Dr. Andrew Baker, the Hennepin County Medical Examiner testifies at the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, Minn. On Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022, the chief medical examiner who ruled George Floyd death a homicide will take the stand again at the trial of three former Minneapolis police officers accused of violating Floyd’s civil rights. (AP, Pool, and File, via Court TV)
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The chief medical examiner who said George Floyd’s death was a homicide testified Tuesday that no one told him what to write in his autopsy report. Defense attorneys at the trial of three former Minneapolis police officers accused of violating Floyd’s civil rights brought up questions about how Floyd died.
Federal prosecutors say that former Officers J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, and Tou Thao did not follow their training when they did nothing to save Floyd’s life on May 25, 2020, when Officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on the Black man’s neck for 9 1/2 minutes while Floyd was handcuffed, facedown, and gasping for air. Kueng kneeled on Floyd’s back, Lane held his legs, and Thao stopped people from getting too close.
The chief medical examiner for Hennepin County, Dr. Andrew Baker, said that Floyd’s heart and lungs stopped because of “subdual, restraint, and neck compression” by the police. He said that heart disease and drug use were factors, but not the “top line” causes. He said Floyd’s arteries were too narrow and that his heart was too big, so he needed more oxygen than usual.
Robert Paule, Thao’s lawyer, asked Tuesday if Baker was forced to put “neck compression” as a cause of death in Thao’s autopsy report. Baker said in court that on the day of Floyd’s autopsy, he told prosecutors that there were no physical signs of asphyxia or not enough oxygen. In their first complaint against Chauvin, prosecutors included this information. They also said that Chauvin’s health problems, police restraints, and possible drugs could have played a role.
Baker said that his office got “hundreds” of calls, some of which were annoying and dangerous. Dr. Roger Mitchell, who used to be the medical examiner for Washington, D.C., and is an expert on deaths in jail, also called Baker and was upset. Baker said that the two talked about neck compression and that Mitchell planned to write a negative opinion piece for The Washington Post. Before putting neck compression in his report, Baker said he thought about Mitchell’s opinion and analysis.
Prosecutors asked Baker more questions, and he said that it’s not unusual for pathologists to talk with each other. He also said that harassing phone calls didn’t make him change his mind about Floyd’s cause of death.
Baker also said that putting pressure on the neck was a unique way to hold someone down that he had never seen before.
He also said that Floyd said, “I can’t breathe,” before he was restrained during a fight in a police car. Paule asked him if it was possible that Floyd was having trouble breathing because he was having a “cardiac event.” Baker said it was possible, but he couldn’t say for sure.
Floyd, who was 46 years old, fought with the police when they tried to put him in the car and after they put him on the ground. The killing, which was caught on cellphone video and posted online, led to protests all over the world and a new look at racism and how police treat people of color.
Baker told the defense lawyers that he didn’t know how Kueng’s position on Floyd’s buttocks or thighs or Lane’s position on Floyd’s feet could have affected his ability to breathe.
Later, witnesses told the jury that Lane took online classes in 2017 and 2018 when he was a Hennepin County juvenile detention officer to learn how to make sure a person who is being restrained doesn’t stop breathing.
Christopher Douglas, the lead safety trainer for the county’s Department of Community Corrections and Rehabilitation, showed jurors training slides that tell officers to use arm bars instead of body weight and to avoid putting pressure on torsos or necks. After restraints are put on someone, officers are also trained to roll them onto their side or into a sitting position and watch for any health problems, Douglas said.
During cross-examination, Douglas agreed with Lane’s lawyer, Earl Gray, that someone who is facedown should be rolled over after they calm down, but not if they are still fighting. Douglas also agreed that the police should ask if the person is on drugs and call an ambulance. These are things that Lane suggested or did at the scene of Floyd’s arrest.
Kueng, who is black, Lane, who is white, and Thao, who is Hmong American, are all accused of taking away Floyd’s constitutional rights on purpose while they were working for the government. One of the charges against all three officers says that they knew Floyd needed medical help but did nothing to help him. One thing that can be used against Thao and Kueng is that they didn’t stop Chauvin. In both counts, it is said that the officers’ actions killed Floyd.
Chauvin was found guilty of murder and manslaughter in state court last year, and he also pleaded guilty to a civil rights charge in federal court. Lane, Kueng, and Thao will also be tried separately by the state in June on charges that they helped murder and manslaughter happen.
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