Hennepin County medical examiner: Police interaction tipped Floyd 'over the edge'

Medical Examiner Dr. Andrew Baker, who performed Floyd's autopsy, testified Friday in the trial of former MPD officer Derek Chauvin.
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The Hennepin County medical examiner who performed George Floyd’s autopsy testified Friday in the trial of former Minneapolis Police Department officer Derek Chauvin.

Chauvin, who kneeled on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes during a May 25 arrest, is charged with third- and second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Medical Examiner Dr. Andrew Baker testified that he believed Floyd’s cause of death was “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint and neck compression.”

Baker testified that he did not conclude asphyxia, or lack of oxygen, was a cause of death, but did say that Floyd's underlying heart disease played a role in combination with the compression placed on his body and neck by Chauvin and three other police officers 

Multiple expert witnesses have previously testified that they believe Floyd died from a lack of oxygen while in the restraint, which is in line with arguments made by the prosecution.

Chauvin’s defense has argued that Floyd died due to complications caused by heart conditions, drug use, and other health problems. The cause of Floyd’s death is expected to play a key role in the outcome of the trial.

Baker stated that while the fentanyl and methamphetamine found in his system were listed as "significant" conditions on his autopsy report, he did not consider overdose to be his cause of death.

"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," Dr. Baker said. 

“Mr. Floyd’s use of fentanyl did not cause the subdual or the neck restraint,” Baker said. “His heart disease did not cause the subdual or the neck restraint.”

Baker ultimately ruled Floyd’s death a homicide after the autopsy, which he stated was still his determination Friday. Baker said that Floyd could not ultimately withstand the police restraint given his conditions, having an enlarged heart and narrowed arteries.

“It was the stress of that interaction that tipped him over the edge given his underlying heart disease and its toxicology status,” Baker stated.

"Mr. Floyd ... 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's demand because of the narrowing of his coronary arteries."

Baker told Chauvin’s defense attorney Eric Nelson that he did not view widely circulated videos of the arrest before performing the autopsy to avoid potential bias.

Baker also told Nelson that he has certified deaths in fentanyl overdose cases in which levels of the drug were lower, similar and higher than that found in Floyd’s system.

Nelson questioned the first witness of the day, forensic pathologist Dr. Lindsey Thomas, about Floyd’s conditions. Thomas testified that without the interaction with the police or drug use playing a role, she would have concluded heart disease was the cause of death.

But Thomas also told the prosecution that Floyd’s death was one in which both the heart and the lungs stopped working “due to law enforcement restraint, subdual and compression.” She also agreed with previous experts that asphyxia was a mechanism of death.

“In this case I believe the primary mechanism of death is asphyxia or lack of oxygen,” Lindsey said.

Thomas also added she had also ruled out the possibility of a drug overdose as a cause of death. 

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