The medical examiner who conducted the autopsy on George Floyd took the stand Friday in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the fired Minneapolis officer charged in Floyd’s death. Hennepin County medical examiner Dr. Andrew Baker testified that heart disease and drugs contributed to but didn’t directly cause Floyd’s death. Court recessed for the weekend after Baker completed his testimony.
Baker’s autopsy report from May 2020 found that Floyd died of “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint and neck compression.” Baker’s autopsy listed “other significant conditions” including “arteriosclerotic and hypertensive heart disease; fentanyl intoxication; [and] recent methamphetamine use.”
When asked what he believed caused Floyd’s death, he pointed to what he called “severe underlying heart disease” and said Floyd’s heart already would require more oxygen than normal. He said in the context of an altercation or restraint, adrenaline would ask the heart to beat faster and the heart would require more oxygen. He said the law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression “was just more than Mr. Floyd could take by virtue of those heart conditions.”
Baker’s testimony came after three medical experts testified for the prosecution that Floyd died of oxygen deprivation — not drugs, as the defense has suggested.
The first witness to take the stand Friday was forensic pathologist Dr. Lindsey Thomas, who testified for the prosecution. She said Floyd would not have died that day if he hadn’t been restrained by the police.
“The actions of the law enforcement officers resulted in Mr. Floyd’s death — specifically, those actions were subdual, restraint and neck compression,” Thomas said.
Thomas testified she was able to use the video of the fatal arrest to help her rule out other causes of death, including a heart arrhythmia and a fentanyl overdose, two causes the defense has suggested.
Thomas said someone who died of a heart arrhythmia would typically experience a sudden death. She described an example of someone shoveling snow, clutching their chest and falling over fairly quickly. But in Floyd’s case, she said, “There was nothing sudden about this death.”
She said she was also able to use the video to rule out a fentanyl overdose, during which someone would typically become sleepy and their breathing would gradually slow. Thomas said she “felt comfortable” ruling out both of those causes of death.
Her testimony came a day after another medical expert, Dr. Martin Tobin, testified Floyd died from a low level of oxygen that damaged his brain and caused his heart to stop under the weight of officers pinning him down. Emergency physician and forensic medicine specialist Dr. Bill Smock took the stand Thursday and gave a similar opinion, saying Floyd died not of a drug overdose but because he had “no air left in his body.”
Chauvin, who was seen in disturbing videos kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes, is charged with second-degree murder,and second-degree manslaughter.
Chauvin has pleaded not guilty. The other three officers involved are charged with aiding and abetting, and are expected to be tried jointly in August.