George Floyd and the Dueling Autopsies

George Floyd and the Dueling Autopsies

George Floyd and the Dueling Autopsies

When George Floyd died under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, the nation waited for the autopsy report. But the Hennepin County medical examiner’s account seemed like weak sauce: the preliminary autopsy report said that Floyd did not die of asphyxiation or strangulation. Rather he died of a combination of health conditions and any intoxicants, if present.

According to the criminal complaint:

“The combined effects of Mr. Floyd being restrained by the police, his underlying health conditions and any potential intoxicants in his system likely contributed to his death.” 

But you know that someone would challenge the county autopsy, and the family of George Floyd hired some big guns to counter the ME. These were medical examiners Dr. Allecia Wilson and Dr. Michael Baden. They released the results of their autopsy on Monday, and it disagrees with the Hennepin ME.

A statement provided by the Floyd family attorney Ben Crump claims that Floyd died of asphyxiation.

“. . . sustained pressure on the right side of Floyd’s carotid artery impeded blood flow to the brain, and weight on his back impeded his ability to breathe.”

Crump added that George Floyd’s diaphragm was unable to properly function due to an additional combination of handcuffs and his position on the ground.

While Dr. Wilson is the Director of Autopsy and Forensic Services at the University of Michigan, Dr. Baden has a certain celebrity stature. He testified at the O.J. Simpson trial, and performed private autopsies on Aaron Hernandez and Jeffrey Epstein. Certainly when Baden talks, he gets a lot of attention.

George Floyd

Jeffrey Epstein cell after his alleged suicide. Wikimedia commons/public domain.

Baden disagreed that George Floyd had underlying health conditions. He also countered the notion that if Floyd was talking, he was able to breathe adequately.

“What we found is consistent with what people saw. There is no other health issue that could contribute to the death. Police have this false impression that if you can talk, you can breathe. That’s not true.”

Dr. Wilson concurred with Baden.

“The evidence is consistent with mechanical asphyxia as the cause of death and homicide as the manner of death.”

Lawrence Kobilinsky, a forensics expert at John Jay College, also challenges the ME’s report. While George Floyd didn’t sustain damage to small bones, as the ME’s report maintained, that doesn’t mean the police didn’t directly cause his death.

“It does seem to me though, if the officer didn’t have his knee on his neck and being in prone position and with other officers holding him down, restraining him the way he was, had they not done that, he would be well and alive. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

However, within hours after Drs. Baden and Wilson released their report, the Hennepin ME stepped up and released an updated report. It now said that Floyd died of cardiopulmonary arrest — a heart attack — and also noted that Floyd had fentanyl in his system at the time. He also had recently used methamphetamines.

The restraint by the police officers brought on the attack.

However, Officer Derek Chauvin is still charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. So will the new results from the ME and the Wilson-Baden team change that?

Attorney and talk-show host Mark Levin thinks he should have been charged with second degree murder.

Whereas former prosecutor and South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy says Chauvin should’ve been charged with murder in the first degree.

“Nobody thinks these cops went to the scene with the intent to kill him. But at some point when you’re being warned that your conduct is taking someone’s life, Isn’t that premeditation? . . . . So murder three is the easiest charge. But I was never a prosecutor that liked to go for the easiest thing. I think you need to do what fits the facts. And to me, I think is a murder one charge.” 

So what’s happening here? Did the Hennepin medical examiner’s office try to circle the wagons at first and give Derek Chauvin sort of a break? After all, the Minneapolis police department has a real black eye right now, so were they trying to lend it cover? Or maybe the district attorney was looking for the most likely conviction, and the ME’s office was trying to provide evidence for a lighter sentence.

But now, perhaps the expertise of Dr. Wilson and the very-famous Dr. Baden lead the ME’s office to find that yes, Chauvin had more to do with the death of George Floyd than it wanted to admit. Such pressure could have caused the ME to change their tune.

Time, of course, will tell. But even after the riots settle down and a trial begins, there will be no easy way out of this. And if Derek Chauvin gets off too easy, expect the violence to begin again.


Featured image: finalwitness/flickr/cropped/CC BY 2.0.

Written by

Kim is a pint-sized patriot who packs some big contradictions. She is a Baby Boomer who never became a hippie, an active Republican who first registered as a Democrat (okay, it was to help a sorority sister's father in his run for sheriff), and a devout Lutheran who practices yoga. Growing up in small-town Indiana, now living in the Kansas City metro, Kim is a conservative Midwestern gal whose heart is also in the Seattle area, where her eldest daughter, son-in-law, and grandson live. Kim is a working speech pathologist who left school system employment behind to subcontract to an agency, and has never looked back. She describes her conservatism as falling in the mold of Russell Kirk's Ten Conservative Principles. Don't know what they are? Google them!

