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What Did George Floyd’s Autopsy Report Reveal About His Cause of Death?

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The murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is accused of killing George Floyd last year, begins on Monday.

Chauvin has denied charges of second- and third-degree murder after footage showed him kneeling on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes while arresting the 46-year-old Black man in May last year. In the video, which went viral and sparked worldwide protests against racial inequality and police brutality, Floyd can be heard saying: “I can’t breathe” and “I’m about to die” while two other officers pin him to the ground.

An autopsy carried out by Dr. Andrew Baker, the Hennepin County Medical Examiner, in June last year concluded Floyd’s death was a homicide.

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According to the report, Floyd, who had been apprehended on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill, died of “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression.”

The American Heart Association identifies cardiopulmonary arrest as the “abrupt loss of heart function in a person.”

Baker’s preliminary report had sparked anger after it found “no physical findings” to “support a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation”. The report had also suggested Floyd’s had underlying conditions which contributed to his death.

According to the report, Floyd’s death had been caused by the “combined effects of Mr Floyd’s being restrained by police, underlying health conditions and any potential intoxicants in his system”.

In an updated report filed two months later, Baker confirmed he had found traces of fentanyl—an opioid used as recreational drug—in Floyd’s system, but stated that could not be identified as the cause of death.

According to the documents, Floyd had 11 ng/mL of fentanyl in his blood, a dose that could have been justified an overdose verdict had his death occurred in different circumstances.

Floyd was also found to have a “heavy heart” and “at least one artery was approximately 75 percent blocked.”

Chauvin’s defense is likely to focus on both elements of the report.

Baker told investigators that: “If he [Floyd] were found dead at home alone and no other apparent causes, this could be acceptable to call an OD [overdose]. Deaths have been certified with levels of 3. […] That is a fatal level of fentanyl under normal circumstances.”

However, Baker also stated there was no proof the fentanyl had killed Floyd. “I am not saying this killed him,” he added.

Meanwhile, an independent autopsy carried out by experts hired by Floyd’s family concluded the 46-year-old died of “asphyxiation from sustained pressure.”

Dr. Michael Baden, one of the experts part of the independent team, concluded “there is no other health issue that could cause or contribute to the death.”

In June last year, Floyd family attorney Antonio Romanucci said the victim’s underlying health conditions were irrelevant to the case.

“Whether or not he was intoxicated or had medications in his system is irrelevant to the cause of death, which is homicide, which is death by the hand of another,” he told CNN.

“The end result, which is George Floyd’s death, would not be any different.”

Ahead of the first day of the trial, civil rights attorney and commentator Areva Martin said the eyes of the world would be firmly focused on Minneapolis.

“The world is waiting to see if the US will be courageous enough to stand up to a system that has a history of violating the rights of African Americans and, rather than protecting those lives, has actually destroyed them,” she told British newspaper The Guardian.

Demonstrators hold signs honouring George Floyd and other victims of racism as they gather during a protest outside Hennepin County Government Center on March 28 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Opening arguments begin on Monday in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the white police officer accused of killing George Floyd, a Black man whose death was captured on video and touched off protests against racial injustice across the United States and around the world.
Kerem Yucel/AFP/Getty Images

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