Derek Chauvin Trial Live Updates: George Floyd ‘Died From a Low Level of Oxygen,’ Pulmonologist Says

This is an analysis of inches. Dr. Martin J. Tobin points to a photo in which Derek Chauvin’s toe is slightly off the pavement as he kneels on George Floyd’s neck. “This means that all of his body weight is being directed down at Mr. Floyd’s neck,” Tobin said.

This equates to half of Chauvin’s body weight — or 91.5 pounds — coming down on Floyd’s neck, the doctor says.

Dr. Martin J. Tobin, a world renowned expert on breathing, was a key witness for the prosecution Thursday when he testified that George Floyd “died from a low level of oxygen and this caused damage to his brain that we see and it also caused a P.E.A. arrhythmia that caused his heart to stop.”

The testimony was an attempt to discredit defense arguments that Mr. Floyd’s drug use contributed to his death. Using video from the arrest, Dr. Tobin described how Derek Chauvin’s knees on Mr. Floyd’s neck and side and his hold on Mr. Floyd’s arms prevented Mr. Floyd from being able to breathe. He also added, “He’s jammed down against the street, and so the street is playing a major role in preventing him from expanding his chest.”

He also showed two photos of Mr. Floyd’s finger and knuckles digging into the street and the police car’s tire. “To most people this doesn’t look terribly significant. But to a physiologist this is extraordinarily significant because this tells you that he has used up his resources and he is now literally trying to breathe with his fingers and knuckles,” adding that he was “using his fingers and his knuckles against the street to try to crank up the right side of his chest. This is his only way to try to and get air into the right lung.”

The judge notes, after a private conversation with lawyers for both sides, that the jurors do not have to touch their necks, as the doctor is doing in order to describe what happened to George Floyd. It seems likely that Derek Chauvin’s lawyer requested that instruction.

I wonder if Derek Chauvin’s lawyer senses that doing what the doctor says could make the jurors sympathize more with what George Floyd went through.

Dr. Martin J. Tobin has explained that George Floyd’s vocalizations were really important. From the opening statement by the prosecution: “You will hear his final words when he says ‘I can’t breathe.’ Before that time, you’ll hear his voice get heavier. You will hear his words further apart. You will see that his respiration gets shallower and shallower and finally stops when he speaks his last words, “I can’t breathe.”

Dr. Martin J. Tobin is showing us how to examine our necks with his hands. Don’t know about you all, but it’s kind of hard for me to touch my neck. I get kind of freaked out. I wonder if jurors are doing it and if that helps them better understand what George Floyd went through.

As the trial nears a phase where George Floyd’s cause of death will take center stage, we talked with several forensic pathologists uninvolved in the case to explain some of the terms used in the proceedings, how they determine the cause and manner of death and how this relates to the case. Here is what we learned.

A lot of the discussion in this case has been about Derek Chauvin’s knee on George Floyd’s neck. But Dr. Martin J. Tobin seems to indicate that a knee on the back or the side has a similar effect in terms of limiting Floyd’s ability to breathe.

Dr. Tobin gives a direct opinion on what caused George Floyd to die: “Mr. Floyd died from a low level of oxygen and this caused damage to his brain.” He also said that that low level of oxygen “caused his heart to stop.” This is the first direct testimony we’ve had that Floyd died from Derek Chauvin’s knee on his neck, back and side.

You may be hearing the phrase “P.E.A.” arrythmia — pulseless electrical activity. It’s a type of heart problem that is often cited when people die while being restrained in a prone position. It’s different from other types of arrhythmia, such as those that result from cardiovascular disease, and you can’t use a defibrillator to restart the heart in a P.E.A. case.

It’s really interesting that Dr. Tobin just said most of his testimony has been in medical malpractice cases and he’s never testified in a criminal case before — he cannot be viewed as biased for or against law enforcement.

After leading Dr. Martin J. Tobin through his credentials, the state’s questioning gets to the central issue of the case: “I’m primarily interested in breathing,” he says.

