Critical differences in findings surfaced with a new autopsy report conducted by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office and released by George Floyd’s family attorney, Benjamin Crump, on Wednesday. Floyd’s violent death follows decades of police brutality faced by Black people in the U.S. The failure to prosecute Floyd’s killers resulted in protests worldwide against racism and police brutality. Floyd died when Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin placed his knee onto Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes despite Floyd repeatedly pleading with the officer that he could not breathe. The death was ruled a homicide by experts hired by the family and the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s office; however, the cause of death was not agreed upon, CNN reported.
The new 20-page autopsy report concluded that Floyd died as a result of “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression,” differing from the cause of death an independent examiner found as “asphyxiation from sustained pressure.” While this final report does not mention asphyxiation, it did also find that Floyd had tested positive for COVID-19 in April. The report compiled by Andrew M. Baker confirmed an April 3 diagnosis with a post-mortem nasal swab.
The release of the medical examiner’s autopsy report comes nine days after Floyd’s death. “Since … positivity for [COVID-19] can persist for weeks after the onset and resolution of clinical disease, the autopsy result most likely reflects asymptomatic but persistent … positivity from previous infection,” the report said. According to a collaborative research study, cities with higher Black resident populations account for more than half of all coronavirus cases and almost 60% of deaths. While Floyd survived the novel coronavirus, known to be disproportionately killing African Americans in the U.S., eight weeks later he died as a result of an even more widespread plague in the country: racism.
In addition to the finding that Floyd tested positive for COVID-19, the new autopsy also found that he had suffered blunt-force injuries to his face, shoulders, hands, arms, and legs, and there were bruises on his wrists from the handcuffs and a broken rib from cardiopulmonary resuscitation, the Star Tribune reported. However, these injuries were not connected to his death.
The autopsy report also said there was no evidence of major neck, skull, or brain injuries. Damage to the internal organs was also not found. While the report acknowledged that the officer compressed Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes, it did not determine that was a cause of death. “The thyroid cartilage and hyoid bone are intact,” it read. (It noted that the hyoid bone can be broken during strangulation.)
Floyd was also confirmed to have a history of heart disease, high blood pressure, and the sickle cell trait. According to the CDC, the sickle cell trait disease Floyd was found to have primarily affects African Americans and often shows few to no symptoms. In addition, the report included a toxicology report that showed evidence of drugs including morphine, fentanyl, and methamphetamine in the body, but noted all the tests were not reliable.
Arguments were formerly made by the county that Floyd was under the influence, therefore causing his own death. However, this report confirms the counterargument that these tests are not always reliable. “You can’t use a post mortem fentanyl level alone to determine that someone was under the influence. You have to look at the level in context of how they are behaving,” Andrew Stolbach, a medical toxicologist and emergency room physician, told Inside Edition Digital. “In the video, we see that this man is awake and walking enough to go buy something at a store before they took him into custody,” Stolbach added. “In this case, we have the benefit of video and we can see that he died because someone’s knee was on his neck and pinning him down. From the clinical scenario that we see with our own eyes, fentanyl is not what caused his death.”
Chauvin was first charged last Friday with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. After a week of nationwide and international protests and calls for justice, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced elevated charges of second-degree murder against Chauvin on Wednesday, the Star Tribune reported. The charges carry a maximum penalty of 40 years in prison. “To the Floyd family, to our beloved community, and everyone that is watching, I say: George Floyd mattered. He was loved. His life was important. His life had value. We will seek justice for him and for you and we will find it,” Ellison said.
The three other officers who were present at the scene were not charged until Wednesday. They are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.