Lieutenant: Officers should have intervened in Floyd killing

Prosecutors in federal trial of three former MPD officers arguing Floyd need officers' help, but didn't get it

A courtroom sketch of the three former MPD officers and their lawyers.
In this courtroom sketch, three former Minneapolis officers, Tou Thao, J. Kueng and Thomas Lane, charged in the death of George Floyd appear in federal court on Jan. 24 in St. Paul.
Cedric Hohnstadt for MPR News, file

Updated 2:49 p.m.

The head of the Minneapolis Police Department's homicide unit testified Thursday in the federal trial of three former Minneapolis police officers charged with violating George Floyd's civil rights when he died in police custody in May 2020.

Under prosecution questioning, Lt. Richard Zimmerman testified that all police officers have a duty to intervene if other officers are breaking the law or abusing someone. Zimmerman also said that officers are required to be truthful. Body camera footage played publicly for the first time shows the officers insisting to Zimmerman that Floyd was still breathing when he was taken away by an ambulance.

A man testifies in court.
Lt. Richard Zimmerman is seen testifying in the 2021 murder and manslaughter trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Zimmerman now testifies in the federal trial of three other officers charged in George Floyd's killing.
Screenshot of Court TV 2021

Defense attorneys today pressed a forensic scientist for the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension on why she didn't initially get pills found in Floyd's vehicle tested for illegal drugs.

Wednesday’s testimony focused on George Floyd’s cause of death.

Dr. Vik Bebarta, a professor of emergency medicine, toxicology and pharmacology at the University of Colorado in Denver, testified Wednesday that Floyd “died from a lack of oxygen to his brain” because “he was suffocated and his airway was closed.” 

Defense attorney Robert Paule challenged Bebarta, asking him why his findings was different than that of Hennepin County Medical Examiner Andrew Baker. Baker ruled that Floyd died of “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression.” 

MPR News is Reader Funded

Before you keep reading, take a moment to donate to MPR News. Your financial support ensures that factual and trusted news and context remain accessible to all.

George Floyd Officers Civil Rights
In this courtroom sketch, Robert Paule, attorney for former Minneapolis police officer Tou Thao, makes his opening statement during the trial of Thao and former Minneapolis police officers Thomas Lane and J. Kueng on Jan. 24 in St. Paul.
Cedric Hohnstadt | AP, file

Bebarta said he didn’t fully disagree with Baker, but rather the doctors have different areas of expertise. Berbarta agreed that asphyxia contributed to Floyd’s death. His point, Paule said, was that two experienced medical professionals reviewed the case and came to different conclusions. 

Berbarta testified that Floyd didn’t die from “excited delirium syndrome” or “agitated delirium syndrome,” — saying the syndrome isn’t recognized by mainstream medical associations. He testified under cross-examination that people experiencing delirium should be dealt with safely by law enforcement personnel and that recent research has found that people suffering from these symptoms often don’t die if provided with medical care. 

The drugs found in Floyd’s blood were in low amounts and did not have any effect on his death, Berbarta said. He also testified that Floyd’s heart disease and high blood pressure did not cause him to die. 

J. Alexander Kueng, from left, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao
This combination of photos provided by the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office shows J. Alexander Kueng, from left, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao.
Hennepin County Sheriff's Office via AP 2020

Former officers Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane are charged with failing to provide medical care to Floyd. Thao and Kueng also are charged with failing to intervene with their colleague Derek Chauvin, who kneeled on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes. 

A woman sits behind a desk.
McKenzie Anderson, a forensic scientist with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, testifies during the trial of ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in 2021. Anderson is now testifying in the federal trial of the three other officers involved in George Floyd's death.
Screenshot of Court TV video

Prosecutors also called state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension forensic scientist Mckenzie Anderson to the stand toward the end of the day. She testified about the process agents used to gather evidence after Floyd’s killing. The bureau found two pills consisting of methamphetamine and fentanyl that were found in the vehicle Floyd was in when police confronted him.  

Prosecutors called a number of witnesses this week to testify about Floyd’s health and cause of death. 

Dr. David Systrom, a pulmonary and critical care doctor for Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, told the court earlier this week that he found two causes of Floyd’s asphyxia. He said Floyd’s breathing was obstructed by Chauvin’s knee and by being held in the prone position on hard asphalt. 

The medical trainer for the Minneapolis Police Department, Nicole Mackenzie, has testified that the former officers did not follow department training nor policies, which call for providing medical aid and intervention.

The trial started on Jan. 20 with jury selection.

The judge has told jurors he expects the trial to last about a month, but it was delayed for a few days last week when a defendant tested positive for COVID-19. After prosecutors wrap up their case, the defendants will have the opportunity to present their own evidence. Only Lane has so far signaled that he will testify in his own defense. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.