Bethel resident Dr. Michael Baden, a forensic pathologist who is a former New York City medical examiner, spoke by telephone with The SullivanTimes on Friday, June 5 - a few days after returning from Minneapolis where he had performed an autopsy on George Floyd that was requested by the family and their attorneys.
Dr. Michael Baden told The SullivanTimes last Friday that police often have the misperception that if a person is talking that they can breathe. And that's a key reason why Baden thinks the George Floyd incident on May 25, 2020 and the death of Eric Garner (by a chokehold used by a police officer on Staten Island on July 17, 2014) are so similar.
Baden, the host of HBO's "Autopsy" and who has served as chief forensic pathologist for the New York State Police, would know. He performed autopsies on both men, who died while in police custody.
Baden, a contributor on Fox News, told The SullivanTimes that one reason he gets hired by families of victims is that too often the official autopsy conducted by the local coroner can take many weeks to be completed. He said that lawyers representing victims like Garner and Floyd "need it sooner so they can know how to proceed. " Baden added that the family of victims who die in police custody are also often "suspicious of the official version (of events) and police are part of the official community."
Baden explained why he concluded (after performing the autopsy on May 31) that Floyd died on May 25 of mechanical asphyxia and that the manner of death was homicide.
"Whoever is pressing on the back, whether it's one officer or two officers," he said, "back pressure in the prone position (someone lying face down) impairs breathing. So if there was pressure being put on the back while there was also pressure being put on the neck, then it's the combination of both ...interference with breathing that leads to the death. "
Baden pointed out that the pressure on the back prevents the diaphragm from moving.
"Each time we inhale and exhale the diaphragm is going up and down 10 to 12 times a minute," he said. "The pressure on back prevents that from happening. That's why he was saying I can't breathe..because he could not breathe, he couldn't inhale. And the pressure on the neck compromises the blood flow and the air flow through the neck. "
Baden said that Floyd - whose funeral is being held today - did have some underlying medical conditions at the time of the encounter with police, including some drugs in his system.
Aside from testing positive for Covid-19, he had coronary artery disease and a history of high blood pressure, Baden said, adding that "his heart was pretty good. He had a bunch of drugs in his body but the cause of death is the same as if he had been shot by a bullet. He died because he couldn't breathe. The other factors are of interest because it helped establish what was going on at the time (of the incident)....that he wasn't fully aware of what he was doing from the drugs that he was taking. But he didn't resist arrest at all. "
As for the similarities between the Garner and Floyd cases, Baden said that "the autopsy finding are very similar: But the way the medical examiner handled it is different. The similarity is that both had pressure on the neck and pressure on the back. In both (cases), they (Garner and Floyd) said they couldn't breathe. And neither police officers stopped the pressure at that time. They kept the pressure on even though they kept saying ”I can't breathe.“ Officers often have the misperception that if a person is talking he's breathing and that's not true. So they disregarded the "I can't breathe" and kept pressure on and they both died."
The Medical Examiner in New York City at that time immediately came out and diagnosed Garner's death as asphyxia caused by the choke hold and called it a homicide, according to Baden. "Right off the bat, I agreed with her," he said of the findings in the Garner case. ”In this (Floyd) situation, even though there was evidence of compression and back pressure and interference with breathing. ..the (Minneapolis) attorney general came out with a press release saying that the medical examiner found that he had heart disease and was using drugs and that he had been arrested in the past and left out of any mention of the restraint. And that's what fired up a lot of concern and protest. The Medical Examiner a few days ago came out and said the cause of death was due to the restraint by police, which was not said initially. If it had been said initially, it may have calmed down the family and public. But leaving out the restraint (as the cause of death) led to much of the protest. "
Officer Derek Chauvin, whose knee was on the neck of Floyd for eight minutes and 46 seconds as seen in the viral video recorded by a bystander, was arrested May 29. But last Wednesday, authorities added a new charge for Chauvin and also arrested the three other police officers at the scene: J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao.
Note: Regarding the Garner incident, the New York State Legislature on June 8 passed a bill that would ban police officers from using chokeholds and making it a felony crime. Governor Andrew Cuomo is expected to sign the bill into law.
Dr. Michael Baden with his wife, Linda Kenney Baden, a former prosecutor who is a criminal defense attorney. She is also a host on the Law & Crime Network. The couple, who split their time between Bethel and Manhattan, coauthored a suspense novel called "Remains Silent." (photo courtesy of Linda Baden).