Dr. Martin J. Tobin, a pulmonologist from the Chicago area, testifying on Thursday.
Credit…Still image, via Court TV

Dr. Martin J. Tobin, a pulmonologist and critical care physician from the Chicago area, was the first witness prosecutors called to the stand in the Derek Chauvin trial on Thursday.

When prosecutors asked if he had formed a medical opinion on what had caused George Floyd’s death, Dr. Tobin said, “Mr. Floyd died from a low level of oxygen, and this caused damage to his brain that we see, and it also caused a P.E.A. arrhythmia because his heart stopped,” referring to pulseless electrical activity, or cardiac arrest.

The low level of oxygen was caused by “shallow breathing,” he said. Mr. Floyd’s prone position and being handcuffed and Mr. Chauvin’s knee on his neck and back, he said, contributed to the shallow breathing.

Dr. Tobin added that the position in which Mr. Floyd was handcuffed, with the force of the officers compounding with the asphalt street, ultimately prevented him from being able to breathe fully.

“It’s how the handcuffs are being held, how they’re being pushed, where they’re being pushed that totally interfere with central features of how we breathe,” he said.

Mr. Chauvin’s knee placed on the left side of his chest would have limited the amount of air being able to enter the left lung, Dr. Tobin said, as if “a surgeon had gone in and removed the lung,” he said.

Dr. Tobin attended medical school at University College Dublin and is an expert in acute respiratory failure, mechanical ventilation and neuromuscular control of breathing.

He is certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine and the American Board of Internal Medicine Subspecialty Pulmonary Disease.

In the prosecution’s opening statement, Jerry Blackwell said of George Floyd: “You will learn he’s pancaked with a hard pavement beneath him and Mr. Chauvin on top of him. In order to breathe, you have to have room for the lungs to expand in and out. And you’ll see Mr. Floyd doing his best to kind of crank his right shoulder, having to lift up his weight and Mr. Chauvin’s weight on top of him to get a breath.”

This is likely what Dr. Tobin will go over today. He has just said that his studies of breathing are “more in the realm of math and physics” than medicine.

The reason they are going through Dr. Martin J. Tobin’s credentials so extensively is because the prosecution has to do all that it can to bolster his expertise with the jury. So we’ll be hearing these long bios from all of the expert witnesses.

Today the state’s case moves into its third phase – medical testimony concerning the cause of George Floyd’s death. It is likely to be less emotional than the bystander testimony last week, and perhaps less definitive than police witnesses who said Chauvin’s use-of-force was excessive. But it could be more important, because cause of death is the most contested issue of the trial.

The first witness today is Dr. Martin J. Tobin, a pulmonologist from the Chicago area.

He is, in brief, an expert on breathing.

A prosecutor just said he plans to call the medical examiner who performed the autopsy on George Floyd tomorrow. That will follow today’s testimony from various medical experts.

Kyree Wilson, 16, the student council vice president at North Community High School, said the witness accounts in the Derek Chauvin trial have been “kind of hard to sit through.”
Credit…Joshua Rashaad McFadden for The New York Times

In Minneapolis, educators have grappled over the last few weeks with how to talk with their students about the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with murder in George Floyd’s death.

Some teachers have shown segments of the televised trial in class and used jury selection or witness testimony as an opportunity to explore the complex issues of race, policing and the criminal justice system. Others have cautiously given students the chance to ask questions and share their opinions. And school administrators and counselors have scheduled talking circles, where children can open up about how the trial has rekindled feelings of racial trauma and fears of potential unrest stirred by the sound of helicopters flying over the city.

But the adult nature of the televised murder trial, marked by graphic videos and emotional eyewitness accounts, poses a challenge for educators, even as they say the court proceedings are too important to ignore.

“We have to engage even if we’re uncomfortable and we don’t have the answers,” said Kristi Ward, the principal for third through eighth graders at Lake Nokomis Community School in south Minneapolis.

