The defence of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin called a forensic pathologist to the stand who testified George Floyd’s cause of death was his own heart issues and drug use on Wednesday, challenging the prosecution’s narrative.
Chauvin’s defence lawyer, Eric Nelson, has made Floyd’s health and drug use the foundation for making the case that Chauvin’s restraint of Floyd was not the cause of death. Chauvin is charged with second- and third-degree murder in relation to Floyd’s death.
The former chief medical examiner for the state of Maryland, Dr David Fowler, pointed to Floyd’s “enlarged heart”, as the main reason for his death.
Fowler said he had studied the findings of the county’s chief medical examiner and decided that Floyd’s death was caused by his heart suddenly beating in an erratic way, known as sudden cardiac arrhythmia.
He said this was a result of his “atherosclerotic and hypertensive heart disease” during the police restraint, using medical terms to describe the narrowing of blood vessels and heart problems caused by high blood pressure.
Fowler said the way Floyd struggled with police trying to get him into their car may have caused stress that led to cardiac arrhythmia.
The fentanyl and methamphetamine found in Floyd’s blood and carbon monoxide poisoning from the exhaust fumes of the adjacent police car may have contributed to the death, Fowler said.
The jury has previously heard from medical experts called by prosecutors from the Minnesota attorney general’s office, who say Floyd had high blood pressure, a slightly enlarged heart and used opioid painkillers but that none was the cause of his death.
Those experts agreed with the findings on Floyd’s death certificate, saying he was killed because he was unable to inhale sufficient oxygen due to the way police compressed his prone body against the road. Baker, the chief medical examiner who certified Floyd’s death, told the jury he stands by his findings.
Nelson asked Fowler if Floyd died in a homicide or by some other manner.
“This is one of those cases where you have so many conflicting different manners,” Fowler said. “The carbon monoxide would usually be classified as an accident, although somebody was holding him there, so you could elevate that to a homicide.”
In the end, he said he would “fall back to ‘undetermined’ on this particular case”.
Fowler has been involved in other high-profile cases involving police using force against Black people. His office ruled the 2015 death of Freddie Gray a homicide after Gray, 25, suffered spinal injuries in the back of a police van in Baltimore.
In December, Fowler was sued in federal court by the family of Anton Black, who was 19 when he died in 2018 after police pinned him face down on the ground for several minutes as he cried out for his mother. Fowler ruled Black’s death an accident caused by the “the stress of his struggle”.
Black’s family cited similarities with Floyd’s death in their lawsuit, in which they said Fowler and other Maryland officials “covered up and obscured police responsibility” for Black’s death. Lawyers for Fowler said the way he certified Black’s death did not infringe on the constitutional rights of Black’s family.
Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell challenged Fowler’s testimony, saying he had not taken into account Chauvin’s weight, among other issues.
Chauvin’s defence is facing an uphill battle after the prosecution’s numerous witnesses, including current members of the Minneapolis Police Department, testified Chauvin’s restraint was unauthorised and likely caused Floyd’s death.