2 Separate Autopsies Classify George Floyd’s Death A Homicide Caused By Asphyxia

Jennifer Keiper
June 02, 2020 - 8:07 am
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    MINNEAPOLIS (WBBM NEWSRADIO/AP) -- The video of George Floyd’s last minutes with four police officers holding him down – one with a knee to Floyd’s neck has sparked protests – some violent – across the country.

    Floyd's family attorneys have now released the results of an independent autopsy.

    An independent autopsy calls George Floyd’s death a homicide caused by asphyxia. 

    "The cause of death was what was seen at the time of the death. He could not breathe - asphyxia due to compression of the neck and of the back...and that will be in the final report," said Dr. Michael Baden. 

    That autopsy, by a forensic pathologist who also examined Eric Garner’s body, found the compression cut off blood to Floyd’s brain, and that the pressure of other officers' knees on his back made it impossible for him to breathe.

    A medical examiner on Monday also classified George Floyd’s death as a homicide, saying his heart stopped as police restrained him and compressed his neck.

    “Decedent experienced a cardiopulmonary arrest while being restrained by law enforcement officer(s),” the Hennepin County Medical Examiner's Office said in a news release. Cause of death was listed as “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint and neck compression.”

    Under "other significant conditions” it said Floyd suffered from heart disease and hypertension, and listed fentanyl intoxication and recent methamphetamine use. Those factors were not listed under cause of death.

    Both the medical examiner and the family’s experts differed from the description in last week’s criminal complaint against the officer of how Floyd died. The complaint, citing preliminary findings from the medical examiner, listed the effects of being restrained, along with underlying health issues and potential intoxicants in Floyd’s system. But it also said nothing was found “to support a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation.” Neither side has released its full autopsy report so far.

    The family's autopsy found no evidence of heart disease and concluded he had been healthy.

    Floyd’s family and attorneys, like the families of other black men killed by police, commissioned their own autopsy because they didn’t trust local authorities to produce an unbiased report.

    The family's autopsy was done by Michael Baden and Allecia Wilson. Baden is the former chief medical examiner of New York City, and was hired to do an autopsy of Garner, a black man who died in 2014 after New York police placed him in a chokehold and he pleaded that he could not breathe.

    Baden also did an autopsy at the family's request for Michael Brown, an 18-year-old shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri. He said Brown didn’t reveal signs of a struggle, casting doubt on a claim by police that a struggle between Brown and the officer led to the shooting.

    Dr. Judy Melinek, a forensic pathologist from the San Francisco Bay area who blogs about the subject and is not connected with the case, said the key difference between the medical examiner's conclusions and those of Baden and Walker are the official finding of “significant” conditions for Floyd, including heart disease and drugs in his system.

    Baden and Wilson acknowledged on a conference call with reporters that they didn't have access to the tissue samples that the medical examiner kept that might have given more information on his health. Nor did they have their own toxicology results yet.

    Melinek said it's not unusual for different pathologists to reach different determinations, given that they may be looking at different information and that they've had different experiences and training.

    Under the law, a medical examiner determines the cause and manner of death, but it's up to prosecutors to decide whether criminal charges are warranted. The term homicide means only that a person's death was caused by another person.

    With now-fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin facing charges, Chicago attorney Tony Romanucci, now part of the Floyd legal team, said the other three officers should also face charges. 

    Romanucci said of the officers who pinned Floyd down last week "not only prevented blood flow into his brain, but also air flow into his lungs. That makes all of those officers on scene criminally liable, and without a doubt civilly responsible."

    Attorney Ben Crump said Officer Derek Chauvin's charge should be upgraded to first-degree murder, and that the three other officers should be charged.

    A memorial service for George Floyd will be held Thursday afternoon in Minneapolis. 

    (WBBM Newsradio and the The Associated Press contributed to this copy.)