Criminal complaint: Preliminary findings are that George Floyd didn't die of strangulation and had underlying health conditions

Criminal complaint: Preliminary findings are that George Floyd didn't die of strangulation and had underlying health conditions

I’m guessing this is what the DA was thinking of last night when he referred to certain evidence that doesn’t support a criminal charge against Derek Chauvin.

But they charged him today anyway, as they should have. The fact that Floyd may — may — have had underlying health conditions doesn’t mean that Chauvin didn’t cause his death.

Weirdly enough, in fact, the coming debate over what caused Floyd’s death resembles the ongoing argument about how to characterize coronavirus deaths. Skeptics emphasize that there’s a difference between dying of the disease and dying with the disease. I encourage Chauvin’s lawyers to repurpose that logic for their defense. I want to see them argue to a jury that Floyd didn’t die of Chauvin’s knee being on his neck for nine minutes while he gasped that he couldn’t breathe, he died with Chauvin’s knee being on his neck while he gasped that he couldn’t breathe.

In any case, the complaint specifies that the restraint by police, ahem, “contributed.”

Michael Baden’s going to conduct an independent autopsy for the Floyd family once they have his body back. “The family does not trust anything coming from the Minneapolis Police Department. How can they?” said the family’s lawyer of the state’s autopsy results. Good question.

Anyway, a thought experiment. Imagine some miscreant gets into an argument with his very frail grandmother and ends up holding a pillow over her face until she stops moving. Is he off the hook on murder if he can show that she actually died of a heart attack amid the stress of the altercation rather than from suffocation — and that a healthy younger person wouldn’t have had a heart attack under those circumstances?

We’d laugh at the idea. The law laughs at it too in what’s known as the “eggshell skull rule.” If you injure someone who turns out to have been specially prone to injury due to some inherent defect in their physiology (e.g., a light blow to the head causes catastrophic injury because the victim had an unusually thin skull), that’s tough luck for you. You’re still guilty. You take your victim as you find him, as the saying goes.

What’s different in Chauvin’s case is that he’ll argue that he was following lawful police procedure in keeping his knee on Floyd’s neck. There’s no lawful circumstance in which you get to put a pillow over grandma’s face. There *are* certain circumstances in which Minneapolis PD allows police to grab a suspect’s neck to restrain him. But as several experts argued to CNN, Chauvin’s knee pressure doesn’t qualify. Floyd was already cuffed and on the ground, fully restrained. It was gratuitous, especially for nine minutes while Floyd begged for air. Bystanders could see that he was in distress and said so on the video. How’s Chauvin going to argue that what he did was reasonable under those circumstances?

Here’s a new story at NBC headlined “Nation’s police widely condemn move used to restrain George Floyd.”

“There hasn’t been one person, one police chief, anyone I’ve talked to, who doesn’t see this exactly the same way. The police officer and those who were there that day failed George Floyd,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a law enforcement-oriented think tank based in Washington. “Every police officer that looked at that video who knows anything about tactics shook their head.”…

A Justice Department bulletin issued in 1995 warned that the technique can cause sudden death. “A person lying on his stomach has trouble breathing when pressure is applied to his back,” it said. The advice: “As soon as the person is handcuffed, get him off his stomach.”…

“There is no need to see more video,” David Roddy, the police chief in Chattanooga, Tennessee, tweeted Wednesday. “There is no need to wait to see how ‘it plays out.’ There is no need to put a knee on someone’s neck for NINE minutes. There IS a need to DO something. If you wear a badge and you don’t have an issue with this … turn it in.”

“What we saw in Minnesota was deeply disturbing. It was wrong,” NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said in a tweet. “We must take a stand and address it. We must come together, condemn these actions and reinforce who we are as members of the NYPD. This is not acceptable ANYWHERE.”

Should Officer Chauvin be allowed to subdue suspects by putting a pillow over their face until they stop moving, after they’ve already been cuffed? If one of them ends up dying that way, is it okay so long as it was due to a heart attack rather than suffocation?

Exit quotation from the former owner of the Minneapolis club at which both Chauvin and Floyd, coincidentally, worked security: “Santamaria also noted that Chauvin ‘had a real short fuse,’ adding that he often resorted to pulling out mace and pepper spray when she thought it was unwarranted.”

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