During the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, one of the central arguments was whether the former Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by kneeling on his neck, or whether there was some other factor like drug use or underlying heart problems that contributed significantly.
On Tuesday, 20 April, a jury unanimously ruled that Chauvin murdered Mr Floyd, whose death was not an accident, a heart attack, or a drug overdose. This confirmed what numerous medical experts testified during the trial itself.
Among them was Dr Bradford Langenfeld, who treated George Floyd after he arrived motionless and without a full pulse to a Minneapolis hospital. Mr Langenfeld was initially told the cause of Mr Floyd’s trauma was neither a heart attack nor a drug overdose.
Instead, Dr Langenfeld, who was then a resident at the Hennepin County Medical Center, said that after examining the evidence, “asphyxia, as it’s commonly understood”, a lack of oxygen to the body, seemed to him the most likely cause of death.
“In my experience, seeing a lot of cases of mental health crisis or drug use leading to agitated states, that is almost always reported by paramedics,” he testified on Monday. “And so the absence of that information was telling in that I didn’t have reason to believe that was the case here.”
Assessing the exact cause of death was perhaps the key question in the trial of Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with murdering Mr Floyd after kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes last May during an arrest for a counterfeit $20 bill. Mr Floyd told officers 27 times he couldn’t breathe.
The state of Minnesota argued Mr Floyd was essentially choked to death, while Chauvin’s defence suggested a combination of pre-existing heart problems and contemporaneous drug use killed him during his encounter with police.
Dr Langenfeld also said he was told officers didn’t provide any medical care to Mr Floyd in the minutes they were detaining him before an ambulance arrived. He also noted that every minute someone who needs CPR doesn’t get it decreases their likelihood of survival by 10 to 15 per cent.
“It’s well known that any amount of time that patients spend in cardiac arrest without immediate CPR markedly decreases the chance of a good outcome,” he said.
The handcuffed Mr Floyd appeared unresponsive and unconscious for at least three of the nine minutes officers knelt on top of him, and a crowd of bystanders, including an off-duty firefighter with medical training, pleaded for officers to let him up and offer him medical care.
In the early stages of the trial, lieutenant Richard Zimmerman, the longest-serving officer on the Minneapolis police force, testified that officers are obligated to provide timely medical care once someone is in their custody, including CPR or moving someone into the sideways, prone “rescue position” to make it easier to breathe.
“That person is yours,” he said. “He’s your responsibility. His safety is your responsibility. His well being is your responsibility.”
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