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2nd autopsy finds George Floyd died from asphyxia

The Hennepin County Medical Examiner has classified Floyd’s death as a homicide, although it differs from the independent autopsy on the exact cause

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A protester holds a sign reading “I can’t breathe” during a march in the Brooklyn borough of New York. A second, independent autopsy on George Floyd found that he died from asphyxia when a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for approximately eight minutes.

AP Photo/Kevin Hagen, File

Gabrielle Banks
Houston Chronicle

MINNEAPOLIS — A medical examiner on Monday classified the death of George Floyd after a white Minneapolis police officer kneeled for minutes on his neck as a homicide.

The finding came hours after a lawyer for Floyd’s family said an independent autopsy had concluded he died by traumatic asphyxiation and also classified it as a homicide. The death last week, captured in a widely seen video, has sparked protests across the nation.

The Hennepin County Medical Examiner said Floyd’s heart stopped as police restrained him and suppressed his neck, according to the report.

“Decedent experienced a cardiopulmonary arrest while being restrained by law enforcement officer(s),” the report read. Under “other significant conditions” it said Floyd suffered was also suffering from heart disease, fentanyl intoxication and recent methamphetamine use, though it does not list those factors in the cause of death.

Preliminary results from the examination by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office, according to a criminal complaint filed in the case, “revealed no physical findings that support a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation.” The independent autopsy, in contrast, listed cause of death as asphyxiation.

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump said he commissioned a separate autopsy because, like other families of black men killed by police, Floyd’s relatives didn’t trust local authorities to produce an unbiased autopsy.

Floyd, who is black, was in handcuffs facedown on the ground during the incident.

“Essentially George died because he needed a breath. He needed a breath of air. I implore you to join his family in taking a breath for justice, taking a breath for peace, taking a breath for our country but more importantly taking a breath for George since he didn’t get an opportunity to take a breath,” Crump said.

Forensic pathologists hired by the family reviewed video, photographs and medical evidence, and concluded he died on the ground before the officers released him to emergency responders to attempt a medical intervention.

“That ambulance was essentially a hearse for George Floyd,” Crump said. “EMTs, once they got to the scene, were working on an unresponsive pulseless male. They performed pulse checks and found none.” The technicians applied electric shock in the ambulance but it did not change his condition, he said.

The independent review also came to a different conclusion about the status of Floyd’s health prior to coming into contact with police on May 25. Dr. Allecia Wilson, one of the pathologists hired by the family, said Floyd did not have significant underlying medical issues. Wilson directs the Autopsy and Forensic Services program at the University of Michigan. The other doctor, former New York City chief medical examiner Michael Baden, said given the pandemic and his own age, “I wish I had the same coronary arteries Floyd had.”

The officer who held his knee on Floyd’s neck, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter and is in custody in a state prison. The other three officers on scene, like Chauvin, were fired the day after the incident but have not been charged. Chauvin ignored bystander shouts to get off him and Floyd’s cries that he couldn’t breathe.

Crump said the family wants Chauvin to face a first-degree murder charge. They are hopeful that all the officers on the scene will face criminal charges.

Wilson said at the press conference that the evidence is consistent with “mechanical asphyxia as manner and homicide as cause” of death in the case of Floyd.

Baden made the point that “after a little less than four minutes we can see that Mr. Floyd is motionless, lifeless and when the EMS arrive they put him on the stretcher without any CPR.”

Co-counsel Antonio Romanucci said all four officers are criminally responsible and civilly liable.

Romanoucci denounced the conduct of Chauvin and the department and “the shameless standby police officers on scene who had every opportunity to stop and prevent a senseless death, a needless one.”

“This was a brutal and public display of an 8-minute prolonged death,” he said.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison is now overseeing the case.

Civil rights advocates say Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman doesn’t have the trust of the black community and have mounted protests outside his house, asking him to charge the other three officers. Freeman is still assigned to the case.

Baden has done previous independent autopsies in police-involved deaths. He conducted an independent autopsy of Eric Garner, a black man who died in 2014 after New York police placed him in a chokehold and he pleaded he could not breathe. Baden also conducted an independent autopsy of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri. He said Brown’s autopsy, requested by the teen’s family, didn’t reveal signs of a struggle, casting doubt on a claim by police that a struggle between Brown and the officer led to the shooting.

The head of the Minneapolis police union said in a letter to members that the officers were fired without due process and labor attorneys are fighting for their jobs, according to reports. Lt. Bob Kroll, the union president, also criticized city leadership, saying a lack of support is to blame for the days of sometimes violent protests.

When asked to respond, Mayor Jacob Frey said: “For a man who complains so frequently about a lack of community trust and support for the police department, Bob Kroll remains shockingly indifferent to his role in undermining that trust and support.” Frey said Kroll’s opposition to reform and lack of empathy for the community has undermined trust in the police.

Before the police stop that ended his life in Minneapolis, Floyd also appears to have had a run in with the Houston police officer criminally charged in a no-knock police raid that caused the deaths of two people last year. Following the botched raid, Floyd received a letter from the Harris County District Attorney on March 8, 2019 alerting him that former Houston Police Officer Gerald Goines may have been involved in a case that resulted in his conviction.

The family hoped demonstrations around the country would be a tipping point that would lead to systemic change in police conduct around the country.

The Associated Press contributed.


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