To paraphrase Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride, the toxicology results from the autopsy of George Floyd may not matter as much as some think they do. News has percolated out today that the man whose neck and chest got compressed by a trio of Minneapolis police officers until he died also had indications of illegal drug use in his system. The official final report from the Hennepin County coroner issued last night mentions evidence of fentanyl and methamphetamine in Floyd’s system.
That’s interesting … but not nearly as much as the knees on Floyd’s neck and chest:
During a news conference Monday afternoon, two doctors hired by the Floyd family to do a private autopsy said they believe he died of asphyxia, which happens when oxygen flow is cut off, causing the brain and other organs to stop working. …
Hours later, the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office issued its final public report, stating that Floyd died as a result of “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression.” A spokesperson for the office, citing Minnesota laws, said they could not discuss that cause of death further.
The report noted that Floyd “experienced a cardiopulmonary arrest while being restrained by law enforcement officer(s).”
It also listed “arteriosclerotic and hypertensive heart disease,” as well as fentanyl intoxication and recent methamphetamine use as “other significant conditions.”
And … so? Despite some interest in this as a way of mitigating the officers’ conduct — or just to skewer what is seen as a “narrative” — this won’t matter much at all. The only way this would be mitigating would be if Floyd was in the middle of an acute overdose, and even then their actions in compressing his neck and chest while handcuffed for several minutes would likely be the primary cause of his death.
This gets back to a legal point Allahpundit raised a few days ago called the “eggshell skull rule.” Just because a victim had contributing factors that might have made him more prone to a fatal response, it doesn’t alleviate the legal responsibility for a homicide:
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.
It’s probably worse for that in this case, as police already had Floyd in custody and his hands cuffed behind his back. The lack of necessity for this kind of sustained compression to the point of unconsciousness is going to be the legal point on which guilt will hinge. Furthermore, it’s not as if Floyd died instantly from the compression; it took long, agonizing minutes caught on videotape while he pleaded for assistance. Does anyone think fentanyl and/or meth would be the actual cause of death after watching that unfold? The county coroner didn’t argue that point, relating the cardiac arrest to the complication of “law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression.”
Will the defense argue that it was the drugs that contributed to the death? Sure. Will that work? Mayyyyyybeee, if they can convince a jury to ignore both autopsies and the video that will play over and over again in the courtroom. Don’t forget, prior to whatever happened at the squad car, we have video of Floyd being cooperative with the police, even if not enthusiastically so. Even so, the mitigation will likely matter only to the degree of homicide on which a jury might convict, not on whether a jury will acquit these officers entirely.
The level of charges Chauvin and the others eventually face remains under review by prosecutors, with activists demanding first-degree murder charges against all four. Keith Ellison told ABC’s Good Morning America that he sees charges coming “very soon” for others involved in Floyd’s death, and Derek Chauvin might see his charges upgraded as well:
“There is nobody with culpability that will not be held accountable.” Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison says charges could come “very soon” for other officers in George Floyd case. https://t.co/nYkiImeO9R pic.twitter.com/m3teGYimMY
— Good Morning America (@GMA) June 2, 2020
Third-degree murder is probably as far as Ellison can go with any of them, using reckless disregard as the standard. The indictment included the lesser charge of manslaughter for a reason, and Ellison explains it indirectly — it’s tough to get juries to assume malice on the part of police in these cases. (Ironically, the riots might make a jury pool a bit more sympathetic to law enforcement, although not in Hennepin County.) Better to get manslaughter convictions than to fail to sustain harsher charges that prosecutors cannot ultimately prove. Whether Floyd had any residual illegal drugs in his system won’t make much of a difference.