According to the Star Tribune Dr. Thomas retired from the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s office in 2017, after a 37-year career as a medical examiner in various offices. The New York Times also reports that Dr. Thomas performed over 5,000 autopsies in her career, and helped train the current Hennepin County medical examiner who performed the official autopsy on Floyd, Dr. Andrew Baker. Dr. Thomas continues to work as a forensic pathologist in Reno and Salt Lake City.
Dr. Thomas testified as to her opinion of what killed George Floyd. She explained that Floyd’s death was the direct result of lack of oxygen to the brain, due to the pressure applied by Chauvin and the circumstances we all saw in the videos of his tragic death.
She expressly debunked the idea that the “other contributing conditions” section of the coroner’s report proves George Floyd died because of the drugs in his system, explaining that “other contributing factors” is an important data-collecting tool for public health. She said the drugs in Floyd’s system were at very low levels, and the “terminal events” that we all watched on video were not consistent with deaths caused by factors like coronary heart disease or a drug overdose.
And as to the low levels of methamphetamine found in Floyd’s system, Dr. Thomas explained that an overdose due to the drug would have resulted in a more sudden death than the one captured on video by numerous bystanders. The same could be said if Floyd had died of a heart attack.
She also explained that specific findings during autopsies can be related to different causes, but while they can be helpful in explaining what happened to the deceased individual, they are not always present. For example: Someone who died of asphyxiation may have broken bones in the neck or undrained blood in an eye, but these are not necessarily present in any or all asphyxiation cases.
Instead, the autopsy findings that she believes support her assertion that Floyd died due to a lack of oxygen flow to the brain—the result of Derek Chauvin kneeling on his back while he was in restraints—are the bruising on Floyd’s face, shoulders, wrists, and knuckles. Dr. Thomas explained the bruising showed Floyd’s desperate attempts to find a position where he could breathe better, while being pressed so intensely against the concrete.
The defense attorney representing Chauvin asked Dr. Thomas if George Floyd had “hypothetically” been found dead and there was no video of his interaction with the police and he hadn’t been killed by asphyxiation, would she have had to attribute it to his heart. Dr. Thomas said that under those “narrow” parameters, she would have said yes. Most of Dr. Thomas’ cross-examination by the defense consisted of her answering “hypothetical” scenarios where Derek Chauvin wasn’t the primary cause of Floyd’s death. But, that of course, is not what the evidence shows.
Maybe most importantly, when asked whether or not there was a physiological condition or medical condition that George Floyd was experiencing that would have led to his death on May 25, 2020, Dr. Thomas said no. There is no reason to believe that George Floyd would have died on May 25, 2020 had he not interacted with the Minneapolis Police Department, and more specifically with Derek Chauvin.
The second half of the day saw Hennepin County Medical Examiner Dr. Andrew Baker, who performed an autopsy on Floyd, take the stand. Dr. Baker began by talking about how much more detail is involved in performing the autopsy of someone who has died due to a potential homicide. He explained that a possible homicide might result in litigation or prosecution, so it necessitates a more detailed “narrative autopsy” than a general autopsy.
The photos being used during the trial were all taken by Dr. Baker during his autopsy of George Floyd. Prosecutors asked Dr. Baker why there was no photo of Floyd’s heart, and he explained he does not usually take photos of organs that show no signs of anything abnormal. A large part of the defense’s strategy is trying to sow doubt about Floyd’s overall health, and more specifically his heart health and how that might have led to his death. Dr. Baker also explained that as a part of the autopsy, George Floyd’s heart was dissected and inspected for injury and there were “no visible or microscopic” signs of pre-injury to Floyd’s heart.
Dr. Andrews was also asked about the narrowing of Floyd’s arteries and whether or not there was any evidence that Floyd had a sudden heart attack, possibly due to an abnormal change in the plaque build-up in his heart. Dr. Baker said there was no such evidence. Both Dr. Thomas and Dr. Baker reiterated that many of the things that can be seen physiologically, post-mortem, are dependent on how long a person survives after any given medical event. Since paramedics were never able to resuscitate George Floyd at any point after his run-in with Minneapolis police, there are limits to what could be determined post-mortem.
Asked about the discovery that Mr. Floyd had COVID-19 a few weeks before his death, Dr. Baker explained that while it was significant to him as he and his office were still trying to figure out the best protocols for dealing with the virus, it had no bearing on his autopsy findings. Dr. Baker said that there were no signs of COVID-19 discovered during the autopsy, and nothing in Floyd’s lungs showed any of the signs of COVID-19. He was also asked about “an incidental tumor” he discovered in George Floyd’s hip during autopsy, which he opined had no connection at all to George Floyd’s death.
Asked about Dr. Baker’s description of George Floyd’s lungs as “edematous,” Baker explained that many things can cause this issue, including the CPR that Floyd received from paramedics after his arrest. Dr. Baker also told the court that he found no pill fragments inside of George Floyd’s stomach. The defense has tried to imply Floyd may have swallowed a bunch of drugs before his arrest, leading to an accidental overdose.
Prosecutors asked why George Floyd’s coroner report listed a single cause of death due to “Cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression.” Meanwhile, “Arteriosclerotic and hypertensive heart disease; fentanyl intoxication; recent methamphetamine use,” were relegated to a secondary line. Dr. Baker explained that these secondary conditions were not George Floyd’s “direct cause of death” and are therefore only mentioned as lesser factors, while the direct cause of death was the restraint and neck compression causing the physiological complications that resulted in Floyd’s death.
The defense began by asking Dr. Baker about the term “complication.” Dr. Baker explained that “complication” means what it always means medically. Something happens and then complications arise that are negative. The rest of the defense questioning was similar to the questioning of Dr. Thomas, asking about the size of Floyd’s heart (it was on the larger end of the spectrum), the drugs in his system, and the narrowing of his arteries.
Asked about how many autopsies he has conducted in his career, Dr. Baker ventured a guess that the number would be north of 2,900 to 3,000. Defense attorneys found themselves in a tough spot when Dr. Baker explained he had examined cardiovascular disease deaths and had in the past, concluded that those factors were the defining issue in someone’s death—but he did not conclude that heart disease was the reason George Floyd died.
After the defense’s cross-examination, prosecutors asked Dr. Baker if his opinion on the cause of George Floyd’s death had changed. This was his answer.