Today in court we’ll be hearing from medical experts who will testify about what killed George Floyd. We’ve been talking with forensic pathologists and other doctors all week and the upshot is, it’s very complicated.

A still image of the inside of the police vehicle where George Floyd had been placed before his death.
Credit…Still image, via Court TV

The trial of Derek Chauvin will continue on Thursday with a renewed focus on George Floyd’s drug use, after a day of testimony that suggested Mr. Floyd had drugs with him when he was arrested in Minneapolis last May.

Mr. Floyd’s drug use has been a primary focus of the defense of Mr. Chauvin, the former police officer who is charged with murdering Mr. Floyd.

On Wednesday, witnesses described the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s investigation into Mr. Floyd’s death, explaining that pills and pill fragments found at the scene contained methamphetamine and fentanyl. The defense, led by the lawyer Eric J. Nelson, has suggested that Mr. Floyd died from complications of drug use.

The jury also heard from a use-of-force expert who said Mr. Chauvin used “deadly force” even though Mr. Floyd posed no immediate threat to the officers. “He was in the prone position, he was handcuffed, he was not attempting to resist, he was not attempting to assault the officers — kick, punch, or anything of that nature,” said the expert, Sgt. Jody Stiger, who works with the Inspector General’s Office for the Los Angeles Police Department.

Sergeant Stiger said that Mr. Chauvin may have been justified if he had decided to use a Taser earlier in the arrest, when Mr. Floyd resisted as officers tried to put him in the back of a police cruiser. But once Mr. Floyd was handcuffed and face down on the street, the force should have stopped, the sergeant said. Mr. Chauvin kept his knee on Mr. Floyd for more than nine minutes.

The sergeant added that being in a prone position while handcuffed can make it difficult to breathe, saying, “When you add body weight to that, it just increases the possibility of death.”

The latter half of Wednesday’s testimony, which focused on the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s investigation, seemed to indicate a shift away from questions about whether Mr. Chauvin violated police policy and toward the issue of drugs.

More than 20 witnesses have taken the stand for the prosecution, but the defense has to then call its witnesses, after which the trial can move into closing arguments. A verdict may still be weeks away.

As the trial of Derek Chauvin continued on Wednesday, chalk drawings and signage memorializing George Floyd could be seen on streets and walls of Minneapolis.

Forensic scientist Breahna Giles testified on Wednesday about pills found in the police cruiser.
Credit…Still image, via Court TV

A use-of-force expert called by prosecutors testified on Wednesday that Derek Chauvin, the police officer charged with murdering George Floyd, used “deadly force” when it was appropriate to use none.

The expert, Sgt. Jody Stiger, who works with the Los Angeles Police Department Inspector General’s Office, also said that Mr. Chauvin put Mr. Floyd at risk of positional asphyxia, or a deprivation of oxygen. His testimony could corroborate one of the prosecution’s primary assertions: That Mr. Floyd died from asphyxia because Mr. Chauvin knelt on him for more than nine minutes.

Senior Special Agent James D. Reyerson of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, whose agency investigates police use of force, told jurors about the bureau’s investigation into Mr. Floyd’s death, and said that Mr. Chauvin shouted “I ain’t do no drugs,” while he was handcuffed. Here are the highlights from Wednesday.

  • Sergeant Stiger testified that “no force should have been used” once Mr. Floyd was subdued, handcuffed and facedown on the pavement. “He was in the prone position, he was handcuffed, he was not attempting to resist, he was not attempting to assault the officers — kick, punch, or anything of that nature,” Sergeant Stiger said. The prosecution has argued that Mr. Chauvin’s force continued for far longer than necessary; in all, Mr. Chauvin pinned Mr. Floyd with his knee for about nine and a half minutes.

