Independent autopsy and medical examiner both rule George Floyd's death a homicide

Dr. Michael Baden, who performed an autopsy on Eric Garner, says "what we found is consistent with what people saw"

Published June 1, 2020 6:26PM (EDT)

George Floyd (Offices of Ben Crump Law)
George Floyd (Offices of Ben Crump Law)

This story was updated after the Hennepin County Medical Examiner ruled Floyd’s death a homicide.

An independent autopsy commissioned by the family of George Floyd ruled his death a homicide "caused by asphyxia due to neck and back compression that led to a lack of blood flow to the brain." But while the Hennepin County medical examiner agreed that the death was a homicide, it listed the cause of death as cardiac arrest.

Floyd, the unarmed black man whose death last in police custody sent shockwaves across the country, was filmed repeatedly telling Minneapolis police he could not breathe while former officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for several minutes, according to a criminal complaint filed in Hennepin County district court.

The results of the independent autopsy, released Monday, found that the sustained pressure from Chauvin's knee on Floyd's carotid artery led to "impeded blood flow to the brain," and the weight of other officers on Floyd's back — combined with the position of his cuffed hands — impaired his diaphragm.

Floyd appears to have been "dead on the scene," family attorney Ben Crump said in a news release.

Chauvin was charged Friday with third-degree murder and manslaughter. There has been no update on three other officers who surrounded Floyd — Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao — who were also fired. The Minneapolis chief of police told Floyd's family that he considered the others "complicit" in the murder in a Sunday interview on CNN.

"Mr. Floyd died in our hands, and so I see that as being complicit," Chief Medaria Arradondo told CNN's Sara Sidner. "Silence and inaction, you're complicit. If there was one solitary voice that would have intervened . . . that's what I would have hoped for."

The autopsy was directed by Dr. Michael Baden and Dr. Allecia Wilson, the University of Michigan Medical School's director of autopsy and forensic services.

Baden — New York City's medical examiner in the late 1970s — previously performed independent autopsies on two other unarmed black men killed by police: Eric Garner, who was choked to death in New York in 2014, and Michael Brown, who was shot to death the same year in Ferguson, Mo. Baden also performed the independent autopsy of billionaire and convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein.

Later on Monday, the Hennepin County Medical Examiner announced it had officially ruled Floyd's death a homicide.

According to the medical examiner, Floyd died of "cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint and neck compression." A "homicide" is any death caused intentionally by another person.

Floyd had a heart attack under the weight of the police, according to the report. Floyd had high blood pressure, and the medical examiner also noted evidence of recent fentanyl and methamphetamine use.

Baden, however, made explicit his team's divergence from the county coroner.

"What we found is consistent with what people saw," he was quoted saying in the release.

"There is no other health issue that could cause or contribute to the death," Baden added. "Police have this false impression that if you can talk, you can breathe. That's not true."

Floyd's death was "a homicide by officers who taunted him while holding him down," Crump said.

"For George Floyd, the ambulance was his hearse. Beyond question, he would be alive today if not for the pressure applied to his neck by fired officer Derek Chauvin and the strain on his body for two additional officers kneeling on him," the attorney added.

Floyd and Chauvin had known each other for years, because they worked overlapping guard shifts at the same night club, Minneapolis City Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins said Thursday.

In the week since Floyd's death, demonstrators and authorities across the country have clashed in a historic bout of civil unrest. More than 40 cities have imposed curfews in addition to Minneapolis, including Los Angeles, New York and Washington.

Without providing evidence, President Donald Trump has blamed outside anarchist groups for the violence and threatened to shoot protesters who commit robbery. Trump on Sunday blamed the media for "fomenting hatred and anarchy" while several fires continued to spread in the nation's capital.

Demonstrations were expected to continue Monday evening. 

You can read Crump's full release below via Twitter:

By Roger Sollenberger

Roger Sollenberger was a staff writer at Salon (2020-21). Follow him on Twitter @SollenbergerRC.

MORE FROM Roger Sollenberger

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Black Lives Matter Brief Derek Chauvin George Floyd Minneapolis Police Brutality Racism