Chauvin trial: Medical examiner blames police pressure for Floyd’s death

MINNEAPOLIS (NewsNation Now) — The medical examiner who performed the autopsy on George Floyd after last May’s deadly arrest testified Friday that the way police held Floyd down and compressed his neck “was just more than Mr. Floyd could take,” given the condition of his heart.

As jurors studied autopsy photographs, Dr. Andrew Baker, Hennepin County’s chief medical examiner, said he stood by the cause of death he determined last year: Floyd died from cardiopulmonary arrest — that is, his heart stopped — complicated by the way police held him down.

When Baker was asked how police “subdual, restraint and neck compression” led to Floyd’s death, he said that Floyd had severe underlying heart disease and an enlarged heart that needed more oxygen than normal to function, as well as narrowing of two heart arteries.

Baker said being involved in a scuffle raises adrenaline, which asks the heart to beat even faster and supply more oxygen.

“And in my opinion, the law enforcement subdual, restraint and the neck compression was just more than Mr. Floyd could take by virtue of that, those heart conditions,” the medical examiner said.

In short, Baker ruled that Floyd’s heart stopped beating and his lungs stopped working because Chauvin, 45, and other officers pinned him to the ground in a way that starved his body of oxygen.

Other medical experts, including a leading lung specialist, have gone further, testifying that Floyd ultimately died from a lack of oxygen because of the way he was restrained on his stomach with his hands cuffed behind his back, his face jammed against the ground and Chauvin’s knee in his neck.

Chauvin, 45, is charged with murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death May 25 after Floyd was arrested outside a neighborhood market after being accused of trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill.

Here is a look at some important moments from the 10th day of witness testimony in the trial:

DR. ANDREW BAKER, MEDICAL EXAMINER WHO PERFORMED FLOYD AUTOPSY

Baker described how he performed the autopsy, including extra steps to cut into the flesh around where Floyd’s wrists were handcuffed and along his back to look for bruising from the arrest.

Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson has argued that the now-fired white officer did what he was trained to do and was not responsible for Floyd’s death. Floyd had high blood pressure and heart disease, and an autopsy found fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system.

But the examiner said the autopsy itself ruled out heart attack, aneurysm and other causes.

Baker testified that his examination of Floyd’s heart found no “visible or microscopic previous damage” to the heart muscle. Baker also said he noticed no injury to Floyd’s brain from either trauma or oxygen deprivation. And he said he did not notice any pills or pill fragments in Floyd’s stomach.

Baker said he noted Floyd’s heart disease and the fentanyl and methamphetamine found in his blood on the death certificate because they may have played a role in the death, but “were not direct causes.”

“Mr. Floyd’s use of fentanyl did not cause the subdual or the neck restraint, his heart disease did not cause the subdual or the neck restraint,” Baker told the jury, referring to the way police pressed Floyd face down against the street.

Other medical experts called as prosecution witnesses have likewise blamed Floyd’s death on the way he was pinned down on the ground.

Baker also said he did not watch the harrowing video of the arrest before examining Floyd so that he would not be influenced by what he saw.

“I was aware that at least one video had gone viral on the Internet, but I intentionally chose not to look at that until I had examined Mr. Floyd,” he said. “I did not want to bias my exam by going in with any preconceived notions that might lead me down one pathway or another.”

DR. LINDSEY THOMAS, FORENSIC PATHOLOGIST

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. Chauvin has pleaded not guilty.

Dr. Lindsey Thomas, a forensic pathologist who retired in 2017 from the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office and did not work on Floyd’s case, testified earlier Friday that she agreed with Baker’s findings, but was even more explicit, saying the “primary mechanism of death” was asphyxia, or insufficient oxygen.

Nelson asked Thomas about what could cause a heart to suddenly stop beating, noting that Floyd’s bigger heart needed more blood and was working hard in a moment of stress and adrenaline, and that one of his arteries had a 90% blockage.

Thomas said any blockage over 70% to 75% could be used to explain death, in the absence of another cause. But she also said some people can live just fine with an artery that is fully blocked.

She also agreed that fentanyl can slow a person’s breathing and that methamphetamine can cause the heart to work harder and cause cardiac arrhythmia — a potentially lethal heart rhythm disturbance.

She said she reached that conclusion mostly from video that showed Floyd struggling to breathe.

“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. She said that there was nothing in Floyd’s autopsy that noted that, but she said that is not uncommon.

SEAT FOR CHAUVIN’S FAMILY OCCUPIED IN COURT

For the first time, a seat designated for Chauvin’s family was occupied Friday, by a woman. She wasn’t immediately identified. Chauvin’s marriage ended in divorce in the months after Floyd’s death.

Also on Friday, Judge Peter Cahill called in a juror and questioned her about whether she had been subject to any outside influences. She replied that she briefly saw TV coverage with the sound off and said that her mother-in-law had texted her, “Looks like it was a bad day” but that she didn’t reply.

The judge allowed her to remain on the jury.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.