Blood and air cut off to George Floyd's brain, causing death, according to independent autopsy

David K. Li

Police officers, pressing on George Floyd's neck and body, cut blood and air flow to the Minneapolis man's brain, causing him to die by mechanical asphyxia, pathologists hired by the family said Monday.

Floyd's death, which was recorded on video by passersby last week, led to the firing and arrest of Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin and set off protests across the nation.

"He couldn't breathe — asphyxia due to compression of the neck and the back," Dr. Michael Baden, the former chief medical examiner of New York City, told reporters in a videoconference. "And that's homicidal."

The report differs from that of the Hennepin County medical examiner, which said Monday that his cause of death was “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression.”

The medical examiner ruled that Floyd's death was a homicide but added that he had "significant" underlying conditions, including hypertensive heart disease, fentanyl intoxication and recent methamphetamine use.

But the pathologists hired by the family insisted that Floyd had no other medical conditions that contributed to his death.

"Our findings do differ," said Dr. Allecia Wilson, director of autopsy and forensic services at the University of Michigan. "This is the point in which we do disagree, that there is evidence in this case of mechanical or traumatic asphyxia."

Both doctors rejected any notion that Floyd had heart disease that could have played a role in his death.

"The autopsy shows that Mr. Floyd had no underlying medical problems that caused or contributed to his death," Baden said. "He was in good health."

Baden added: "I wish I had the same coronary arteries that Mr. Floyd had that we saw at the autopsy."

Floyd suffered abrasions to his left eye, his left cheek, his left shoulder, his nose and his mouth — all injuries caused by the Minneapolis officers, Baden said.

"These are also very painful kinds of scrape marks," he said, "which is evidence of his face being rubbed severely against the ground."

Full coverage of George Floyd’s death and protests around the country

Floyd had been handcuffed during an investigation of a suspicious $20 bill that had been passed at a nearby store. Floyd ended up face down with Chauvin's knee apparently digging into his neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd pleaded: "I can't breathe."

By the time paramedics arrived, it was too late save Floyd, family attorney Benjamin Crump said. "For George Floyd, the ambulance was his hearse," he said.

Floyd's family has been troubled by the violence that has marked protests in major cities, Crump said.

"Let's take a breath for George," he said. "Take a breath for peace. Let's take a breath for justice, and let's take a breath to heal our country."