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Doctor: Heart disease, drugs not direct causes of Floyd death

  • Published at 08:57 am April 10th, 2021
George Floyd
An art installation and garden are seen at George Floyd Square on the 10th day in the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin, who is facing murder charges in the death of George Floyd, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, US, April 9, 2021 Reuters

Police officers are rarely convicted in the United States when facing criminal charges

George Floyd had heart disease and had consumed drugs but they were not the "direct causes" of his death, the doctor who conducted the autopsy said Friday at the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin.

Andrew Baker, the chief medical examiner for Minnesota's Hennepin County, told the jury that Floyd's cause of death was "restraint and neck compression" while being subdued by police.

Chauvin is facing murder and manslaughter charges for his role in Floyd's May 25, 2020 death, which occurred during his arrest for allegedly passing a fake $20 bill.

The 45-year-old Chauvin, who is white, was seen in a video taken by a bystander kneeling on Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes as the handcuffed 46-year-old Black man complained repeatedly that he "can't breathe."

The video touched off protests against racial injustice and police brutality in the United States and around the world.

The cause of Floyd's death is a central element in Chauvin's high-profile trial being held in a heavily guarded Minneapolis courtroom.

Prosecutors are seeking to prove Floyd's death was due to asphyxiation and have called several medical experts in recent days to bolster their case.

Chauvin's defence claims Floyd's death was due to his consumption of the illegal drugs fentanyl and methamphetamine and underlying health conditions.

Baker, who conducted the autopsy on Floyd and signed his death certificate, was questioned about his findings by prosecutor Jerry Blackwell and Chauvin's attorney, Eric Nelson.

Baker said he had intentionally chosen not to watch any videos of Floyd's death before conducting the autopsy so as not to "bias" the examination.

Also Read - Doctors challenge drug overdose defence in Derek Chauvin's murder trial

On the death certificate, Baker cited "cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression" as the cause of Floyd's death.

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

"They are not direct causes, they are contributing causes," he said.

'Heart to beat faster' 

Baker said Floyd had a slightly enlarged heart and a narrowing of his coronary arteries.

He noted that Floyd, before being handcuffed and placed face down on the ground, had scuffled with the officers arresting him.

"Those events are going to cause stress hormones to pour out into your body, specifically things like adrenaline," he said.

"And what that adrenaline is going to do is it's going to ask your heart to beat faster.

"It's going to ask your body for more oxygen so that you can get through that altercation," he said. "And 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."

Also testifying for the prosecution on Friday was Lindsey Thomas, a veteran forensic pathologist.

She said she believed the "primary mechanism" of Floyd's death was "asphyxia or low oxygen" caused by compression of his chest by the policemen on his neck and back. 

"This is not a sudden cardiac death," she said.

Several police officers have testified that excessive force was used on Floyd and Minneapolis police chief Medaria Arradondo said Chauvin had violated the department's training policies and its "values."

Police officers are rarely convicted in the United States when facing criminal charges and a conviction on any of the counts against Chauvin will require the jury to return a unanimous verdict.

Chauvin faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted of the most serious charge -- second-degree murder.

A 19-year veteran of the Minneapolis Police Department, Chauvin was fired from the force after Floyd's death.

Three other former police officers involved in the arrest are to be tried separately later this year.

Floyd's sister, Bridgett Floyd, said in an interview with The Shade Room published on Friday that the family expects to "get justice."

"I know that God is not going to let justice fail us," she said. "I know we're going to get a guilty verdict because God has the last say-so."

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