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Officers charged in George Floyd’s killing omitted key details from the scene, Minneapolis officer testifies

Lt. Richard Zimmerman said J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas K. Lane told a ‘totally different’ story at the scene and omitted that Floyd had lost a pulse and was no longer breathing

This image from surveillance video shows Minneapolis police officers Thomas Lane, left, and J. Alexander Kueng escorting George Floyd to a police vehicle outside Cup Foods in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020. (AP)
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ST. PAUL, Minn. — Two of the former Minneapolis police officers on trial over charges that they violated George Floyd’s civil rights omitted key details of the fatal arrest, including that Floyd had lost a pulse and was no longer breathing, according to video footage shown in court Thursday.

The footage, shown publicly for the first time, came from a body camera worn by former officer Thomas K. Lane. The clip, presented in court by prosecutors, showed Lane and J. Alexander Kueng explaining what had happened to Lt. Richard Zimmerman, the longtime head of the department’s homicide division who had been dispatched to the scene to investigate.

The video showed Lane and Kueng, two rookie officers who were the first to encounter Floyd at the scene, standing near their squad car around 10 p.m. on May 25, 2020. The video was taken about 90 minutes after Floyd, unconscious and without a pulse, had been taken from the scene in an ambulance. Zimmerman approached the officers and asked what was “going on.” Lane and Kueng, often talking over one another, explained how they had responded to a 911 call about the alleged passing of a counterfeit bill and had taken Floyd into custody.

Lane repeatedly noted Floyd’s behavior — stating that he thought the man “was on something” and acting “paranoid.” They told Zimmerman that Floyd resisted being placed into a squad car. “He was fighting the whole time,” Lane told Zimmerman. The officers said that Floyd had complained of claustrophobia, and that Lane had offered to roll down the windows of the squad car and sit with him in hopes of getting the man to comply.

“He just kind of just started going nuts,” Lane said in the video.

“Violently shaking around,” Kueng added. He told Zimmerman that Floyd had pushed his way out to the other side of the squad car and injured his face, prompting Lane to call an ambulance to the scene. “We decided to keep him pinned to the ground,” Kueng said.

According to the video, neither Kueng nor Lane told Zimmerman how long Floyd was held to the ground, or how he was restrained. They also omitted that Floyd had lost a pulse.

“He was yelling a lot. … He was normal for about three or four minutes, and then he stopped talking,” Kueng told Zimmerman, according to the video.

“He was still breathing,” Lane interjected, adding that the ambulance “took off” with Floyd. They told Zimmerman they had no information about Floyd’s condition, even though Lane had boarded the ambulance and failed to revive the man by performing chest compressions.

What to know about the federal trial of the three former Minneapolis police officers charged in George Floyd’s death

Zimmerman, a 41-year veteran who is the longest-serving officer on the Minneapolis force, told a prosecutor that Kueng and Lane made no mention of Derek Chauvin pressing his knees into Floyd’s neck and back or how the man lost a pulse. He said he only learned the full circumstances at the scene when he later watched video of the incident.

“What they told me and what was on the video is totally different,” Zimmerman testified.

The longtime officer, who also testified in Chauvin’s state murder trial, said Kueng, Lane and Tou Thao, another officer at the scene, violated the department’s duty-to-intervene policy by not putting an end to Chauvin’s force and failed to render medical aid to those in need as officers are sworn by duty to do.

“When you see that somebody is in need of medical aid … you intervene,” Zimmerman testified. “And by that, I mean, you have to take an action. … Push an officer off a person if that’s the case. But you have to take an action.”

But defense attorneys tried to impeach Zimmerman’s testimony, questioning him about different statements he made to the FBI and other investigators in the weeks after Floyd’s death — including a claim that Kueng and Lane asked if they should turn off their body cameras before speaking with him, which Thomas Plunkett, an attorney for Kueng, called “untrue.”

Zimmerman stood by that statement, saying it wasn’t reflected on footage shown in court.

