George Floyd, the Minnesota man who died after an officer arresting him pressed his knee onto his neck, died by homicide, according to the results of two autopsies released on Monday — one by the county medical examiner and the other by independent pathologists commissioned by Floyd’s family. But the two autopsy reports differed on exactly how the man died.
Dr. Allecia Wilson, one of the pathologists who conducted the independent autopsy, said Monday afternoon that Floyd died as a result of mechanical asphyxiation.
But the report released later Monday by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s office said Floyd died of “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint and neck compression.” The manner of death was ruled homicide, but the office noted that “is not a legal determination of culpability or intent.” A preliminary autopsy report cited earlier by prosecutors said the county medical examiner’s review “revealed no physical findings that support a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation.”
Floyd’s death has led to widespread outrage, protests and unrest across the nation. The Minneapolis officer seen kneeling on Floyd’s neck, Derek Chauvin, was charged last week with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
The independent autopsy was conducted by Wilson and Dr. Michael Baden. Baden is the former chief medical examiner of New York City, and was also hired in 2014 to conduct the autopsy of Eric Garner, a black man who died when an NYPD officer used a banned chokehold during his arrest. Both Garner and Floyd pleaded with officers that they couldn’t breathe before their deaths seen on disturbing videos, and “I can’t breathe” has become a rallying cry among those protesting police brutality.
Baden said Floyd died as a result of compression on his neck and back from the officer, which interfered with blood flow and his breathing.
“George died because he needed a breath,” said Ben Crump, a lawyer representing Floyd’s family. “He needed a breath of air.”
The Hennepin County medical examiner’s office, however, said Floyd experienced cardiopulmonary arrest while being restrained by the officer. The county autopsy said Floyd had “other significant conditions” including “arteriosclerotic and hypertensive heart disease; fentanyl intoxication; [and] recent methamphetamine use.” The office had not previously released the findings pending toxicology reports.
But Baden said the further testing wouldn’t reveal evidence of compressive pressure on Floyd’s neck and back since the pressure would have been released when it was no longer applied. He said large areas of scrapes and abrasions on Floyd’s face indicated the force that was used to press him into the ground.
Baden also said that he could find no underlying conditions that contributed to Floyd’s death, saying he was in good health. In a criminal complaint, Hennepin County prosecutors said Chauvin “had his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. Two minutes and 53 seconds of this was after Mr. Floyd was “non-responsive.” Crump said Floyd’s death was the result of that sustained pressure to his neck and the pressure on Floyd’s back from other officers holding him down.
“What those officers did, as we have seen on the video, is his cause of death — not some underlying, unknown health condition,” Crump said. “George Floyd was a healthy young man.”
Crump said Floyd died on the scene.
“The ambulance was his hearse,” Crump said.
Crump said the family understands the “righteous anger” of protesters and said they support the people who want to work towards change, but he called the violence “unacceptable.” He encouraged the community to “take a breath for justice, take a breath for peace, take a breath for our country, but more importantly, take a breath for George, since he didn’t get the opportunity to take a breath.”
Another lawyer representing Floyd’s family, Antonio Romanucci, said the three other officers involved are also criminally responsible for Floyd’s death. All have been fired, but none of the others have been charged. He called those officers “shameless” and said they had every opportunity to prevent Floyd’s death, knowing that restricting his airway could kill him. The family has called for those officers to be charged, and for Chauvin to face first-degree — rather than third-degree — murder charges.
Romanucci also blasted the Minneapolis police department for what he described as a failure to properly train officers about chokeholds and restraint.
“This was a brutal and public display of an eight-minute prolonged death,” Romanucci said. “This was the lowest level of human respect and dignity that any community should ever have to endure. What this really was, was the weight of the Minneapolis police department on George’s neck.”