George Floyd Death Should Be Classified as ‘Undetermined,’ Not Homicide: Former Medical Examiner

April 14, 2021 Updated: April 15, 2021

The death of George Floyd should be categorized as “undetermined” instead of “homicide,” said a former medical examiner during the trial for officer Derek Chauvin, who was accused of killing Floyd.

“In my opinion, Mr. Floyd had a sudden cardiac arrhythmia due to his atherosclerosis and hypertensive heart disease … during his restraint and subdual by the police,” Dr. David Fowler, who previously headed a medical examiner’s office in Maryland, said on Wednesday during Chauvin’s trial in Minneapolis.

He said that fentanyl and methamphetamine in Floyd’s system—as well as the paraganglioma tumor he suffered from—contributed to his death.

Fowler also noted that Floyd’s death could have been caused by possible carbon monoxide poisoning from being close to a police car exhaust, Floyd’s enlarged heart, and other factors. Floyd was 46.

“All of those combined to cause Mr. Floyd’s death,” said Fowler, an expert witness for the defense. “He had significant narrowing of all of his coronary arteries close to their origin, which really is consistent with all of his heart, unfortunately, being subjected to reduced supply,” he added.

“Homicide” and “undetermined” are two of the five categories medical examiners use to label manners and causes of death. Gregory G. Davis, the president of the National Association of Medical Examiners, told Time magazine years ago that homicide indicates “someone’s intentional actions led to the death of another person.” The other labels are natural, accident, and suicide, Davis said at the time.

Several other medical experts who testified have said that Chauvin keeping his knee pinned on Floyd’s neck and back was his primary cause of death.

“Mr. Floyd’s use of fentanyl did not cause the subdual or neck restraint,” said Dr. Andrew Baker, the county medical examiner who conducted an independent autopsy of Floyd. “His heart disease did not cause the subdual or the neck restraint.”

Dr. Martin Tobin, a lung expert, also testified in court this week that Floyd “died from a low level of oxygen … It’s like the left side is in a vice. It’s totally being totally pushed in, squeezed in from each side.”

Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson is trying to prove that the 19-year Minneapolis police veteran did what he was trained to do and that Floyd died because of his illegal drug use and underlying health problems.

Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell got Fowler to admit that he didn’t take the weight of Chauvin’s gear into account when he analyzed the pressure on Floyd’s body. Further, Blackwell all but accused Fowler of jumping to conclusions and suggesting to the jury that Floyd had a white pill in his mouth in the video of his arrest. Fowler denied saying that.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.