Lawyers representing one of the other Minneapolis police officers charged in the death of George Floyd maintain that an outside expert prosecution witness coerced the state medical examiner to change his finding on what exactly killed Floyd.
In recently filed court documents, defense attorneys for former Officer Tou Thao argue that Dr. Roger Mitchell, the former chief medical examiner in Washington, D.C., blackmailed Dr. Andrew Baker, who conducted Floyd’s autopsy, into reversing course.
And when defense lawyers for former Officer Derek Chauvin, who was convicted in Floyd’s death, produced another doctor who testified the cause of death should have been ruled “undetermined,” Mitchell went after him, court records say.
In a court filing from May 12, Thao’s lawyers indicate that Baker 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.”
Three days later, the criminal complaint filed against Chauvin “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.’”
Then, Thao’s lawyers argue, Mitchell got involved.
Court records say sometime before June 1, 2020, he called Baker and challenged his findings. Baker told Mitchell he didn’t think “neck compression” caused Floyd’s demise.
Then, Mitchell, according to court records, called Baker back. This time, he said he would publish an op-ed in The Washington Post criticizing Baker.
During the second call, he reportedly told 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 Mitchell told Baker “neck compression has to be in the diagnosis.”
On June 1, the findings were released, and, lo and behold, neck compression was included. “This,” Thao’s lawyers note in court records, “was contrary to Dr. Baker’s conclusion before speaking with Dr. Mitchell twice.”
Mitchell, by the way, did not publish the op-ed – although he later claimed it did make its way onto Facebook.
A couple of points about this.
First, the court records do not indicate whether Mitchell ever actually examined Floyd. He only read Baker’s report, and like everyone else in America, went off the video of Floyd’s death.
Secondly, the court filing does not point this out, but as Mitchell is talking to Baker, Black Lives Matter protesters are burning and looting Minneapolis. It’s arguable that figured into Baker’s thinking as well.
Thao’s lawyers argue that one thing they want to know is how or why prosecutors consulted with Mitchell.
The defense team also points out that during Chauvin’s trial, Dr. David Fowler, former chief medical examiner for the state of Maryland, testified on the officer’s behalf and said the cause of Floyd’s death should be ruled undetermined.
A week later Mitchell wrote a letter to top state and Biden administration officials demanding that Fowler’s former office and his medical license be investigated. And, lo and behold, Maryland officials did just that.
Thao’s lawyers noted Mitchell’s threats made against the “trade” of both doctors, and added, “Dr. Mitchell has set the stage that he will threaten the trade and professional reputation of any physician who suggests that Mr. Floyd’s death could be labeled as ‘undetermined.’”
Thao’s defense lawyers maintained that Mitchell violated Minnesota laws against coercion and demand action. They also want the case dismissed.
Prosecutors have dismissed the claims and promised to soon rebut them.
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