Takeaways From Day 10 of the Derek Chauvin Trial

The medical examiner who performed the initial autopsy of George Floyd said he died as a result of his interaction with law enforcement.,

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Takeaways from Day 10 of the Derek Chauvin trial.

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April 9, 2021, 5:50 p.m. ET

April 9, 2021, 5:50 p.m. ET

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Floyd’s Cause of Death Was Homicide, Medical Examiner Says

Dr. Andrew Baker, the Hennepin County medical examiner who performed the initial autopsy of George Floyd, said that there were contributing factors to Mr. Floyd’s death but that ultimately it was homicide.

“Do you recall describing the level of fentanyl as a fatal level of a fentanyl?” “I recall describing it in other circumstances, it would be a fatal level, yes — in other circumstances.” “And you all — would you agree that one of the causes of the pulmonary edema that you communicated to the county attorneys was also fentanyl?” “Fentanyl can certainly be a cause of pulmonary edema. As I indicated earlier in previous questioning, it’s confounded by the fact that Mr. Floyd had quite a bit of CPR. And so I find the pulmonary edema much less specific “What today remains your opinion as to the cause of death for Mr. Floyd?” “So my opinion remains unchanged. It’s what I put on the death certificate last June. That’s cardiopulmonary arrest, complicating law enforcement, subdual restraint and neck compression. That was my top line, then, it would stay my top line now.” “And so we look at the other contributing conditions. Those other contributing conditions are not conditions that you consider direct causes. Is that true?” “They are not direct causes of Mr. Floyd’s death, that’s true. They’re contributing causes.” “And in terms of manner of death, you found then. and do you stand by today that the manner of death for Mr. Floyd was, as you would call it, homicide?” “Yes, I would still classify it as a homicide today.”

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Dr. Andrew Baker, the Hennepin County medical examiner who performed the initial autopsy of George Floyd, said that there were contributing factors to Mr. Floyd’s death but that ultimately it was homicide.CreditCredit…Still image, via Court TV

One of the most anticipated witnesses of Derek Chavin’s trial, the Hennepin County medical examiner who performed the initial autopsy of George Floyd, testified on Friday that while police restraint was the main cause of Mr. Floyd’s death, drug use and heart disease were contributing factors.

The medical examiner, Dr. Andrew Baker, declared Mr. Floyd’s death a homicide in his autopsy, but had made several statements leading up to the trial that could have complicated the arguments of the prosecution, particularly in relation to Mr. Floyd’s drug use. In all, his testimony maintained that Mr. Chauvin’s actions — pinning Mr. Floyd to the street for nine and a half minutes — were the primary causes of death.

Jurors also heard from Dr. Lindsey Thomas, a forensic pathologist who helped train Dr. Baker. During her testimony, Dr. Thomas said she believed that Mr. Floyd died from a deprivation of oxygen caused by the restraint of Mr. Chauvin, the former police officer charged with murdering Mr. Floyd. Here are the highlights from Day 10 of the trial.

  • Though multiple contributing factors may have contributed to Mr. Floyd’s death, Dr. Baker said he believed that the primary cause of death was the same as he wrote in his initial autopsy: “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression.” In simpler terms, Dr. Baker said that Mr. Floyd would not have died were if not for the actions of Mr. Chauvin. Still, he said that the compounding factors, including heart disease, played a role as well. Dr. Baker agreed with a statement from the defense that methamphetamine was hard on the heart; a toxicology report found methamphetamine and fentanyl in Mr. Floyd’s system, and pill fragments found at the scene contained the same drugs. Dr. Baker said he found no pill fragments in Mr. Floyd’s stomach.

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Credit…Court TV still image, via Associated Press
  • Mr. Floyd had a larger heart than most people, Dr. Baker said. It required more oxygen to continue pumping blood throughout the body, especially during a high-intensity situation like the one Mr. Floyd experienced when being pinned to the asphalt for more than nine minutes. “Those events are going to cause stress hormones to pour out into your body, specifically things like adrenaline. 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,” Dr. Baker said. “And in my opinion, the law enforcement, subdural restraint and the neck compression was just more than Mr. Floyd could take by virtue of those heart conditions.”

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Medical Examiner Describes George Floyd’s Heart Condition

Dr. Andrew Baker, the medical examiner for Hennepin County, said on Friday that Mr. Floyd had a heart condition that put him at a greater risk in situations with high physical stress.

