The medical examiner who performed the autopsy on George Floyd after last May’s deadly arrest explained how he concluded the death was a homicide at the hands of police in testimony on Friday at former Minneapolis policeman Derek Chauvin’s murder trial.
As jurors studied graphic autopsy photographs, Dr. Andrew Baker, Hennepin County’s chief medical examiner, said he stood by the cause of death he determined last year as protests in Floyd’s name against police brutality spread around the world.
Baker is one of the most important witnesses as prosecutors from the Minnesota attorney general’s office wrap up their case against Chauvin, a white man captured on video kneeling on the neck of Floyd, a 46-year-old handcuffed Black man, for nine minutes.
Chauvin’s main defense to the murder and manslaughter charges has been to cast doubt on Baker’s finding, with his lawyers suggesting Floyd may instead have been killed by a simultaneous drug overdose.
Baker ruled last year that Floyd’s death was a homicide caused by “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint and neck compression.” In short, he found that Floyd’s heart stopped beating and his lungs stopped working because Chauvin, 45, and other officers compressed him against the road in a way that starved his body of oxygen.
Other medical experts called by prosecutors have spent the past two days pointing to the unusually large amount of video of the death, from multiple angles, saying it shores up Baker’s finding, and contradicts the defense theory of an overdose.
Baker said he noted in his report that Floyd suffered from heart disease, and fentanyl and methamphetamine were found in his blood because those factors may have played a role in the death. Even so, he emphasized, they “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, using medical jargon to refer to the way police pressed Floyd’s face down against the street.
Envelopes containing the autopsy pictures were handed to everyone in the room, including reporters and spectators.