Plunkett also raised questions about whether Zimmerman had violated department policy by speaking to Kueng and Lane at the scene because of policy around critical incidents that limit interactions between officers involved in such incidents and other police personnel.

“The policy dictates involved officers should not talk to anyone at the scene except the incident commander or legal counsel,” Plunkett said. “You shouldn’t have even been asking them questions about this case.”

The back-and-forth came as prosecutors signaled they are beginning to wind down their case after 11 days of testimony from witnesses including police officers, medical experts and bystanders at the scene of Floyd’s death.

A federal grand jury indicted Chauvin, Kueng, Lane and Thao in May on charges that they violated Floyd’s constitutional rights when he was restrained and handcuffed facedown on a South Minneapolis street during an investigation of an alleged counterfeit $20 bill.

Kueng, Lane and Thao were charged with failing to render medical aid to Floyd. Kueng and Thao were also charged with violating Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure by not intervening as Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck and back.

Kueng, Lane and Thao have each pleaded not guilty. All three have signaled through their attorneys that they will place the blame for Floyd’s death on Chauvin, who was convicted in April on state charges of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter and sentenced to 22½ years in prison. They have also signaled they plan to put the policies, culture and training of the MPD on trial — with Plunkett suggesting that the police department not only failed Floyd, but his client as well.

Chauvin pleaded guilty last month to separate federal charges that he violated Floyd’s constitutional rights when he knelt on the man’s neck and back for 9 minutes 29 seconds, as Floyd begged for breath. Chauvin is still awaiting sentencing in that case and could be called as a witness in the case against the other officers.

Kueng and Lane had been full-time officers for less than a week when they encountered Floyd, as they responded to a 911 call about a counterfeit $20 bill that had been passed at Cup Foods, a local market. Body-camera video from the scene showed Lane pull a gun on Floyd within 15 seconds of encountering the man in a parked car, without announcing who he was or what he was investigating.

Chauvin arrived on the scene a few minutes later with Thao, as Lane and Kueng struggled to place Floyd, who was handcuffed, inside a squad car. Body-camera video shows Floyd complaining of claustrophobia and ultimately being placed facedown on a city street, with Chauvin pressing his knees into Floyd’s neck and back, Kueng atop Floyd’s back and Lane holding the man’s legs. Thao stood a few feet away, pushing back bystanders who increasingly pressed the officers to get off Floyd as he began to lose consciousness.

Video shows Floyd complained at least 25 times of not being able to breathe — cries the officers dismissed even as the man went limp.

Lawyers for Kueng and Lane have argued that their clients were taking cues from Chauvin, a 19-year member of the department, who had been Kueng’s field training officer and informally advised Lane during his probation period.

Lane, who was holding Floyd’s legs, twice asked Chauvin whether they should reposition Floyd — requests that his lawyer says prove he tried to intervene with a senior officer but was rebuffed. Kueng later checked Floyd’s pulse — twice telling Chauvin that he couldn’t detect the man’s heartbeat.

But Chauvin did not remove his knees from Floyd’s body until nudged by a responding paramedic. Two Minneapolis police officers — including one who oversaw all of the department’s training and another who specifically trained officers on CPR and other medical knowledge — have testified that Kueng, Lane and Thao violated their training and oaths as officers when they did not stop Chauvin and failed render medical aid.

But defense attorneys have suggested their clients were given conflicting training on use of force and were not given adequate scenario training on intervention policies and how to operate in a militarized environment in which younger officers are strongly discouraged from disagreeing with senior officers.

Before the clip from Lane’s body camera was played for the court, prosecutor Samantha Trepel displayed for the jury the MPD’s policy on “truthfulness” and asked Zimmerman to read it aloud.

“Why does the Minneapolis Police Department have a policy on being truthful?” Trepel asked.

“It’s the cornerstone of police work,” Zimmerman replied. “You need truthfulness to be able to assess what your situation is.”

Asked if he felt the truthfulness policy applied when he was speaking to Kueng and Lane, the detective replied, “Yes.”