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George Floyd died of ‘asphyxiation,’ autopsy commissioned by family finds

George Floyd death: Floyd died of ‘asphyxiation,’ autopsy commissioned by family finds
WATCH: An independent autopsy commissioned by the family of George Floyd, a Black man who died in Minneapolis, Minn. after a white police officer pressed his knee on his neck for several minutes until he became unresponsive, found that the cause of death was "mechanical asphyxia."

An autopsy commissioned for George Floyd’s family found that he died of asphyxiation due to neck and back compression when a Minneapolis police officer held his knee on Floyd’s neck for several minutes and ignored his cries of distress, the family’s attorneys said Monday.

The autopsy by a doctor who also examined Eric Garner’s body found the compression cut off blood to Floyd’s brain, and weight on his back made it hard to breathe, attorney Ben Crump said at a news conference.

Protests fuelled by death of George Floyd sweep across U.S.
Protests fuelled by death of George Floyd sweep across U.S.

“The evidence is consistent with mechanical asphyxia as the cause of death and homicide as the manner of death,” Allecia Wilson, one of the doctors who conducted the family’s autopsy, said at a press conference on Monday.

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The family’s autopsy differs from the official autopsy as described in a criminal complaint against the officer. That autopsy included the effects of being restrained, along with underlying health issues and potential intoxicants in Floyd’s system, but also said it found nothing “to support a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation.”

Floyd, a Black man who was in handcuffs at the time, died after the white officer ignored bystander shouts to get off him and Floyd’s cries that he couldn’t breathe. His death, captured on citizen video, sparked days of protests in Minneapolis that have spread to cities around America.

The official autopsy last week provided no other details about intoxicants, and toxicology results can take weeks. In the 911 call that drew police, the caller described the man suspected of paying with counterfeit money as “awfully drunk and he’s not in control of himself.”

Crump said last week that he was commissioning the family’s own autopsy. Floyd’s family, like the families of other Black men killed by police, wanted an independent look because they didn’t trust local authorities to produce an unbiased autopsy.

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Dr. Michael Baden, who conducted the autopsy with Wilson, said neither drugs nor alcohol were the cause of Floyd’s death. He said it took three minutes and 50 seconds for Floyd to die. 

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Baden is the former chief medical examiner of New York City, who was hired to conduct an autopsy of Eric Garner, a Black man who died in 2014 after New York police placed him in a chokehold and he pleaded that he could not breathe.

Baden also conducted an independent autopsy of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri. He said Brown’s autopsy, requested by the teen’s family, didn’t reveal signs of a struggle, casting doubt on a claim by police that a struggle between Brown and the officer led to the shooting.

READ MORE: Police hardline tactics at George Floyd protests may prove point of having them: experts

The officer who held his knee on Floyd’s neck, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter and is in custody in a state prison. The other three officers on scene, like Chauvin, were fired the day after the incident but have not been charged.

Crump on Monday called for the remaining three officers to be arrested and for the charge against Chauvin to be upgraded to first-degree murder.

The head of the Minneapolis police union said in a letter to members that the officers were fired without due process and labour attorneys are fighting for their jobs. Lt. Bob Kroll, the union president, also criticized city leadership, saying a lack of support is to blame for the days of sometimes violent protests.

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When asked to respond, Mayor Jacob Frey said: “For a man who complains so frequently about a lack of community trust and support for the police department, Bob Kroll remains shockingly indifferent to his role in undermining that trust and support.” Frey said Kroll’s opposition to reform and lack of empathy for the community has undermined trust in the police.

Gov. Tim Walz announced Sunday that Attorney General Keith Ellison would take the lead in any prosecutions in Floyd’s death. Local civil rights activists have said Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman doesn’t have the trust of the Black community. They have protested outside his house, and pressed him to charge the other three officers.

Freeman remains on the case.

— With files from Emerald Bensadoun