  • Responding to questions from the defense, Sergeant Stiger said that Mr. Floyd resisted arrest when the responding officers tried to put him in the back of a squad car. In that moment, Mr. Chauvin would have been justified in using a Taser, Sergeant Stiger said. The defense has suggested that people who do not appear to be dangerous to officers can quickly pose a threat. The line of questioning appeared to be an attempt to establish that Mr. Floyd had been combative at first, and therefore could have become so once again. Sergeant Stiger pushed back on the argument, saying that officers should use force that is necessary for what suspects are doing in the moment, not what they might do later.

  • Asked to interpret footage from a police body camera, Mr. Reyerson initially said Mr. Floyd appeared to say, “I ate too many drugs.” But in later testimony, Mr Reyerson changed his assessment and said that Mr. Floyd had actually shouted, “I ain’t do no drugs.” His revised judgment could chip away at Mr. Chauvin’s defense, which has tried to argue that Mr. Floyd died from complications of drug use, not the actions of Mr. Chauvin. A toxicology report found methamphetamine and fentanyl in Mr. Floyd’s system. Sergeant Stiger told the jury that he could not make out what Mr. Floyd said in that moment.

  • Much of Wednesday’s proceedings focused on Mr. Floyd’s drug use. The jury heard testimony from McKenzie Anderson, a forensic scientist with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension who processed the squad car that Mr. Floyd was briefly placed in on the night he died. An initial processing found no drugs in the vehicle, but during a second search requested by Mr. Chauvin’s defense team in January, the team discovered fragments of pills. Judge Peter Cahill has called the oversight “mind-boggling.” Ms. Anderson said she was not looking for pills during the initial search, and simply passed over them. In testing the fragments, Ms. Anderson said a lab found D.N.A. that matched Mr. Floyd’s.

  • Breahna Giles, a forensic scientist with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, testified that some of the pills recovered at the scene were tested and found to contain methamphetamine and fentanyl. The pills were marked with letters and numbers that seemed to indicate that they were pharmaceutical-grade Acetaminophen and Oxycodone, though illicit pills are sometimes marked by drug dealers to give the false impression that they came from a pharmacy.

A boarded-up bank building across the street from the Hennepin County Government Center, where the trial of Derek Chauvin is taking place.
Credit…Jim Mone/Associated Press

Midway through the second week of the trial of Derek Chauvin, more than 20 witnesses have already taken the stand for the state. Next, the defense will present their witnesses, before the trial moves into closing arguments and, finally, jury deliberation.

Witness testimony is expected to last at least through the end of next week. On Friday, Judge Peter A. Cahill dismissed court early, saying that the trial was ahead of schedule.

Jury selection — eight days of intense questioning to potential jurors about their political biases and views on racism and policing — began on March 9. Ultimately, 12 jury members and two alternates were chosen.

Both sides delivered opening statements on March 29, which were followed by the prosecution calling their witnesses to the stand. Each witness is questioned by the state, then cross-examined by the defense. Questioning goes back and forth between the state and the defense.

Each side submitted a list of potential witnesses to the judge ahead of the trial: The state submitted the names of 363 potential witnesses, and the defense listed 212, but it’s unclear how many will actually appear.

Closing arguments could come as soon as the week after next, then the jury will begin deliberating. The jury can take as long as it needs to deliver a verdict.




How George Floyd Was Killed in Police Custody

The Times has reconstructed the death of George Floyd on May 25. Security footage, witness videos and official documents show how a series of actions by officers turned fatal. (This video contains scenes of graphic violence.)

