Derek Chauvin and his two fellow Minneapolis police officers who pinned a handcuffed George Floyd to the ground and remained on top of him until he became unresponsive had restricted his breathing so severely that it was almost “as if a surgeon had gone in and removed” Floyd’s lung, according to testimony Thursday at Chauvin’s murder trial.
Testifying for the state, Dr. Martin Tobin, a physician who specializes in pulmonology and critical care medicine, put into sharp relief the impact that the restraint on Floyd had on his ability to breathe. Tobin is not connected to the case but was asked by the state to review Floyd’s medical records and footage of the May 25, 2020, incident.
Videos from body camera footage and bystanders, along with a rendering of the incident shown on Thursday, show that Chauvin had his knee on Floyd's neck, while J. Alexander Kueng, who was next to Chauvin, had one knee on Floyd's legs and the other on his back, and Thomas Lane had a knee on Floyd's legs as Floyd lay handcuffed on the ground.
Chauvin had one knee on Floyd’s neck and the other on his back, the rendering shows.
The restraint on Floyd came after officers struggled to get him into their police vehicle and then pulled him to the ground.
“Were you able to observe whether Floyd’s breathing was impacted by the handcuffs and the placement on the street?” prosecuting attorney Jerry Blackwell asked Tobin on Thursday.
“Yes,” Tobin said.
“What did you observe?”
Tobin said the officers were forcing Floyd’s left wrist up into his chest, “forcing it in tight against his chest, forcing it high up,” and were pressing on his back so severely that “there was no way he could do any front-to-back movement.”
Chauvin’s knee on Floyd’s back, according to Tobin’s testimony, had almost the same effect as a surgical “pneumonectomy,” which is the process of removing a lung.
“So basically on the left side of the lung,” Tobin said, “it was almost like a surgical pneumonectomy. It was almost to the effect as if a surgeon had gone in and removed the lung. Not quite, but along those lines. So there was virtually very little opportunity for him to be able to get any air.”
Earlier, Tobin testified that the cause of Floyd’s death was a low level of oxygen that caused damage to the brain and ultimately caused his heart to stop.
Chauvin, 45, is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death. His trial is expected to take several weeks. None of the officers involved in the incident — Chauvin, Kueng, Lane and Tou Thao — are still with the department, and Kueng, Lane and Thao face charges of aiding and abetting a murder.
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