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Forensic pathologist rules out drug overdose as cause of George Floyd’s death during Chauvin trial

Dr Lindsey Thomas, a Minnesota-based pathologist, is the third medical expert to testify to this cause of death

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Friday 09 April 2021 21:20 BST
Forensic pathologist rules out drug overdose as cause of George Floyd’s Death during Chauvin trial
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Police killed George Floyd when they handcuffed him on the ground and kneeled on his neck for more than nine minutes, cutting off his oxygen supply, according to a pathologist who testified in the Derek Chauvin trial on Friday.

Dr Lindsey Thomas, a Minnesota-based pathologist, the third expert in the trial so far to reach that conclusion, said: “His chest is sort of compressed in this position in such a way that he can’t adequately expand and get enough oxygen in.”

As police continued kneeling on Mr Floyd, Dr Thomas says air eventually stopped getting to his brain and he had an involuntary bodily twitch from a lack of oxygen, known as an anoxic reaction.

“That’s the point at which you can tell by looking, that’s where he no longer is getting oxygen to his brain,” she said. “Then the restraint and subdual and compression continue for many minutes more, even after someone checks and says there’s no pulse, they maintain the position. At that point his heart has also stopped.”

She also ruled out the defence’s main arguments that Mr Floyd died from an underlying cardiac problem or a fentanyl overdose. Heart problems on their own usually come on quickly, while opioid overdoses move gradually, with people becoming woozy or sleepy before slowly passing out and dying. Neither scenario, the pathologist said, matched the continued struggle between Mr Floyd and officers caught on numerous videos.

“The bystander videos are really instructive, as well as the surveillance videos from the scene, at showing him during the time of the restraint,” she said. “There has never been a case that I’ve been involved with that had videos of such a long timeframe, and from so many angles,” she added.

She did acknowledge, however, during questioning from defence attorney Eric Nelson, that Mr Floyd had a number of pre-existing health factors like heart disease and recent drug use which would be notable or perhaps decisive in a death if found on their own.

“In the absence of any of these other realities, yes, I could consider that to be an overdose,” she said.

Dr Thomas is the latest in a string of expert witnesses who judged that Mr Floyd’s death was the result of the way police restrained him.

“Mr Floyd died of positional asphyxia, which is a fancy way of saying he died because he had no oxygen in his body,” Dr Bill Smock, a forensic medical specialist and police training doctor, testified on Thursday. “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.”

His death may have been prevented with timely medical care, Mr Smock went on.

“As soon as Mr Floyd is unconscious, he should’ve been rolled over,” Mr Smock said. “We have documentation on the video that the officer says, ‘I can’t find a pulse.’ That’s clearly, when you look at the video, it should’ve been started way before.”

A lung expert called by the state, Dr Martin Tobin, echoed many of these conclusions on Thursday.

“Mr Floyd died from a low level of oxygen,” he said. “It’s like the left side is in a vice. It’s totally being totally pushed in, squeezed in from each side,” he added.

The barrage of medical testimony marks a major shift in the case, which has mostly focused on police use of force training so far. A litany of high-ranking Minneapolis police officers have testified so far that Mr Chauvin crossed the line and didn’t follow department policy when he kneeled on Mr Floyd’s neck.

The medical focus looks likely to continue, however, with the medical examiner who did Mr Floyd’s autopsy likely to testify on Friday.

The defence, meanwhile, has maintained that drugs and underlying health problems killed Mr Floyd.

“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,” attorney Eric Nelson said during his opening statement on Monday.

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