It’s a Monday evening in Minneapolis. Police respond to a call about a man who allegedly used a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes. Seventeen minutes later, the man they are there to investigate lies motionless on the ground, and is pronounced dead shortly after. The man was 46-year-old George Floyd, a bouncer originally from Houston who had lost his job at a restaurant when the coronavirus pandemic hit. Crowd: “No justice, no peace.” Floyd’s death triggered major protests in Minneapolis, and sparked rage across the country. One of the officers involved, Derek Chauvin, has been arrested and charged with second-degree murder. The other three officers have been charged with aiding and abetting murder. The Times analyzed bystander videos, security camera footage and police scanner audio, spoke to witnesses and experts, and reviewed documents released by the authorities to build as comprehensive a picture as possible and better understand how George Floyd died in police custody. The events of May 25 begin here. Floyd is sitting in the driver’s seat of this blue S.U.V. Across the street is a convenience store called Cup Foods. Footage from this restaurant security camera helps us understand what happens next. Note that the timestamp on the camera is 24 minutes fast. At 7:57 p.m., two employees from Cup Foods confront Floyd and his companions about an alleged counterfeit bill he just used in their store to buy cigarettes. They demand the cigarettes back but walk away empty-handed. Four minutes later, they call the police. According to the 911 transcript, an employee says that Floyd used fake bills to buy cigarettes, and that he is “awfully drunk” and “not in control of himself.” Soon, the first police vehicle arrives on the scene. Officers Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng step out of the car and approach the blue S.U.V. Seconds later, Lane pulls his gun. We don’t know exactly why. He orders Floyd to put his hands on the wheel. Lane reholsters the gun, and after about 90 seconds of back and forth, yanks Floyd out of the S.U.V. A man is filming the confrontation from a car parked behind them. The officers cuff Floyd’s hands behind his back. And Kueng walks him to the restaurant wall. “All right, what’s your name?” From the 911 transcript and the footage, we now know three important facts: First, that the police believed they were responding to a man who was drunk and out of control. But second, even though the police were expecting this situation, we can see that Floyd has not acted violently. And third, that he seems to already be in distress. Six minutes into the arrest, the two officers move Floyd back to their vehicle. As the officers approach their car, we can see Floyd fall to the ground. According to the criminal complaints filed against the officers, Floyd says he is claustrophobic and refuses to enter the police car. During the struggle, Floyd appears to turn his head to address the officers multiple times. According to the complaints, he tells them he can’t breathe. Nine minutes into the arrest, the third and final police car arrives on the scene. It’s carrying officers Tou Thao and Derek Chauvin. Both have previous records of complaints brought against them. Thao was once sued for throwing a man to the ground and hitting him. Chauvin has been involved in three police shootings, one of them fatal. Chauvin becomes involved in the struggle to get Floyd into the car. Security camera footage from Cup Foods shows Kueng struggling with Floyd in the backseat while Thao watches. Chauvin pulls him through the back seat and onto the street. We don’t know why. Floyd is now lying on the pavement, face down. That’s when two witnesses begin filming, almost simultaneously. The footage from the first witness shows us that all four officers are now gathered around Floyd. It’s the first moment when we can clearly see that Floyd is face down on the ground, with three officers applying pressure to his neck, torso and legs. At 8:20 p.m., we hear Floyd’s voice for the first time. The video stops when Lane appears to tell the person filming to walk away. “Get off to the sidewalk, please. One side or the other, please.” The officers radio a Code 2, a call for non-emergency medical assistance, reporting an injury to Floyd’s mouth. In the background, we can hear Floyd struggling. The call is quickly upgraded to a Code 3, a call for emergency medical assistance. By now another bystander, 17-year-old Darnella Frazier, is filming from a different angle. Her footage shows that despite calls for medical help, Chauvin keeps Floyd pinned down for another seven minutes. We can’t see whether Kueng and Lane are still applying pressure. Floyd: [gasping] Officer: “What do you want?” Bystander: “I’ve been —” Floyd: [gasping] In the two videos, Floyd can be heard telling officers that he can’t breathe at least 16 times in less than five minutes. Bystander: “You having fun?” But Chauvin never takes his knee off of Floyd, even as his eyes close and he appears to go unconscious. Bystander: “Bro.” According to medical and policing experts, these four police officers are committing a series of actions that violate policies, and in this case, turn fatal. They’ve kept Floyd lying face down, applying pressure for at least five minutes. This combined action is likely compressing his chest and making it impossible to breathe. Chauvin is pushing his knee into Floyd’s neck, a move banned by most police departments. Minneapolis Police Department policy states an officer can only do this if someone is, quote, “actively resisting.” And even though the officers call for medical assistance, they take no action to treat Floyd on their own while waiting for the ambulance to arrive. Officer: “Get back on the sidewalk.” According to the complaints against the officers, Lane asks him twice if they should roll Floyd onto his side. Chauvin says no. Twenty minutes into the arrest, an ambulance arrives on the scene. Bystander: “Get off of his neck!” Bystander: “He’s still on him?” The E.M.T.s check Floyd’s pulse. Bystander: “Are you serious?” Chauvin keeps his knee on Floyd’s neck for almost another whole minute, even though Floyd appears completely unresponsive. He only gets off once the E.M.T.s tell him to. Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes, according to our review of the video evidence. Floyd is loaded into the ambulance. The ambulance leaves the scene, possibly because a crowd is forming. But the E.M.T.s call for additional medical help from the fire department. But when the engine arrives, the officers give them, quote, “no clear info on Floyd or his whereabouts,” according to a fire department incident report. This delays their ability to help the paramedics. Meanwhile, Floyd is going into cardiac arrest. It takes the engine five minutes to reach Floyd in the ambulance. He’s pronounced dead at a nearby hospital around 9:25 p.m. Preliminary autopsies conducted by the state and Floyd’s family both ruled his death a homicide. The widely circulated arrest videos don’t paint the entire picture of what happened to George Floyd. Crowd: “Floyd! Floyd!” Additional video and audio from the body cameras of the key officers would reveal more about why the struggle began and how it escalated. The city quickly fired all four officers. And Chauvin has been charged with second degree murder. Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao were charged with aiding and abetting murder. But outrage over George Floyd’s death has only spread further and further across the United States.

