Cardiologist says police, not heart or drug issues, killed George Floyd

Multiple medical experts called by the state have reached the same conclusion

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Tuesday 13 April 2021 08:20 BST
Cardiologist says police, not heart or drug issues, killed Floyd
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Yet another medical expert in the Derek Chauvin trial has testified that George Floyd didn’t die because of a fentanyl overdose or pre-existing heart problems.

Instead, according to cardiologist Dr Jonathan Rich, an expert witness called by the state, Mr Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for minutes, along with other police restraints, triggered a cardiopulmonary arrest that killed him. 

“He was trying to get enough oxygen, and because he was unable to because of the position that he was subjected to, the heart didn’t have enough oxygen either, which means the entire body is deprived of oxygen,” he said.

Mr Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, is on trial for murder after he knelt for more than nine minutes on the neck of Mr Floyd, an unarmed Black man, during an arrest for a counterfeit $20 bill.

Dr Rich also argued against some of the defence’s main contentions, that fentanyl abuse and Mr Floyd’s underlying heart problems caused the death.

“I can state with a high level of medical certainty that George Floyd did not die from a primary heart event, and he did not die from a drug overdose,” Mr Rich said.

The cardiologist said both an inspection of Mr Floyd’s autopsy and medical record, as well as his prolonged death, suggested a sudden heart attack was not to blame. Meanwhile, Mr Floyd’s alertness and clear speech throughout his encounter with police helped rule out a fentanyl-related overdose, since victims usually appear woozy and have slurred words.

All told, the combined factors led Mr Rich to believe Mr Floyd would still be alive were it not for police.

“I believe that Mr George Floyd’s death was absolutely preventable,” he said. “There was one moment in the video where I heard one of the officers say, I think he’s passing out. That would’ve been an opportunity to quickly remove him from that position of not getting enough oxygen, perhaps turn him into a recovery position, and allow him to start to expand his lungs again and bring in oxygen.”

Defence attorney Eric Nelson, meanwhile, argued that the police restraint would’ve been prevented if Mr Floyd had originally gotten into the police car as officers requested.

“So if he’d gotten into the squad car he would have survived?” Mr Nelson asked Mr Rich.

On Friday, Dr Andrew Baker, the county medical examiner who conducted Mr Floyd’s autopsy, said police ultimately caused his death, putting more strain on the body than Mr Floyd’s already somewhat diseased heart court take.

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

The day before, Dr Bill Smock, a forensic medical specialist and police training doctor, said much the same thing.

“Mr Floyd died of positional asphyxia, which is a fancy way of saying he died because he had no oxygen in his body,” said Dr Bill Smock, a forensic medical specialist and police training doctor. “When the body is deprived of oxygen, in this case from pressure on his chest and back, he gradually succumbed  to lower and lower levels of oxygen until it was gone and he died.”

Dr Martin Tobin, a lung expert, testified earlier in the week that according to his calculations, Mr Floyd had at least 90 pounds of pressure along on his neck, and the combined weight of three police officers restraining him on the hard pavement was like his lungs were “in a vice”.

The defence, meanwhile, has argued that Mr Floyd was at potentially fatal risk long before he encountered police.

“The evidence will show that Mr Floyd died of a cardiac arrhythmia that occurred as a result of hypertension, his coronary disease, the ingestion of methamphetamine and fentanyl, and the adrenaline flowing through his body – all of which acted to further compromise an already comprised heart,” Mr Nelson said during opening arguments in the trial.

George Floyd’s brother Philonise also testified, sharing fond memories of a man he described as a leader to those around him.

“He was so much of a leader to us in the household. He would always make sure we had our clothes for school,” Mr Floyd said. “He was one of those people in the community, when they had church outside, people would attend church just because he was there.”

The day concluded with testimony from Seth Stoughton, a law and criminal justice professor at the University of South Carolina. He said that police have known the risks of applying force to someone who is face-down in handcuffs for decades, and that this level of force was unnecessary given the situation, according to national police standards.

‘This is something that’s been very well known in policing, at least going on 30 years,” he said. “No reasonable officer would’ve believed that that was an appropriate,  acceptable, or reasonable use of force,” he added.

The state wrapped up its case on Monday, and Hennepin County judge Peter Cahill told jurors to “pack a bag” because they could begin deliberating as soon as early next week.

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