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Chauvin trial: Experts blame police 'restraint' and 'compression' for George Floyd death

Dr. Andrew Baker
Posted at 6:46 AM, Apr 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-09 17:52:51-04

The second full week of testimony in the trial of former officers Derek Chauvin for the death of George Floyd included scientific and technical details of the investigation and autopsy. Several prosecution witnesses expressed their opinions this week that Floyd died from a low level of oxygen because of the restraint and pressure from law enforcement on his body.

WARNING: The video clips above and this story contains language and descriptions of situations that may be difficult to hear or read.

On Friday, Hennepin County Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Andrew Baker, detailed the autopsy he did of Floyd’s body and explained why he ruled the death a homicide, in medical terms.

He said he didn’t watch the widely-shared social media video showing officers on top of Floyd for several minutes outside the Cup Foods store on May 25, 2020 until after he had examined the body.

Chauvin is facing second- and third-degree murder and manslaughter charges in connection with Floyd’s death.

Baker told the jury the way police held Floyd down and compressed his neck “was just more than Mr. Floyd could take,” given the condition of his heart.

In addition to the primary cause of death being police “subdual, restraint and neck compression,” he also listed underlying considerations in his report.

Under questioning from defense attorney Eric Nelson, Baker said Floyd had an enlarged heart that needed more oxygen to function, as well as narrowing in two heart arteries.

The defense is arguing Floyd’s health conditions and drug use contributed to his death.

Under questioning from Nelson, though, Baker stood by his determination that it was the restraint and compression that killed Floyd.

“Mr. Floyd’s use of fentanyl did not cause the subdual or neck restraint. His heart disease did not cause the subdual or the neck restraint,” Baker said.

Other medical experts, including Dr. Lindsey Thomas, a forensic pathologist who also testified on Friday, have gone further to say Floyd’s medical conditions did not factor into his death on May 25, 2020.

“This is a death where both the heart and lungs stopped working. The point is, it’s due to law enforcement subdual, restraint and compression,” Thomas said.

Baker and Thomas both said Floyd’s heart and organs appeared healthy during the initial autopsy.

"There's no evidence to suggest Floyd would have died that night if not for the interactions with law enforcement," Thomas said.

The defense is also arguing Chauvin’s knee was on Floyd’s back or shoulder blade, and not on Floyd’s neck. A theory that Baker seemed to agree with, then quickly added that while he watched the videos, he is not an expert in that area.

The trial is in recess until Monday morning at 10:30 a.m. ET. The prosecution is expected to call another medical expert to the stand.

Below is a live blog of Friday's proceedings.

Recap of Thursday proceedings, click here

Recap of Wednesday proceedings, click here

Recap of Tuesday proceedings, click here

Recap of Monday proceedings, click here

Court TV will be the only network with cameras in the courtroom and will provide live, gavel-to-gavel coverage. The entire trial will be on live TV as well as available online at CourtTV.com, and the Court TV app for Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Android and Apple devices.

Find Court TV's full coverage of MN v. Derek Chauvin here.

UPDATE, 2:30 p.m. ET: Prosecutors called the doctor who did the autopsy on George Floyd. Andrew Baker is the Chief Medical Examiner for three counties in the Minneapolis area.

WATCH coverage of the Derek Chauvin trial HERE

After talking through how an autopsy is done, Baker discussed the details of Floyd's heart, lungs and other organs. He said Floyd's heart appeared "perfectly normal" and did not have any "visible or microscopic damage to his heart."

Baker did say Floyd had fluid in his lungs, which is common in someone who has had resuscitation attempts before death.

The doctor said he found remnants of bread in Floyd's stomach, but no trace of pills.

Under cross examination from defense attorney Eric Nelson, Baker said Floyd had coronary heart disease and there was blockage.

Baker also said Floyd's heart was enlarged at the time of his death, and that it would need more oxygen to function. He also reportedly put in his report that Floyd's narrowed arteries from heart disease would decrease how much oxygen they could supply the heart with.

"And so, in your opinion, both the heart disease, as well as the history of hypertension and the drugs that were in his system played a role in Mr. Floyd's death?" Nelson asked.

"In my opinion, yes," Baker responded.

As part of his investigation, following his autopsy, Baker said he watched several videos, both the body-worn camera footage and surveillance video from the situation outside Cup Foods on May 25, 2020.

"In my opinion, Mr. Chauvin's knee was mostly on Floyd's back or side," Baker said. He added that he is "not an expert" at looking at video. Baker said he found no bruises on Floyd's back or neck.

Court TV will be the only network with cameras in the courtroom and will provide live, gavel-to-gavel coverage. The entire trial will be on live TV as well as available online at CourtTV.com, and the Court TV app for Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Android and Apple devices.

Find Court TV's full coverage of MN v. Derek Chauvin here.