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The Times has reconstructed the death of George Floyd on May 25. Security footage, witness videos and official documents show how a series of actions by officers turned fatal. (This video contains scenes of graphic violence.)

On May 25, Minneapolis police officers arrested George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, after a convenience store employee called 911 to report that Mr. Floyd had bought cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. Seventeen minutes after the first squad car arrived at the scene, Mr. Floyd was unconscious and pinned beneath three police officers, showing no signs of life.

By combining videos from bystanders and security cameras, reviewing official documents and consulting experts, The New York Times reconstructed in detail the minutes leading to Mr. Floyd’s death. Our video shows officers taking a series of actions that violated the policies of the Minneapolis Police Department and turned fatal, leaving Mr. Floyd unable to breathe, even as he and onlookers called out for help.

Patrons and employees at Urban Touch Barbers & Salon watch the trial of Derek Chauvin on televisions.
Credit…Aaron Nesheim for The New York Times

The trial of Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd is unusual for many reasons: It is being livestreamed from Minneapolis, attendance is severely limited because of the coronavirus and the public’s interest in the case may make this one of the highest-profile trials in recent memory.

The trial can be watched on, via a livestream provided by Court TV, which is also airing the trial in full. Witness testimony and lawyers’ presentations of evidence should last several weeks before the jury begins to deliberate over the verdict.

Among the people allowed in the courtroom, on the 18th floor of the Hennepin County Government Center, are: the judge, jurors, witnesses, court staff, lawyers, Mr. Chauvin and only a handful of spectators.

The judge, Peter A. Cahill, wrote in an order on March 1 that only one member of Mr. Floyd’s family and one member of Mr. Chauvin’s family would be allowed in the room at any time. Two seats are reserved for reporters, and various journalists, including from The New York Times, are rotating throughout the trial.

The lawyers, spectators, jurors and witnesses are required to wear masks when they are not speaking. Spectators are prohibited from having any visible images, logos, letters or numbers on their masks or clothing, according to Judge Cahill’s order.

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