George Floyd died from a lack of oxygen while being restrained by police officers last year, a medical expert told the court during the trial of one of the former officers involved.
“A healthy person subjected to what Mr. Floyd was subjected to would have died as a result of what he was subjected to,” Dr. Martin Tobin, a lung specialist at the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital and Loyola University’s medical school in Chicago, told the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
Chauvin and two others officers restrained Floyd on May 25, 2020, after Floyd resisted arrest and fought being placed in a patrol car.
Floyd eventually stopped moving on the ground and was soon declared dead.
Tobin said a lack of oxygen oxygen caused brain damage and cardiac arrest, causing death.
“The cause of the low level of oxygen was shallow breathing, small breaths, small tidal volumes, shallow breaths that weren’t able to carry the air through his lungs down to the essential areas of the lungs that get oxygen into the blood and get rid of the carbon dioxide,” he added.
The Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s office determined the manner of death was homicide and the cause of death was “Cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression.”
The deceased experienced the injury while being restrained by officers, the office said, noting other significant conditions including a history of heart disease, recent methamphetamine use, and fentanyl intoxication at the time.
Prosecutors allege Chauvin’s actions led to Floyd’s death while the defense charges the death was caused by his underlying health conditions and the drugs he had in his system.
Tobin, who was serving as expert witness for the prosecution for free, said that Floyd’s respiratory rate was normal and that if he were being impacted by fentanyl, his rate would be much lower.
“So basically it tells you there that isn’t there isn’t fentanyl onboard … . It’s not having an effect on his respiratory centers,” he said.
The autopsy detected high levels of fentanyl and methamphetamines in Floyd’s body.
Tobin testified that Floyd’s breath ceased three minutes and 27 seconds before Chauvin removed his knee from Floyd’s upper body. The defense has established during the trial that Chauvin’s knee was, at least for some of the time, on Floyd’s shoulder blade, not his neck.
Chauvin’s attorney Eric Nelson later cross-examined Tobin and asked if the doctor is trained in forensic pathology, or the study of causes of death. Tobin said he was not.
The doctor was also questioned on if the end result of fentanyl can include respiratory depression. He said it can, but that it would be “through the neural receptors.”
The doctor also agreed that methamphetamine would increase a person’s heart rate.
“In some patients with fentanyl, you get an increase in chest wall thickness,” which can impede the ability of the lungs to an extent, he added later.