MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – George Floyd died of a lack of oxygen after being pinned face down on the sidewalk with his hands tied, a medical expert testified Thursday at the murder trial of former officer Derek Chauvin.
Floyd’s breathing while held by Chauvin and other officials was too shallow to take in enough oxygen, which in turn damaged his brain and caused an abnormal heart rhythm that caused his heart to stop, Dr. Martin Tobin, a lung and critical care specialist at Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital and the Loyola University Medical School in Chicago.
He took the position as part of the prosecution’s efforts to determine that it was Chauvin’s actions – not Floyd’s illicit drug use and underlying health conditions, as the defense claims – that killed the 46-year-old black man last May.
Analyzing a graphic representation of the three officers holding Floyd for nearly 9 1/2 minutes, Tobin said Chauvin’s knee was “practically on his neck most of the time.” He said it was “more than 90% of the time in my calculations”.
He said it seemed like Floyd was getting enough oxygen to keep his brain alive for the first five minutes because he was still talking.
But Tobin explained to the jury what happens when the space in the airway narrows, saying it then becomes “tremendously difficult” to breathe, adding that it is worse than “breathing through a drinking straw.”
Tobin testified that it only takes seconds for the hypopharynx – the lower part of the throat – to become completely clogged to lower the oxygen levels enough that it would “lead to either a seizure or a heart attack.”
Prosecutors showed pictures of Floyd side by side, one with the front of his face on the sidewalk and one with his head turned. Tobin said when Floyd’s head was down, a tape on the back of his neck protected his airway. But with his head turned, Chauvin’s weight would have compressed the hypopharynx.
The expert calculated that at times when Chauvin was in a near vertical position with his toes off the ground, half of Chauvin’s body weight – 91.5 pounds – was right on Floyd’s neck.
Tobin said other factors had worsened the effect on Floyd: He pointed out that Officer J. Kueng was holding Floyd’s left hand up and Chauvin’s right knee was compressing Floyd’s side, meaning that “the ability to expand his left side, is enormously impaired “. The handcuffs and hard surface also affected Floyd’s ability to breathe, Tobin said.
Tobin used simple language using terms such as “pump handle” and “bucket handle” to describe the act of breathing for jurors. He once invited them to “examine your own necks, all of you on the jury right now” in order to better understand the effect of a knee on a person’s neck. Most of the jurors felt their necks as Tobin had ordered, although the judge later told them they didn’t have to.
Chauvin, 45, is charged with the murder and manslaughter of Floyd’s May 25th death. Floyd was arrested outside a neighborhood market after he was accused of trying to hand over a fake $ 20 bill. A panicked-sounding Floyd was fighting, claiming to be claustrophobic when the police tried to put him in a patrol car and they put him on the sidewalk.
The bystander video of Floyd crying he couldn’t breathe as viewers yelled at Chauvin to get rid of him sparked protests and dispersed violence across the United States
Defense attorney Eric Nelson has argued that the now-dismissed white officer “did exactly what he was trained to do in his 19-year career,” and has denied that Chauvin’s actions killed Floyd. Fentanyl and methamphetamine were found in Floyd’s system.
Tobin’s testimony comes a day after an expert in violence testified that Chauvin strained Floyd’s neck or neck area and back for most of 9 1/2 minutes.
Jody Stiger, a Los Angeles Police Department sergeant who acted as a prosecutor’s witness, said Wednesday that due to his review of video evidence, Chauvin has been putting pressure on Floyd’s neck or neck since officers started pushing Floyd to the ground the paramedics began moving him onto a stretcher.
“This particular power has not changed during the entire retention period?” asked prosecutor Steve Schleicher as he showed the jury a compilation of five still images.
“Right,” replied Stiger, who testified Tuesday that Chauvin used excessive force against Floyd.
Nelson countered by pointing out that the footage was about moments when Chauvin’s knee appeared to be not on Floyd’s neck but on his shoulder blade or the base of his neck.
Stiger didn’t give much ground, saying that the officer’s knee still appeared to be near Floyd’s neck in some of the controversial images, although he agreed that his weight might have shifted at times.
In another testimony on Tuesday, Minnesota State Investigator James Reyerson initially agreed with Nelson that Floyd appeared to be saying, “I ate too many drugs” on a police camera video of his arrest.
But when a prosecutor played a lengthy clip of the video, Reyerson said he believed what Floyd really said was, “I don’t do drugs.”