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Video: Medical Examiner Says Police Restraint 'Just More Than Mr. Floyd Could Take'

Chauvin trial: Medical examiner who ruled Floyd's death a homicide takes the stand

Dr. Andrew Baker, the Hennepin County medical examiner, is expected to testify in a Minneapolis courtroom Friday, as prosecutors try to prove former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was responsible for George Floyd's death in police custody last May.

Before Baker testifies, the court is hearing from forensic pathologist Dr. Lindsey Thomas. She is appearing as an expert for the prosecution, but she says she is not being paid to testify.

"I've never had a case like this," she said, where a person's death is so thoroughly documented – mainly through videos from the scene.

Thomas worked for years in the Hennepin County medical examiner's office, and also worked for or led similar agencies in Minnesota. She's now semi-retired, she said, but works part-time in medical examiner's offices in Reno, Nev., and Salt Lake City. She is licensed in several states and has performed thousands of autopsies. She and Baker are friends and former colleagues, she said.

The Hennepin County medical examiner's office ruled last summer that Floyd's death was a homicide, saying his heart and lungs stopped functioning "while being restrained" by police. But it also noted "other significant conditions," including fentanyl intoxication and recent methamphetamine use as well as heart disease.

Chauvin's defense attorney, Eric Nelson, has said Floyd's heart condition was also to blame for his death. Nelson has also said Floyd may have been overdosing on fentanyl when he died, airing the theory that Floyd put drugs in his mouth when police approached him.

On Thursday, pulmonary specialist Dr. Martin Tobin told the jury that Floyd died from a lack of oxygen that caused brain damage after the first five minutes of the police officers' restraint of Floyd.

Tobin also said that fentanyl did not play a role, citing Floyd's normal breathing rate. It would have been much slower, he said, if Floyd was under the effects of fentanyl.

Chauvin is charged with three criminal counts: second-degree murder — unintentional — while committing a felony; third-degree murder — perpetrating eminently dangerous act and evincing depraved mind; and second-degree manslaughter — culpable negligence creating unreasonable risk.
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.