Attorneys for ex-officer charged in Floyd's death call medical examiner's testimony into question

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Attorneys for one of the former Minneapolis police officers charged in George Floyd's death said Wednesday that the Hennepin County chief medical examiner was coerced into altering his autopsy results and that prosecutors were aware.

Attorneys for Tou Thao filed a motion that said former Washington D.C. medical examiner, Dr. Roger Mitchell, coerced Dr. Andrew Baker into changing his findings to include "neck compression" as part of Floyd's cause of death.

"The State did nothing in response to this coercion," wrote Thao's attorneys, Robert and Natalie Paule. "Instead, the State knowingly allowed Dr. Baker to take the stand in State v. Chauvin and testified to coerced statements."

Baker testified at the trial of former officer Derek Chauvin, who was convicted last month of all counts against him in Floyd's death — second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Mitchell could not be reached for comment. John Stiles, a spokesman for Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, declined to comment.

Separately, WCCO-TV reported that the trial for Thao and two former colleagues, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane, will be moved from Aug. 23 to 2022 to accommodate a federal civil rights trial against all four former officers who arrested Floyd.

Thao's attorneys argued that prosecutors from the Minnesota Attorney General's Office and Hennepin County Attorney's Office met with Mitchell last Nov. 5, knew about the alleged coercion and violated a court order in the case by waiting until February to share a memo about the November meeting with defense attorneys. Prosecutors also failed to share "any related undisclosed materials" that "may have contained evidence of witness coercion," the defense wrote.

"These materials negate the guilt of Mr. Thao because they show that the only Medical Examiner who performed Mr. Floyd's autopsy and determined his cause of death was coerced into changing his findings," said the motion.

According to the motion: A May 26 memo by Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Patrick Lofton noted that Baker's preliminary autopsy "revealed no physical evidence suggesting Mr. Floyd died of asphyxiation," and that his inquiry was not complete.

Sometime after that, Mitchell contacted Baker, who told Mitchell he didn't think neck compression was a factor in Floyd's death. Mitchell said he would release an op-ed in the Washington Post criticizing Baker's findings, the motion said.

"In this conversation, Mitchell said, you don't want to be the medical examiner who tells everyone they didn't see what they saw. You don't want to be the smartest person in the room and be wrong," the motion said. " … Mitchell said neck compression has to be in the diagnosis."

On June 1, Baker issued his final autopsy findings, which said Floyd died of "cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint and neck compression." He also ruled the cause of death a homicide, an act caused by another person.

Mitchell's accusations created a "chilling effect" for Thao and violates his rights to due process, the motion said, adding that it has become "extraordinarily difficult" to find medical experts willing to say Floyd's cause of death is undetermined.

Thao's attorneys are asking a judge to: dismiss the charges against Thao, order prosecutors to share all information related to Mitchell, find that Mitchell coerced Baker and bar Ellison and six other attorneys who met with Mitchell from working on Thao's case, among other requests.

Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708