Striking medical testimony puts Chauvin lawsuit back on track
The prosecution in Derek Chauvin’s murder trial had a comeback on Thursday in what has been an at times gloomy week. For its rise to power, the state can thank formidable medical experts who convincingly testified that the actions of the police on the last Memorial Day were largely responsible for the death of George Floyd. Ironically, this is the reverse of what the state suggested in the opening statement of Attorney Jerry Blackwell (whom I spoke about here). In addition to the powerful audio and video evidence presented through eyewitness testimony, Blackwell asserted that the state’s case would be squeezed by testimony about the use of force: the jury would learn that Chauvin’s methods of physical restraint were totally out of reach. The prosecutor did not entirely disdain the medical experts, but played down their expected contributions. This is another irony in a business that is teeming with it. Blackwell himself was primarily responsible for the medical evidence in presenting prosecutors, and he did a masterful job of it. In the opening, however, he cautioned jurors not to worry so much about the mumbo-jumbo legal abstruse; instead, trust your eyes and trust what you see and hear on the recordings. Part of this is understandable. The state realized that defense lawyer Eric Nelson had a lot to work on medically: Floyd’s drug use and the underlying cardiopulmonary conditions. But prosecutors clearly overestimated the strength of their evidence on the use of force. In fact, there were times during the testimony of witnesses from the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD), particularly that of Lieutenant Johnny Mercil, the MPD’s senior defensive tactics trainer, that an observer could be forgiven for. forgetting that prosecutors, rather than Nelson, had called them to the stand. Nelson not only established that Chauvin did not suffocate Floyd and use an improper neck grip, he also focused on video footage from police body camera recorders, which showed that the police weren’t constantly leaning their full weight on Floyd, and Chauvin was not. perched on Floyd’s neck for the crucial nine minutes – he put some pressure on the neck, but it was coming up between the shoulder blades. Ironically (there’s that word again), it’s not as exculpatory as the defense might have hoped – in fact, not at all exculpatory. That’s because Floyd didn’t really die the way we’ve been led to believe he’s dead for most of the last year. It wasn’t that his airways were closed near his throat; it was because his chest was pressed to the point that his lungs could no longer function. Of the nine minutes and 29 seconds of recorded footage that the state presented as the bedrock of its case, it mostly focused on the last four minutes. They are indeed horrifying, and they represent the part of the case that I think is the most difficult for Chauvin (and the three other cops, who will be tried in August) to explain: Floyd’s breathing went down. arrested, he had no pulse, yet the police did nothing to help him except wait for the ambulance they had called. In particular, they have never even started chest compressions, which they are trained to give when someone in their care is pulse-less. In reality, however, it turns out that the last four minutes may be the least important. For all intents and purposes, Floyd was already dead due to the first five minutes. This was clearly explained by Dr Martin J. Tobin, a renowned Irish pulmonologist, who was a shining witness – gracious, authoritative and approachable. Dr Tobin explained that Floyd died from intolerably low oxygen uptake, mainly because he was kept lying down on the asphalt street while Chauvin and two other MPD cops who had since been fired exerted physical pressure. on his back, as well as on the base. from his neck. The neck pressure sounds the most horrible, but it was the aspect of detention that had the least impact. During the first five minutes of detention on the street, Floyd’s lungs gradually deteriorated and his oxygen level dropped dangerously. He showed classic signs of it – robust, consistent chatter at the beginning, then low, cloudy speech and conspicuously labored breathing at the end. His squirming and the way he pressed his own face to the ground weren’t signs of strangulation; it was desperate efforts to move his chest to a position where he could breathe. Frighteningly, Dr Tobin identified the precise moment when he could detect “the moment when life ends. [Floyd’s] body. “This happened right after one of Floyd’s legs protruded wildly, a telltale sign of an anoxic crisis.” There is a flicker and then it goes away, “Tobin pointed out then. that, on the video screen, the jurors saw the gaze of death fall on Floyd’s face. The next four minutes were horrible, but even though the former cops had tried, there had been no Rescue Floyd at that point. For Chauvin, the most damaging part of Dr. Tobin’s story may be his conclusion that even a perfectly healthy person would have had lung failure under the physical strain that Floyd endured. It wasn’t as obvious Thursday, but what will become clear this summer in the next trial arising from Floyd’s death is that it was a devastating day for the other three former police officers involved in the detention. for Thomas Lane and Alexander Keung, who were helping Chauvin hold Floyd back. The medical testimony shifts the focus of attention from Chauvin’s infamous neck grip to Floyd’s shoulders and back, and the lower body restraint that kept him from moving into a better breathing position. In other words, it makes Lane and Keung just as responsible as Chauvin for the physical restraint; and it further highlights that Tou Thao, the fourth officer standing nearby and focused on crowd control, took no action as Floyd slowly passed out. Nelson, who was very efficient in using state police witnesses to advance Chauvin’s case, never put a glove on Dr Tobin. Yesterday’s medical testimony also included Louisville Police surgeon Bill Smock and forensic toxicologist David Isenschmid. Like Dr. Tobin, they ruled out defense theories that drug abuse, arterial blockage, or other cardiopulmonary conditions could have caused Floyd’s death. Keep in mind that the state’s presentation on this point is not decisive. The defense will also have the opportunity to obtain testimony from medical experts – and to question Hennepin County medical examiner Andrew Baker, who is expected to testify on Friday and has been less condemning the police actions. Significantly, testimony about the cause of death does not resolve questions of Chauvin’s knowledge and intent. As a police officer, you don’t expect him to be a medical expert. Further, the evidence that he caused Floyd’s death is not evidence that Chauvin intended to cause Floyd’s death, intended to cause him actual harm, or acted in a manner who was criminally irresponsible. This should be established to the satisfaction of the jury. But suffice to say that Thursday was a very bad day for the defense. The prosecution has found its bearings as the end approaches.