The lawyers who represent one of the Minneapolis police officers charged in the death of George Floyd claim that an outside expert prosecution witness coerced the state medical examiner to change his opinion on what killed Floyd.
George Floyd’s Death
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, who was a black man in handcuffs, died after Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes as he said he couldn’t breathe. Chauvin and the other three officers who were present were fired and charged with various crimes in connection with Floyd’s death.
Chauvin has been convicted of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter.
The three other officers, Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng, and Tou Thao, were charged with aiding and abetting Chauvin. The trials of the three officers have been pushed back until March 2022. Judge Peter Cahill cited federal charges against the three officers that trump the state charges. He also said that he wants to put distance between the state trial and the publicity that surrounded Chauvin’s murder trial.
Defense attorneys for former Minneapolis police officer Officer Tou Thao have filed court documents claiming that Dr. Roger Mitchell, the former chief medical examiner in Washington, D.C., blackmailed Dr. Andrew Baker, who conducted George Floyd’s autopsy, into changing his opinion.
The court records claim that Dr. Baker originally told prosecutors that his May 26, 2020 autopsy done the day after Floyd died, “revealed no physical evidence suggesting that Mr. Floyd died of asphyxiation. Mr. Floyd did not exhibit signs of petechiae, damage to his airways or thyroid, brain bleeding, bone injuries, or internal bruising.”
The criminal complaint filed against Derek Chauvin three days later “stated that the full report of the ME was pending, but that the preliminary findings ‘revealed no physical findings that support a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation.’”
Thao’s lawyers claim that sometime before June 1, 2020, Dr. Mitchell called Dr. Baker and challenged his findings, telling Mitchell that he didn’t think “neck compression” caused Floyd’s death.
Thao’s lawyers claim that Dr. Mitchell called Dr. Baker back and told him he would publish an op-ed in the Washington Post criticizing Baker. Dr. Mitchell reportedly told Dr. Baker, “You don’t want to be the medical examiner who tells everyone they didn’t see what they saw. You don’t want to be the smartest person in the room and be wrong.” Thao’s lawyers say Dr. Mitchell told Dr. Baker that “neck compression has to be in the diagnosis.”
Dr. Baker’s autopsy findings were released on June 1, 2020. Neck compression was concluded in the autopsy report. Thao’s lawyers claim that the autopsy report “was contrary to Dr. Baker’s conclusion before speaking with Dr. Mitchell twice.”
Thao’s lawyers claim that Dr. Mitchell’s conduct violated Minnesota’s laws against coercion. They want the case against Thao to be dismissed.
The prosecutors dispute these claims and stated that they plan to file a motion to rebut them. Given that Dr. Baker testified under oath about his findings in Chauvin’s case and that other doctors agreed with his findings, it seems unlikely that a court would find that outside encouragement to tell the truth constitutes blackmail.