Maryland officials will conduct an investigation into all deaths that happened in police custody that were overseen by the state’s former chief medical examiner, who testified as a defense witness in the trial for former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, Maryland attorney general and governor’s offices announced Friday, Fox News reported.
Chauvin was convicted last week of murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd.
Dr. David Fowler, who was Maryland’s chief medical examiner from 2002 to 2019 and is now a member of a consulting firm, testified that the primary cause of Floyd’s death was a sudden heart rhythm disturbance during police restraint due to underlying heart disease.
The retired forensic pathologist also said the fentanyl and methamphetamine in Floyd’s system, and possible carbon monoxide poisoning from auto exhaust, were contributing factors in his death. Fowler’s testimony contradicted other experts lined up by the prosecutor who testified Floyd died due to a lack of oxygen. He also classified Floyd’s manner of death as “undetermined,” breaking from even Hennepin County’s medical examiner, who ruled it a homicide.
The announcement of the investigation came from Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Friday, less than 24 hours after the Attorney General’s Office received a letter from Washington, D.C.’s former chief medical examiner Roger Mitchell, and allegedly signed by 431 doctors from around the country, saying Fowler’s conclusions were so far outside the bounds of accepted forensic practice that all his previous work could come into question, Fox reported.
“Dr. Fowler’s stated opinion that George Floyd’s death during active police restraint should be certified with an ‘undetermined’ manner is outside the standard practice and conventions for investigating and certification of in-custody deaths,” the letter said. “This stated opinion raises significant concerns for his previous practice and management.”
Fowler told The Baltimore Sun he was not aware of any such consideration of a review and defended the work of his office, noting that he was not solely responsible for autopsy conclusions. “There’s a large team of forensic pathologists, with layers of supervision, and those medical examiners always did tremendous work,” Fowler said Friday. He declined to discuss his testimony in the Chauvin trial.
One of Fowler’s office’s best known rulings came in the death of Freddie Gray.
According to the ruling, Gray died from injuries suffered in the back of a police van. The autopsy concluded that officers’ failure to take care of him and seek medical attention made his death a homicide, and prompted State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby to swiftly file charges against six officers. All were either acquitted or had their charges dropped.