MINNEAPOLIS — The Chief Medical Examiner who carried out George Floyd’s autopsy has stated that he did not find the cause of death to be asphyxia or low oxygen levels and that he did not believe that Chauvin’s knee was on Floyd’s neck for ‘the majority’ of the time, Daily Mail reported.
In a massive departure from the prosecution’s contention Hennepin County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Andrew Baker said, “In my impression from the video it would appear that Mr. Chauvin’s knee was primarily on the back, on the side or the area in between Mr. Floyd’s neck (and back).”
Under cross examination Friday afternoon Dr. Baker told the court that asphyxia was “a very common cause” of the deaths that he had seen across 2,900 to 3,000 autopsies but it was not the conclusion that he came to before, or after, having seen the videos of the incident on May 25, 2020.
In a startlingly brief direct questioning by Jerry Blackwell, Dr. Baker told the court that Floyd died because being pinned down on the ground with his neck compressed was, “just more than he could take,” given his severe underlying heart disease.
Asked if, in his opinion, the positioning of Chauvin’s knee would cut off Floyd’s oxygen supply, Dr. Baker said, “In my opinion it would not.”
In his view, he said, “It was the stress of that interaction that tipped him over the edge given his underlying heart disease and his toxicological status.”
In his conclusion Floyd’s death occurred “in the context” of law enforcement subdual, restraint and neck compression but he did not give the cause of death as set out by others, Daily Mail reported.
Questioned by Jerry Blackwell, Dr. Baker explained the meticulous way he had approached and annotated Floyd’s autopsy with the goal of getting the most “robust” record so that, he said, “Another pathologist could look at my data and they don’t have to take my word for it, they have the photos.”
It was Dr. Baker who took the photos shown to the jurors in packets Friday morning.
Blackwell took the doctor through them one by one as he described what the jurors were seeing: the facial injuries, scrapes on his knuckles and fingers where, previous experts opined, he had pushed against the asphalt and the tire of squad 320 in his desperate efforts to breathe and the “train-track” abrasions on his wrists, left by the handcuffs against which he strained.
Dr. Baker acknowledged that Floyd had severe underlying heart disease and the presence of drugs but, he said, neither of those things were primary causes of death and neither caused “the subdual and neck restraint.”
According to Dr. Baker, “In my opinion the physiology of what was going on with Mr. Floyd on May 25, you know he had very severe underlying heart disease, and also hypertensive heart disease so he has a heart that already needs more blood because of its size and is limited in its capacity [to get that].
“In the context of other people restraining him, the pain from his cheek on the asphalt, his shoulder, pinned to the ground those are going to create adrenalin and it’s going to ask your heart for more oxygen.
“In my view the neck compression was just more than Mr. Floyd could take by virtue of those heart conditions.”
Under cross-examination Chauvin’s attorney Eric Nelson asked Dr. Baker to explain what he meant by the word “complicating” in his cause of death finding which read, “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint and neck compression.”
Dr. Baker explained, “It means that an intervention occurred and there was an outcome that was untoward on the heels of that intervention.”
Dr. Baker also explained why he had listed, “Arteriosclerotic and hypertensive heart disease; Fentanyl intoxication; Recent methamphetamine use” as other contributing factors.
Asked by Nelson, “When you put those things on the death certificate what you’re saying is, ‘I think these played some role in his death’?”
Dr. Baker answered, “In my opinion yes.”
In fact Dr. Baker had a conversation with Hennepin County attorneys the day he performed the autopsy on May 26 and informed them that the autopsy, “revealed no physical evidence that Mr. Floyd died of asphyxiation.”
In addition, he said, “I would be shocked if I did not tell them about Mr Floyd’s heart condition. I couldn’t have had the toxicology results because I wouldn’t have them back for several days.”
In contrast, he said, “You would know [about Floyd’s heart disease] walking out of the autopsy suite.”
As to toxicology, Dr. Baker said that in other circumstances he would consider the levels of fentanyl in Floyd’s bloodstream to be “lethal.”
As for methamphetamine Dr. Baker said, “All other things being equal methamphetamine is not good if you have bad coronary arteries.”
It was not, he said, something that he would want to see in the blood of someone who had heart disease, Daily Mail reported.
Circling back to the fact that Dr. Baker had conducted his autopsy ahead of watching any video footage of the incident itself.
Again, the doctor explained, “I didn’t want to go into an autopsy with a notion that I already knew what happened.”
He revealed that he had watched the video later on the day that he had conducted the autopsy and not released the body until the following day.
And he said that he would have reviewed his findings had he, “seen something that triggered” him to.
Stepping up for re-direct Blackwell told Dr. Baker he would “be brief.”
He asked, “Taking into account the entire exchange you had with Mr. Nelson on Mr. Floyd’s medical conditions, or whatever testimony you gave wherever you gave it. Taking all of that into account what today remains your opinion on cause of death.”
Dr. Baker said that his view, “Remains unchanged. It’s what I put on my death certificate last June. Cardiopulmonary Arrest Complicating Law Enforcement Subdual, Restraint and Neck Compression.’ It was my top line then, it is my top line now.”
His testimony is in stark contrast to the earlier experts, pathologist Dr. Lindsey Thomas, expert pulmonologist Martin Tobin and forensic toxicologist and police surgeon, William Smock.