UPDATE, 12:15 P.M. ET: Defense attorney Eric Nelson cross examined Dr. Lindsey Thomas, a forensic pathologist who reviewed the George Floyd case.

Under questioning from Nelson, Thomas agreed that if she saw reports of a person's death and their medical history that mirrored Floyd's, but without the involvement of law enforcement or potentially drug use, she would think the death was caused by heart disease.

The doctor also agreed that methamphetamine and adrenaline would cause the heart to need more oxygen.

When asked if Floyd was seen breathing during the videos she reviewed, Thomas responded "not effectively."

UPDATE, 10:30 a.m. ET: Prosecutors started Friday calling forensic pathologist Dr. Lindsey Thomas to talk about the death investigation into George Floyd.

Thomas says their investigation into someone's death includes knowing a person's health background, what their current situation was at the time of death, in addition to the physical body.

She was contacted by the state to provide her expert opinion on Floyd's case. She has consulted as an expert on death cases dozens of times across several states. She did not ask to be paid for her work on the Floyd case.

"You (state prosecutors) reached out to me and I knew this was going to be important. And I felt like I had something to offer and I wanted to do what I could to explain what I think happened," Thomas said when asked why she was not being paid for her work on this case.

"In this case, I believe the primary mechanism of death was asphyxiation caused by low levels of oxygen," Thomas said. She said this is a case where the heart and lungs stopped working at the same time.

She believes the death was caused by the pressure put on Floyd by the officers, calling it "subdual restraint and compression."

"Mr. Floyd was in a position where he was unable to get enough oxygen in to maintain bodily functions," Thomas said.

Thomas said watching the videos from different angles of the situation outside Cup Foods showed Floyd's breathing became troubled and then stopped. She said there "was nothing sudden about this death," as opposed to a drug overdose or heart attack.

The defense has argued Floyd's health and alleged drug use contributed to his death. Toxicology reports showed small amounts of drugs were in his system at the time of death.

She described a death from fentanyl as "very slow" and "peaceful", where a person may sleep, snore or slow down.

Floyd also was shown to have a low level of methamphetamine in his system, however Thomas says in her opinion that also did not contribute to his death.

"That (Floyd's manner of death) does not fit with a methamphetamine death," Thomas said.

The doctor was also asked about the lack of bruising noted after Floyd's death.

"There's all sorts of reasons why there may or may not be bruising" on the neck, Thomas said.

During testimony, Thomas reiterated she strongly believes Floyd's death was caused by the restraint and compression his body was under by the officers.

"There's no evidence to suggest Floyd would have died that night if not for the interactions with law enforcement," Thomas said.

Thomas was asked to read the medical definition of homicide, which states that a homicidal death is the result of another person, whether or not the other person intended to cause death. The definition is different than legal definitions and does not deal with responsibility or level of blame for the death.

Court TV will be the only network with cameras in the courtroom and will provide live, gavel-to-gavel coverage. The entire trial will be on live TV as well as available online at CourtTV.com, and the Court TV app for Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Android and Apple devices.

Find Court TV's full coverage of MN v. Derek Chauvin here.

Original story below

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – The murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin will resume Friday, with the chief medical examiner of Hennepin County expected to testify.

The trial is set to continue at 10:15 a.m. ET. If Dr. Andrew Baker takes the stand, he’ll continue the discussion regarding George Floyd’s cause of death.

Last year, Baker performed Floyd's autopsy and said the 46-year-old died from cardiac arrest and ruled the death a homicide. He said Floyd’s heart and lungs stopped amid “law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression."

Baker’s appearance would come a day after two other medical experts testified. Pulmonary expert Dr. Martin Tobin and emergency medicine expert Dr. Bill Smock both agreed that Floyd died due to a lack of oxygen after being restrained by officers on his stomach outside a Cup Foods.

"Mr. Floyd died from positional asphyxia. It is a fancy way of saying he died because he had no oxygen left in his body," said Dr. Smock on Thursday.

Though lab tests showed Floyd had low levels of methamphetamine and fentanyl in his system, Tobin said the drugs didn’t kill him.

"A healthy person subjected to what Mr. Floyd was subjected to would have died," Tobin testified on Thursday.

The defense team is focusing on the drugs in Floyd’s system, arguing that they and underlying medical issues led to the man’s death. Prosecutors say Floyd was killed by Chauvin who pressed his knee on the man’s neck for more than nine minutes as he cried for help.

Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd's death. The other officers involved in the incident are also facing charges, though their trials will be at a later date.

WATCH coverage of the Derek Chauvin trial HERE

Court TV will be the only network with cameras in the courtroom and will provide live, gavel-to-gavel coverage. The entire trial will be on live TV as well as available online at CourtTV.com, and the Court TV app for Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Android and Apple devices.

Find Court TV's full coverage of MN v. Derek Chauvin here.