The medical examiner who conducted George Floyd’s autopsy testified on Friday that while Mr. Floyd’s heart disease and drug use contributed to his death, it was police officers’ compression of his neck and restraint of his body that were the primary causes.
The testimony of Dr. Andrew Baker, who has been the chief medical examiner in Hennepin County since 2004, was perhaps the most important yet for prosecutors who hope to convince jurors that Derek Chauvin killed Mr. Floyd when he knelt on him for more than nine minutes last May. Mr. Chauvin’s lawyer has suggested that Mr. Floyd’s heart disease, or the fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system, might have caused his death.
Dr. Baker testified that Mr. Floyd’s narrowed arteries, hypertension and drug use likely made him more susceptible to dying as a result of being pinned to the ground by three police officers. But, he said, Mr. Floyd’s health and use of drugs were not direct causes.
“In my opinion, the law enforcement subdual, restraint and the neck compression was just more than Mr. Floyd could take, by virtue of those heart conditions,” Dr. Baker said.
Dr. Baker said he believed Mr. Chauvin’s knee had compressed Mr. Floyd’s neck. Mr. Chauvin’s lawyer has suggested that Mr. Chauvin’s knee may have been closer to Mr. Floyd’s shoulder blade or back.
The testimony of medical experts has become crucial in the trial of Mr. Chauvin, who is facing charges including second-degree murder in Mr. Floyd’s death. The prosecution and defense have proposed juror instructions that say Mr. Chauvin should be considered to have caused Mr. Floyd’s death if he was a “substantial causal factor,” even if there were other contributing causes.
Prosecutors have called a series of medical experts to the witness stand over the past two days. They include a lung doctor who testified that even a healthy person would have died under Mr. Chauvin’s knee and a forensic pathologist who had trained Dr. Baker and said that the actions of police were what caused Mr. Floyd’s death. Mr. Chauvin’s lawyer is expected to call his own medical experts after prosecutors rest their case.
Even as Dr. Baker was clear that he found the restraint and compression of Mr. Floyd by police officers to be the main causes of his death, he suggested more strongly than previous experts that Mr. Floyd’s heart disease and drug use put him at greater risk. He said Mr. Floyd had an enlarged heart and “very severe underlying heart disease.”
“He has a heart that already needs more oxygen than a normal heart, by virtue of its size, and it’s limited in its ability to step up to provide more oxygen when there’s demand because of the narrowing of his coronary arteries,” Dr. Baker said.
But, he added later, it was the confrontation between the police and Mr. Floyd that had “tipped him over the edge.”
During Dr. Baker’s testimony, a prosecutor showed autopsy photographs of Mr. Floyd’s body for the second time. Dr. Baker said they showed marks on his wrists that likely came from handcuffs, scrapes on one of his cheeks and on his forehead, a cut on his lip and bruises on his nose that were consistent with being pressed against the street.
The medical examiner said he had intentionally not watched the bystander video of Mr. Floyd’s arrest before he conducted the autopsy because he did not want to have any preconceived notion about what had happened as he examined Mr. Floyd’s body. But he said he had watched the video after the autopsy and had considered it and other video evidence before he determined the cause and manner of death.