A medical officer, testifying in the May, 2020, murder of black man George Floyd, has told a trial jury in the US state of Minnesota that the victim died of a lack of oxygen and not drug abuse.
The prosecution witness, Dr. Martin Tobin, a lung and critical care specialist, was giving testimony on Thursday in the trial of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, who is accused of pinning a knee to Mr. Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes, allegedly causing his death.
Dr. Tobin emphatically rejected the defence theory that the forty-six-year-old victim’s drug use and underlying health problems killed him.
“A healthy person subjected to what Mr. Floyd was subjected to would have died,” the prosecution witness said.
Using easy-to-understand language to explain medical concepts and even loosening his neck-tie to illustrate a point, Mr. Tobin told the jury that Mr. Floyd’s breathing was severely constricted while Mr. Chauvin and two other officers held him down on his stomach, with his hands cuffed behind him and his face jammed against the ground.
The lack of oxygen resulted in brain damage and caused his heart to stop, the medical expert said.
He said several other factors also made it difficult for Mr. Floyd to breathe, such as officers lifting up on his handcuffs, the hard pavement, his prone position, his turned head and a knee on his back.
Mr.Chauvin kept his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for 3 minutes, 2 seconds, after the victim took his last breath, Mr. Tobin explained.
After that last breath, Mr. Floyd’s oxygen levels went down to zero and he “reached the point where there was not one ounce of oxygen left in the body,” he said.
Mr. Chauvin, forty-five, is charged with murder and manslaughter in Mr. Floyd’s death on May 25, 2020.
Mr. Floyd had been arrested outside a neighborhood market after being accused of trying to pass a counterfeit 20-Dollar bill. Bystander video of him crying that he couldn’t breathe as onlookers yelled at the white officer to get off him sparked protests and scattered violence across the US.
During cross-examination, Mr. Tobin testified that just because Mr. Floyd was talking, and can be seen moving on video, did not mean he was breathing adequately. He said a leg movement seen in the footage was an involuntary sign of a fatal brain injury, and that a person can continue to speak until the airway narrows to 15%, after which “you are in deep trouble.”
Defence Lawyer Eric Nelson had pressed Mr. Tobin on the common misconception, which pointed to earlier testimony that Minneapolis officers are trained that if people can speak, they can breathe.
Mr. Nelson had argued that his client did what he was trained to do and that Mr. Floyd’s death was caused by illegal drugs and underlying medical problems, including high blood pressure and heart disease.
An autopsy had found fentanyl and methamphetamine in Mr. Floyd’s system.