Medical examiner: Drugs, heart disease contributed to George Floyd's death

Tanya Simon
April 10, 2021

A chilling detail has been highlighted by the prosecution in the case against Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, 45, who stands accused of murder after kneeling on the neck of George Floyd for more than nine minutes.

As jurors studied autopsy photographs, Dr. Andrew Baker, Hennepin County's chief medical examiner, said he stood by the cause of death he determined past year: "cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint and neck compression".

Under cross-examination, though, Baker agreed with Nelson that Floyd's heart disease and drug use "played a role" in the death. "And what that adrenaline is going to do is it's going to ask your heart to beat faster", Baker said.

Soon after, he said, the moment came when Mr Floyd did not have "an ounce of oxygen left in his entire body".

In June, Baker identified the cause of Floyd's death May 25 as "cardiopulmonary arrest" that occurred during "law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression".

But the defence argues Chauvin did what his training taught him and that it was a combination of Floyd's underlying medical conditions, drug use and adrenaline flowing through his system that ultimately killed him.

"These would be entirely consistent with the left side of his face being pinned against the asphalt or road surface he was on the night before", Baker said.

Floyd's death certificate listed other contributing conditions: narrowed arteries, high blood pressure, fentanyl intoxication and recent methamphetamine use.

The Hennepin County Medical Examiner's official autopsy made no mention of asphyxiation as a cause of death, which has been a key pillar of prosecutors' case.

Dr. Lindsey Thomas, an assistant medical examiner in the Hennepin County medical examiner's office until she went into "semi-retirement" in 2017, said the sheer volume of videos of Floyd's arrest helped support Baker's findings.

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"I was aware at least one video had gone viral on the internet".

Baker testified Friday that police holding down Floyd "was just more than Mr. Floyd could take", given the condition of his heart, which was enlarged and needed more oxygen than normal to function. "I did not want to bias my exam by going in with preconceived notions that might lead me down one pathway or another".

"Were you able to observe whether Floyd's breathing was impacted by the handcuffs and the placement on the street?" prosecuting attorney Jerry Blackwell asked Tobin on Thursday.

"In my opinion it would not", Baker responded, but he noted that he is not an expert in video observations.

She said Mr Floyd was unable to get oxygen into his lungs with three police officers on top of him because he was handcuffed, in a prone position and had a knee on his neck: "What that means is the activities of the law enforcement officers resulted in Mr Floyd's death".

Dr Tobin, meanwhile, said that Mr Floyd's breathing rate did not mirror that of fentanyl overdoses, which were marked by a sharp decrease in breaths.

Prosecutors also have presented testimony from four other medical experts to challenge Chauvin's defense against murder and manslaughter charges - that Floyd may have died of a drug overdose - and back up Baker's findings.

Matthew Frank, a prosecutor, assured the judge that Floyd's brother would limit his testimony to recalling Floyd's childhood in Texas, where he was a promising basketball player, as well as his aspirations and some of the struggles he faced in life.

Jurors appeared "relatively well-engaged" during Thomas's testimony, according to reports from two courtroom pool reporters.

Thomas said she would not have used the word "asphyxia" in Floyd's death certificate, saying it does not offer much additional information and requires more explanation.

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