George Floyd died of hypoxia from being strapped to the sidewalk with a knee to his neck, a medical expert testified at former officer Derek Chauvin’s murder trial on Thursday and emphatically rejected the defense theory that Floyd’s drug abuse and underlying health problems were what killed him.
“A healthy person who was exposed to what Mr. Floyd was exposed to would have died, “said prosecutor Dr. Martin Tobin, a lung and critical care specialist at Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital and Loyola University Medical School in Illinois.
Using easy-to-understand language to explain medical concepts and even loosen his tie to illustrate a point, Tobin told the jury that Floyd’s breathing was severely suppressed while Chauvin and two other Minneapolis officers held the 46-year-old black man down. his stomach in May last year with his hands in the cuff behind him and his face stuck to the ground.
The lack of oxygen led to brain damage and caused the heart to stop, the witness said.
Tobin analyzed photos of the three officers who detained Floyd for what prosecutors say was almost 9 minutes, and testified that Chauvin’s knee was “almost on his neck” for more than 90% of the time.
He cited several other factors that he said also made it difficult for Floyd to breathe: officers lifting up on the suspect’s handcuffs, the hard surface of the street, his leaning position, his twisted head and a knee on his back.
Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for 3 minutes, 2 seconds, after Floyd had “reached the point where there was not an ounce of oxygen left in his body,” Tobin said.
When prosecutors repeatedly played a video of Floyd on the ground, Tobin pointed to what he said was a change in the man’s face that told him Floyd was dead. That moment happened about five minutes after the police started holding down Floyd.
“In the beginning, you can see that he is conscious, you can see light flickering, and then it disappears,” Tobin said. He explained: “This is the moment life goes out of his body.”
Chauvin, 45, is charged with murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death May 25. Floyd was arrested outside a city market after being accused of trying to send a counterfeit $ 20 bill. Spectator video of Floyd crying that he could not breathe when spectators shouted at the white officer to get rid of him sparked protests and widespread violence around the United States.
In his testimony, Tobin explained that just because Floyd spoke and showed that he was moving on video does not mean that he was breathing enough. He said that a leg movement seen in the film was involuntary, and that a person can continue to speak until the airways narrow to 15%, after which “you are in deep trouble.”
Officers can be heard on video telling Floyd that if he can talk he can breathe.
During cross-examination, Chauvin’s lawyer Eric Nelson Tobin pressed the common misconception and pointed to previous testimonies that Minneapolis officials are trained that if people can talk, they can breathe.
Nelson has claimed that Chauvin did what he was trained to do and that Floyd’s death was caused by illegal drugs and underlying medical problems that included high blood pressure and heart disease. An autopsy found fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system.
But Tobin said he analyzed Floyd’s breathing according to the film camera video and explained that while fentanyl usually reduces the respiratory rate by 40 percent, Floyd’s breathing was “just around normal” just before he lost consciousness.
Tobin also said that the high blood level of carbon dioxide measured in the emergency room can be explained by the fact that Floyd did not breathe for almost 10 minutes before the paramedics began artificial respiration, in contrast to his breathing being suppressed by fentanyl.
Another prosecution witness, Dr. Bill Smock, an expert on suffocation deaths, supported Tobin’s assessment. Smock said Floyd had no symptoms of an overdose of fentanyl such as constricted pupils and decreased breathing. He said that Floyd’s actions were the opposite, because he asked for air.
It is not an overdose of fentanyl. Someone is asking to breathe, says Smock, the Louisville Kentucky Police Department surgeon. He said Floyd died of “position starvation”, lack of oxygen due to the position of the body.
On Thursday, a forensic technician also said that he tested blood from Floyd at the hospital, as well as urine from the autopsy, and found a “very low” amount of methamphetamine. Daniel Isenschmid said that fentanyl and a by-product of its degradation were also present in Floyd’s system.
Isenschmid set the level of fentanyl in Floyd’s blood at 11 nanograms per milliliter. For the perspective, he said, testing more than 2,000 people arrested for driving under the influence of fentanyl revealed an average concentration of 9.59, and dozens of them had higher levels than Floyds and lived.
At cross-examination, Nelson suggested that there was no way of knowing how much fentanyl Floyd had ingested, and Isenschmid agreed. The defense attorney also said that it is impossible to know the concentration of fentanyl in illegal street drugs.
“Every single pill you take makes it a unique experience for the person, right?” Isenschmid agreed.
In his own turn on the stand, Tobin used simple language, using terms such as “pump handle” and “bucket handle” to describe how to breathe for the jury. He explained that when the airways narrow, breathing becomes much more difficult – like “breathing through a straw.”
At one point, the doctor loosened the tie and put his hands on his own neck and on the back of his head to show how the airways work and invited the jurors to examine their own necks. Most of them did, although the judge later told them they did not need to.
The expert calculated that when Chauvin was in an almost vertical position, with his toes off the ground, half of Chauvin’s body weight with the equipment included – or 91.5 pounds – lay directly on Floyd’s neck.
He said it seemed like Floyd was getting enough oxygen to keep his brain alive for the first five minutes, because he was still talking. Tobin said that where Chauvin had his knee after five minutes was not so important, because then Floyd already had brain damage.
Chauvin’s lawyer has repeatedly shown the jury stills from the video which he said depicted Chauvin’s knee on Floyd’s shoulder blade, not his neck. But almost all of these images were captured after five minutes of marking, according to the timestamps.