Can you tell us how it is physiologically that the subdural restraint and neck compression caused Mr. Floyd’s death? In my opinion, the physiology of what was going on with Mr. Floyd on the evening of May 25th is, you’ve already seen the photographs of his coronary arteries, so that, you know, you know he had very severe underlying heart disease. I don’t know that we specifically got to it, counselor, but Mr. Floyd also had what we call hypertensive heart disease, meaning his heart weighed more than it should. So 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 is demand because of the narrowing of his coronary arteries. Now, in the context of an altercation with other people, that involves things like physical restraint, that involves things like being held to the ground, that involves things like the pain that you would incur from having your, you know, your cheek up against the asphalt and an abrasion on your shoulder, those events are going to cause stress hormones to pour out into your body, specifically things like adrenaline. 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. And in my opinion, the law enforcement’s subdural restraint and the neck compression was just more than Mr. Floyd could take by virtue of that — those heart conditions.

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Dr. Andrew Baker, the medical examiner for Hennepin County, said on Friday that Mr. Floyd had a heart condition that put him at a greater risk in situations with high physical stress.
  • Eric J. Nelson, the attorney leading Mr. Chauvin’s defense, used his cross-examination to push back on Dr. Baker’s findings. Mr. Nelson urged him to elaborate on the fact that he found no bruises on Mr. Floyd’s back, and that the level of fentanyl that was found in Mr. Floyd’s system could have been fatal for some people. But throughout the cross-examination, Dr. Baker appeared to be uneasy with Mr. Nelson’s line of questioning. On the issue of bruising, for example, Dr. Baker said that death by asphyxiation — or the deprivation of oxygen — does not necessarily cause bruising. On the issue of drug use, Dr. Baker said the level of fentanyl that was found in Mr. Floyd’s system could be fatal in other circumstances, but that, in Mr. Floyd’s case, it was a less likely cause of death than other causes.

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Forensic Pathologist Says Physiologic Stress Contributed to Floyd’s Death

Dr. Lindsey Thomas, a forensic pathologist, testified on Friday that police restraint killed George Floyd, primarily by restricting his oxygen with a secondary effect of physiological stress on his body.

“I think a secondary mechanism in this case is what I refer to as physiologic stress, and by that I don’t mean like the stress — oh somebody’s a Type A personality, and they have a deadline at work and they’re just really stressed about it. I’m not talking about that kind of stress. I’m talking about the kind of physical stress you feel when you’re driving along and all of a sudden a car swerves right in front of you, and you slam on the brakes and you realize, oh, my gosh, if I hadn’t reacted, if that had happened a second earlier, I would have been in a potentially fatal car crash. And you can feel your heart racing. You get chemical release. You get adrenaline noradrenaline or epinephrine, norepinephrine. And those are things that make your heart race, your blood pressure go up. All of those physical things, those chemical things can cause reactions in the body that put additional stress primarily on your heart, but also on all of your body systems because your body requires your chemistry to be in very fine balance. And when there’s too much, say, lactic acid or too much, not enough, you know, not an ability to compensate for that elevated lactic acid, then all of your body organs will get into trouble.” “And so the direct cause is what? And then the secondary cause is what?” “So their sort of primary mechanism, I think is asphyxia and the secondary — or low oxygen — and the secondary mechanism is this physiologic stress. But ultimately the cause of death is the subdual restraint and compression.”

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Dr. Lindsey Thomas, a forensic pathologist, testified on Friday that police restraint killed George Floyd, primarily by restricting his oxygen with a secondary effect of physiological stress on his body.CreditCredit…Court TV still image, via Associated Press
  • Like several other medical witnesses who testified this week, Dr. Thomas came to the conclusion that Mr. Floyd died from a deprivation of oxygen. This has been a primary argument of the prosecution, which is seeking to dispel the defense’s notion that drug use played a larger role. “There’s no evidence to suggest he would have died that night, except for the interactions with law enforcement,” Dr. Thomas said. Her testimony followed that of two other medical witnesses, who testified on Thursday with the same conclusions. In addition, Dr. Thomas differentiated Mr. Floyd’s death from a sudden cardiac arrest, saying that Mr. Floyd’s oxygen deprivation came more slowly and that “the point is that it’s due to law enforcement’s subdural restraint and compression.”

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