So far, the testimony heard this week has largely been from police officials and use-of-force experts, with a focus on whether former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin followed police training during the arrest of George Floyd. Day nine saw the trial transition to testimonies from medical experts who offered their assessment on what led to Floyd’s death: drugs or Chauvin’s actions.
According to the New York Times, Dr. Martin Tobin, a pulmonary physician, was the first to take the stand on Thursday. Over the course of his testimony, Tobin provided a thorough breakdown of how the actions of Chauvin and the officers who held him down likely contributed to Floyd’s death. Tobin explained that because Floyd’s breathing was normal before he was pinned to the ground with Chauvin’s knee on his neck, it’s unlikely that the fentanyl in his system had any effect on his respiratory system.
The defense has argued that the drugs in Floyd’s system as well as pre-existing health conditions contributed to his death on May 25 of last year. Tobin pushed back against that assessment, testifying “A healthy person subjected to what Mr. Floyd was subjected to would have died.”
From the New York Times:
After analyzing videos of the arrest, Dr. Tobin said he determined that Mr. Chauvin had pressed his left knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for more than 90 percent of the time that Mr. Floyd was on the ground, and that he had kept his right knee on Mr. Floyd’s back for the majority of the time as well. That pressure, combined with having his hands cuffed behind his back and pushed into the street facedown, had cut off oxygen and caused his heart to stop, Dr. Tobin said.
“He was being squashed between the two sides,” he said.
Mr. Floyd was so desperate for air at one point that he tried to lift himself off the ground by pushing his right knuckle against a police car’s tire, the doctor said.
Dr. Tobin, who works in pulmonology and critical care at Edward Hines Jr. Veterans Affairs Hospital and at Loyola University’s medical school, spoke for more than two hours to jurors. He said he had asked not to be paid when prosecutors asked if he would testify in the case. At several points, he encouraged jurors to feel parts of their own necks to demonstrate what he was saying; most of them followed along.
Tobin’s testimony managed to break down in layman’s terms how the body takes in air, as well as how the handcuffs, Floyd’s prone positioning, and the amount of weight Chauvin was pressing down on Floyd all contributed to Floyd likely suffering from asphyxia.
During the use of force testimonies there was much discussion surrounding the positioning of Chauvin’s knee and whether it was on Floyd’s neck or shoulder. Tobin explained that whether Chauvin’s knee was on his neck or shoulder, it still was impacting Floyd’s ability to take in air.
From the New York Times:
After about 4 minutes and 51 seconds, Dr. Tobin said, Mr. Floyd stopped speaking or groaning. After just over 5 minutes, Mr. Floyd appeared to straighten out his legs, which Dr. Tobin said was a signal that Mr. Floyd was having a type of seizure because he had suffered a brain injury from the oxygen deprivation. He said Mr. Chauvin’s knee had stayed on Mr. Floyd’s neck for 3 minutes and 27 seconds after he took his last breath.
The doctor said the handcuffs were also an “extremely important” factor in Mr. Floyd’s death because Mr. Chauvin and another officer had pushed his hands upward and against his back, pressing his chest against the hard street.
“When you’re turned prone and with the knee on the back, now the work that Mr. Floyd has to perform becomes huge,” Dr. Tobin said, adding: “He has to try to lift up the officer’s knee with each breath.”
Defense attorney Eric Nelson cross-examined Tobin and focused on the fact that since Floyd was able to speak, he was indeed able to breathe. Tobin pushed back on that assertion; pointing out that someone can say “I can’t breathe,” and then die seconds later. Tobin’s testimony ended with him pointing out that people who die from fentanyl overdoses go into a coma, but Floyd never did.
Tobin’s testimony was quite effective, as he clearly and methodically explained in precise detail all the factors that contributed to George Floyd’s death. He managed to poke holes in some of the defense’s arguments with plain science, and may have gotten the jury to understand what Floyd endured in a physical sense when he instructed them to touch their necks along with his explanations.
Daniel Isenschmid took the stand following Tobin. According to CNN, Isenschmid was the forensic toxicologist responsible for running the toxicology test during Floyd’s autopsy, and his testimony largely focused on the amount of fentanyl and methamphetamine found in Floyd’s system at the time of his death.
Isenschmid testified that he didn’t report the amount of fentanyl and methamphetamine in Floyd’s system because it fell below the reporting threshold.
“We didn’t look at the ratio for methamphetamine to amphetamine with Mr. Floyd because it was below the reporting limit; is not on the report and we didn’t report it,”
Looking at a collection of fentanyl tests conducted in DUI cases for comparison, Isenschmid said the level found in Floyd’s blood was in the top quarter, the 80th percentile.
The amount of methamphetamine in the blood was low, he testified. It was consistent with what someone would receive in a single, legally prescribed, dose.
Morphine was found in Floyd’s urine, but not in his blood, Isenschmid testified, which could indicate the drug had been taken earlier since it remains in urine longer than blood.
The opioid addiction treatment suboxone was found in Floyd’s blood, as well as generic Narcan, THC, nicotine and caffeine.
The last person to take the stand for the day was Dr. Bill Smock, an emergency medical physician with a specialization in forensic medicine. Smock said very plainly what he thought led to Floyd’s death: “Mr. Floyd died from positional asphyxia, which is a fancy way of saying he died because he had no oxygen left in his body.”
Smock also pushed back on the notion that Floyd died from an overdose; co-signing with Tobin’s earlier assertion that dying from an overdose usually involves the victim dozing off and going comatose. “He’s breathing. He’s talking. He’s not snoring. He is saying, ‘Please, please get off of me. I want to breathe. I can’t breathe.’ That is not a fentanyl overdose. That is somebody begging to breathe,” Smock testified.
With each medical expert called to the stand, the prosecution did their best to make it clear how Chauvin’s actions likely led to Floyd’s death. The defense consistently tried to bring Floyd’s drug use and pre-existing medical conditions into play; asking questions about how the blockage in one of Floyd’s arteries could have resulted in him suffering from a heart attack, and repeatedly hammering home the idea that because fentanyl isn’t professionally manufactured, each pill can have a different effect.
While I’m just a guy watching along at home, it wasn’t lost on me that the prosecution was able to get the medical experts to speak in clear terms on what they believed did happen, while the defense was mainly focused on things that could have happened.