The Corner

Law & the Courts

New Documents in the George Floyd Case

You can read them here. Three in particular stood out to me.

Two describe how Andrew Baker, the Hennepin County chief medical examiner, assessed the level of fentanyl in Floyd’s blood, but they present his view in somewhat different ways. They are relevant to a theory in which Floyd overdosed on fentanyl and would have died even if no one had kneeled on him; Baker’s office ultimately ruled the death a homicide.

One document is a memo from county attorney Amy Sweasy summarizing a conversation she had with Baker. The key bits:

Fentanyl 11. He said, “that’s pretty high.” This level of fentanyl can cause pulmonary edema. Mr. Floyd’s lungs were 2-3x their normal weight at autopsy. That is a fatal level of fentanyl under normal circumstances. . . . AB said that if Mr. Floyd had been found dead in his home (or anywhere else) and there were no other contributing factors he would conclude that it was an overdose death.

However, the documents also include handwritten notes from a meeting the following day that present Baker’s analysis somewhat differently:

Fentanyl at 11 ng/ml — this is higher than chronic pain patient. If he were found dead at home alone & no other apparent cause, this could be acceptable to call an OD. Deaths have been certified w/ levels of 3.

Baker: I am not saying this killed him.

I imagine that Baker will be asked to reconcile these versions of his thoughts — “fatal level of fentanyl under normal circumstances” vs. “could be acceptable to call an OD . . . I am not saying this killed him” — and explain in detail how his office concluded the death was a homicide.

A third document backs this conclusion, however. It’s from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System, which the federal Department of Justice asked to review the official autopsy. In short, the feds agree that the police restraint caused the death, though of course Floyd’s intoxication and health problems contributed:

The Office of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner agrees with the autopsy findings and the cause of death certification of George Floyd as determined by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office. His death was caused by the police subdual and restraint in the setting of severe hypertensive atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, and methamphetamine and fentanyl intoxication. The subdual and restraint had elements of positional and mechanical asphyxiation. The presence of sickle cell trait is a significant finding in this context.

We concur with the reported manner of death of homicide.


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