The death of George Floyd is a tragedy. There is no doubt that he would still be alive if he hadn’t been held down on the ground by the police for as long as he was. However, the autopsy does not give asphixiation as the primary cause of death. So where do we go from here?
Andrew McCarthy posted an article at The National Review today that might provide some answers.
The article notes:
For one thing, contrary to most people’s assumption, Mr. Floyd appears not to have died from asphyxia or strangulation as Chauvin pinned him to the ground, knee to the neck. Rather, as alleged in the complaint, Floyd suffered from coronary-artery disease and hypertensive-heart disease. The complaint further intimates, but does not come out and allege, that Floyd may have had “intoxicants” in his system. The effects of these underlying health conditions and “any potential intoxicants” are said to have “combined” with the physical restraint by three police officers, most prominently Chauvin, to cause Floyd’s death.
As I’ve noted in a column on the homepage, Hennepin County prosecutors have charged Chauvin with third-degree depraved-indifference homicide. Now that the complaint has been released publicly, we see that a lesser offense was also charged: second-degree manslaughter. This homicide charge involves “culpable negligence creating an unreasonable risk” of serious bodily harm, and carries a maximum sentence of ten years’ imprisonment.
It is easy to see why prosecutors added this charge (and why they shied away from more serious grades of murder described in my column). The case is tougher for prosecutors if there is doubt about whether Chauvin’s unorthodox and unnecessary pressure on Floyd’s neck caused him to die. Had he been strangled, causative effect of the neck pressure would be patent. But if the neck pressure instead just contributed to the stress of the situation that triggered death because of unusual underlying medical problems (possibly in conjunction with intoxicants Floyd may have consumed), it becomes a harder murder prosecution.
Stay tuned. This is going to get complicated. I believe that the police force was correct to fire the officers involved. However, getting them to pay a more serious price for their abuse of power is going to be difficult. Even with video evidence, they are innocent until proven guilty and have to be convicted ‘beyond a reasonable doubt.’