue privilege,” a benefit-of-the-doubt shield of protection that it is incredibly difficult to penetrate. This creates that bizarre legal phenomenon of faultless killings, the taking of life without the taking of responsibility, a Cain and Abel scenario in which blood cries out from the soil. But, in these cases, no one is seriously punished.

The standard implies that officers must be allowed to make mistakes, even deadly ones, because their jobs are dangerous. Policing is one of the few dangerous professions in which people can be killed and written off as collateral damage.

This standard allows callous, wanton behavior, the reckless and willful taking of life. Any action can be excused as a reasonable response to fear.

As the American Bar Association pointed out in February of 2020, the awful but lawful concept creates a “high burden for prosecution of bad police actions.” The group was summarizing the sentiments of a panel of legal experts at an A.B.A. meeting.

One person on the panel, Ronald A. Norwood, a defense lawyer in St. Louis who has served as counsel to the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, put it this way: “Officials should not be held liable for bad guesses.”

But these “bad guesses” are not benign. In many cases, they result in someone being killed.

As Kalfani Ture, an assistant professor of criminal justice at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut and a former police officer in the Atlanta metropolitan area, told reporters in June about the killing by the police of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta, “Would I have shot Rayshard Brooks? My answer is no.’’

But, he continued: “It’s a questionable use of force, but there are many officers who may find this a lawful use of force. So, it’s one of those things we call in law enforcement ‘lawful but awful,’ meaning that the officer could have taken alternative action that did not result in the civilian’s death.’’

Deadly use of force by police officers is highly discretionary, but these police officers are humans who bring to their jobs biases, both conscious and subconscious. Where one person may be shown patience and leniency, another will be rewarded with violence and harm. And, often, all of it is legal.

We have a legal system that has shirked its judicial responsibility, allowing for extrajudicial killings without consequence — curbside capital sentences. In this system it is too often the case that police officers are judge, jury and executioner.

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/07/opin ... e=Homepage

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