A country still reeling from the aftermath of George Floyd’s death has been watching the trial of his alleged murderer, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, with bated breath. Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s body in a video that quickly went viral, igniting months of sometimes ferocious and violent demonstrations.
The lone voices still calling to wait for the truth have been more than justified in their prudence by what we’ve heard from Chauvin’s trial, as is so often the case with police use-of-force incidents that provoke these “fiery but mostly peaceful” demonstrations.
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Dr. Lindsey Thomas, a forensic pathologist, admitted that if Floyd’s body had been discovered alone at home with the same amount of lethal opioids in his bloodstream as found in his autopsy, she could have quickly ruled his death was caused by a drug overdose.
In the Floyd case, the cause of death is crucial, and the prosecution has concentrated heavily on the existence of narcotics in his system at the time of death, as reported by Hennepin County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Andrew Baker.
According to The New York Times, Baker characterized Floyd’s death as “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression” in his autopsy report.
The term “cardiopulmonary arrest” should not be confused with “cardiac arrest,” which refers to a heart attack, according to the report. Cardiopulmonary arrest occurs when the heart stops beating and the lungs stop pumping, which other medical examiners The Times reporter spoke with sometimes fail to mention in their findings, despite the fact that it occurs in any death.
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Other “important problems,” according to Baker, include Floyd’s pre-existing heart disease and the presence of fentanyl and methamphetamines in his blood.
According to one of the doctors consulted by the NYT, these “were there before but didn’t start the lethal series of events.” They were merely listed to “clarify” what made Floyd more susceptible to death, rather than to “excuse” it.
The medical examiner eventually ruled Floyd’s death a homicide. According to the New York Times, the term “homicide” as used by pathologists in autopsies simply means that another individual was involved in a suicide, which may include cases of self-defense or other non-criminal causes.
It is the responsibility of the courts, not the medical examiner, to decide what is illegal.
According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the prosecution called Thomas, a former Hennepin County medical examiner who worked with Baker, as a witness on Friday. Chauvin was questioned about the existence of opioids in Floyd’s system during cross-examination by Chauvin’s defense attorney Eric Nelson.
According to the Star Tribune, the pathologist said clearly of Floyd’s death during her initial testimony: “There’s no reason to indicate he might have died that night but for the encounters with law enforcement” and that “asphyxia or low oxygen” was the “main cause of death.”
Meanwhile, Nelson posed a hypothetical question to Thomas: if a person was discovered at home with “no battle with the police” and “no heart problem,” but “you find fentanyl and methamphetamine in this person’s system at the levels that they are at, would you certify this as an overdose?”
“In the absence of any of these other realities, indeed, I might consider that an overdose,” she said.