Derek Chauvin’s defense called on Dr. David Fowler, who retired as Maryland’s chief medical examiner in 2019 and has a history of involvement with high-profile police use-of-force cases, to testify on Wednesday as an expert witness.
At the request of Eric J. Nelson, a lawyer for Mr. Chauvin, Dr. Fowler said he reviewed medical records, police records, ambulance records, toxicology reports and video footage, among other information in the George Floyd case.
Dr. Fowler explained that a death certificate includes a primary cause of death as well as other significant conditions contributing to a person’s death, per guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control.
He said it was his medical opinion that Mr. Floyd suffered cardiac arrhythmia, which was contributed to by his underlying health conditions, including heart disease, drug use and exposure to carbon monoxide from the exhaust pipe during his restraint by the police.
“All of those combined to cause Mr. Floyd’s death,” he said.
While he was chief medical examiner of Maryland, Dr. Fowler ruled that the death of Anton Black, a Black teenager who was killed during an interaction with the police in 2018, was an accident, The Baltimore Sun reported. No one was charged.
In December, Mr. Black’s family filed a federal lawsuit against Dr. Fowler, the officers involved in the incident and others.
“Two years before George Floyd died after being restrained and pinned down by police, 19- year-old Anton Black (‘Anton’ or ‘Decedent’) was killed by three white law enforcement officials and a white civilian in a chillingly similar manner on Maryland’s Eastern Shore,” the lawsuit reads.
According to the lawsuit, officers restrained Mr. Black in a prone position for around six minutes after he had been Tasered and handcuffed as he “struggled to breathe, lost consciousness and suffered cardiac arrest.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, which is involved in the lawsuit, released a statement Wednesday. “Under Dr. Fowler’s leadership, the Maryland Office of the Medical Examiner has been complicit in creating false narratives about what kills Black people in police encounters,” it said. “The medical examiner blamed Anton for his own death — peppering its report with false claims about laced drugs, a heart condition, and even Anton’s bipolar disorder — instead of the police who killed him. The family was forced to pay for outside experts help to understand what really killed Anton.”
In 2015, Dr. Fowler’s office issued a homicide ruling in the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old Black man from Baltimore who died of a spinal cord injury after a widely circulated cellphone video showing him being dragged screaming into a police transport van.
In that case, six officers were initially charged with crimes including manslaughter and murder; the first trial ended in a hung jury, and three more officers were acquitted after trials before a judge.
Dr. Fowler was also an adjunct associate professor of pathology and pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and has taught at The Johns Hopkins Hospital and other universities around Maryland. He serves as the National Association of Medical Examiners representative for the Forensic Science Standards Board. He also serves as a forensic pathology consultant for the Forensics Panel, a national organization that performs peer review for cases.
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