  • 1) Very nearly every arrestee that is being restrained is going to yell “You’re hurting me.” That is not a valid “warning.” (A third party can be.)

    2) A complete autopsy is ALWAYS preliminary until lab results are obtained. In this case, meth and fentanyl are contributing factors.

    3) First degree homicide is out of the question (unless something else develops to indicate premeditation – there are some interesting questions being asked about the “business” where both Chauvin and Floyd worked as security). Second degree, though, is apparently the correct charge. At least it would be in Arizona, I am making a WAG that Minnesota has the same general criteria.

  • Anna A says:

    I just confirmed this. Mohamed Noor, a Minneapolis policeman, who shot across his partner in the car, killing Justine Damond, was charged and convicted of 3rd degree murder. She had called the cops because she heard sounds like a rape being committed.

  • Mad Celt says:

    The first casualty has been truth.

  • GWB says:

    Dr. Michael Baden
    This is not a really great choice. The guy has made some questionable calls (according to some). He stirs controversy a lot. Hopefully the other choice (Dr. Allecia Wilson) will provide some solid ground for their report.

    Police have this false impression that if you can talk, you can breathe. That’s not true.
    Well, no, it’s actually very correct. If you literally “can not breathe” then you are unable to bring air into your lungs, which is necessary to push air past your vocal cords and make an audible sound.
    What he should say is that 1) inadequate breathing is possible while still being able to talk, and 2) it is possible to overcome the normal bodily response of conserving air when taking in inadequate oxygen to actually speak – but it’s hard.
    (You can speak when unable to pull in oxygen – but only by pushing out the remaining air in your lungs past your vocal cords.)

    So will the new results from the ME and the Wilson-Baden team change that?
    Why would it? 3rd degree murder requires a “depraved mind”, meaning someone is just so cruel that they really don’t care if you die or not. It’s murder, rather than manslaughter because you’re doing violence to someone, not merely neglecting some other care. (The last one would be manslaughter – also charged.)
    Both autopsies seem to show that without Chauvin’s actions, Floyd would eventually have made bail and be at home right now. The question is how culpable is officer Chauvin?

    Chauvin should’ve been charged with murder in the first degree.
    Nobody thinks these cops went to the scene with the intent to kill him.
    Then it’s not first degree, you simpleton. By definition, you cannot develop premeditation during the progress of the incident. That would be “heat of the moment” which is a layman’s definition for 2nd degree murder.

    But I was never a prosecutor that liked to go for the easiest thing.
    Did you go for what the actual definition of a charge was? Or did you just make crap up that you thought the jury would buy? This is NOT improving my opinion of the man.

    I totally concur with WO’s first two points. And I don’t think the second one can be made often enough. I don’t think 2nd degree is appropriate, though, as it generally requires a desire to harm or even kill, developed in the heat of the moment. There’s no evidence of that desire – while there is evidence of a DGAF attitude.

    • rbj1 says:

      I have asthma. Sometimes it is allergy induced, other times it is exercise induced. When I am having an attack, I can talk, but the amount of air I get into my lungs is very little. You feel like you can’t breathe.

      So there was respiratory distress plus perhaps some heart disease (exacerbated by drug use.) Once the cuffs were on there was no need to sit on him. Maybe use leg cuffs too.

      • GWB says:

        And I concur with “feel like I can’t breathe”. That’s what I mean when I say “inadequate breath” – there’s some air moving, but it isn’t enough to feed your body properly.

    • “I don’t think 2nd degree is appropriate, though, as it generally requires a desire to harm or even kill, developed in the heat of the moment.”

      Why I noted that I only know Arizona law, not that of Minnesota or wherever GWB resides. One might think that the elements are just as GWB says: 1) intent to kill and 2) not premeditated but “in the heat.” But… At least here, “intent to kill” also covers “taking an action that a reasonable person would realize is likely to result in another person’s death.”


      Briefly (it’s a rather long story) – I dug into this when a woman in my county was convicted of 2nd degree homicide, when the facts of the case were telling my rational side “aggravated 1st degree manslaughter.” The ONLY interaction she could have ever had with the victim was as he sailed over her car at 100+ MPH and face-planted into the pavement a ways down the road, when his father slammed his motorcycle into her front bumper (the father was going 100+, not her – she was slowed to make a left turn). But she was DUI. Thirty years.

      • GWB says:

        That’s an odd range of behavior allowed for a charge of 2nd degree murder. It seems … like “We’re tired of arguing in court. Just call everything after premeditated 2nd degree.” (My definitions come more from college 3 decades ago, rather than my specific locale. I wouldn’t put it past my locale to have something crazy.)

        Thanks for the info.

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