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Three police officers kneel on George Floyd during his killing as another stands by. (image: screenshot)

'The Tragic Cause of This Death Is Incredibly Clear': Independent Autopsy Finds George Floyd Death Result of 'Sustained Forceful Pressure'

"What we found is consistent with what people saw. There is no other health issue that could cause or contribute to the death."

Eoin Higgins

The family of George Floyd, whose killing on May 25 by four Minneapolis police officers has set off an unprecedented nationwide protest movement, released on Monday the results of an independent autopsy indicating he died from "sustained forceful pressure."

The findings are the strongest physical evidence suggesting that officer Derek Chauvin's kneeling on Floyd's neck for over eight minutes was how Floyd died. 

"What we found is consistent with what people saw," said Dr. Michael Baden, who conducted the autopsy on behalf of the family alongside Dr. Allecia Wilson. "There is no other health issue that could cause or contribute to the death."

The findings of the two doctors show that Floyd's death was "homicide caused by asphyxia due to neck and back compression that led to a lack of blood flow to the brain."

"For George Floyd, the ambulance was his hearse," said the Floyd family's attorney, Ben Crump, in a statement. "Beyond question, he would be alive today if not for the pressure applied to his neck by fired officer Derek Chauvin and the strain on his body from two additional officers kneeling on him."

"Mr. Floyd's death was a homicide by officers who taunted him while holding him down for more than eight minutes," Crump added. "And the officer who stood by doing nothing was a physical blue shield—a living symbol of the code of silence."

As the family said in a press release announcing the results:

Sustained pressure on the right side of Mr. Floyd's carotid artery impeded blood flow to the brain, and weight on his back impeded his ability to breathe. The independent examiners found that weight on the back, handcuffs and positioning were contributory factors because they impaired the ability of Mr. Floyd’s diaphragm to function. From all the evidence, the doctors said it now appears Mr. Floyd died at the scene.

An investigation from NBC News published Monday found that Minneapolis police officers use forceful neck restraints frequently, rendering at least 44 people unconscious since 2015 in 237 documented incidents. 

According to NBC News:

More than a dozen police officials and law enforcement experts told NBC News that the particular tactic Chauvin used — kneeling on a suspect's neck—is neither taught nor sanctioned by any police agency. A Minneapolis city official told NBC News Chauvin's tactic is not permitted by the Minneapolis police department. For most major police departments, variations of neck restraints, known as chokeholds, are highly restricted—if not banned outright.

Floyd family co-counsel Antonio Romanucci referred to that pattern of behavior in a statement Monday.

"The City of Minneapolis clearly had a pattern, custom, and practice of failing to train and discipline its police officers, creating a culture of impunity allowing them to treat people of color as lesser human beings, unworthy of basic respect," said Romanucci.

In the third degree murder complaint (pdf) against Chauvin from the Hennepin County prosecutor's office, Floyd's death was described as being the result of "the combined effects of Mr. Floyd being restrained by the police, his underlying health conditions and any potential intoxicants in his system," a finding that was seen by some observers as the first step in a future Chauvin acquittal.

In a statement, advocacy group Muslim Advocates called on Minnesota attorney general Keith Ellison to charge all four officers involved in the killing—not just Chauvin—saying that justice demands seeing all involved in the killing held accountable. 

"We will not see meaningful progress or an end to this injustice until our justice system punishes officers for violating the human rights and dignity of our fellow Americans," group's executive director Farhana Khera said. "Unfortunately, we know that the wheels of justice turn painfully slowly when a police officer has committed a crime—and many times not at all."

Crump argued that Chauvin should be charged with the more severe crime of first degree murder in light of the second autopsy's findings.

"For Chauvin to leave his knee on George’s neck despite warnings and evidence that his life was in danger—and to continue that course for many minutes—demands a first degree murder charge," said Crump. "What we know is this: George Floyd was alive before his encounter with Derek Chauvin and his fellow officers, and he was dead shortly after that. The tragic cause of this death is incredibly clear, and we are fiercely committed to justice for his family."

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