Dr. Jonathan Rich, a cardiologist called to testify in the trial of Derek Chauvin, said on Monday that George Floyd’s heart was not the main cause of his death. He also ruled out a drug overdose.
“Mr. George Floyd died from a cardio pulmonary arrest,” Dr. Rich said. “It was caused by low oxygen levels” induced by the position that “he was subjected to.”
It was an observation that Dr. Rich repeated: that the way the police officers restrained Mr. Floyd led to his asphyxiation. “He was trying to get enough oxygen and because of the position that he was subjected to, the heart thus did not have enough oxygen,” he said.
Dr. Rich said that part of his clinical work involves reviewing evidence to determine why patients had died. In being called by the state to help determine how Mr. Floyd died, he described his testimony as a “meaningful contribution.”
He said that after examining medical records, the autopsy and video footage of Mr. Floyd’s arrest, he determined that Mr. Floyd’s heart was not the main cause of his death.
Dr. Rich said he had considered two other potential causes, including a primary cardiac event and possibly a drug overdose. But he said: “I can state with a high degree of medical certainty” that Mr. Floyd “did not die from a primary cardiac event and did not die from a drug overdose.”
After reviewing a toxicology report, he said that Mr. Floyd’s methamphetamine levels were low, and that he did not see any signs that a drug overdose had caused his death.
And after watching the video of Mr. Floyd’s arrest, Dr. Rich said he determined that Mr. Floyd was restrained in a life-threatening manner, and that there was no evidence of a sudden cardiac death.
He said he believed Mr. Floyd would have lived, had he been given treatment during several instances shown on the video.
He said he noticed that an officer had said at some point during the arrest that he believed Mr. Floyd was passing out. “That would have been an opportunity to quickly relieve him from that position of not getting enough oxygen,” Dr. Rich said.
He also noted that one officer had suggested that Mr. Floyd be turned on his side but was told to “leave him.” When officers learned that Mr. Floyd had no pulse, their immediate response should have been to administer chest compressions, he said.
“I believe that Mr. George Floyd’s death was absolutely preventable,” Dr. Rich said.
He said Mr. Floyd’s medical records did not show previous complaints or evidence of abnormal rhythms and palpitations and added that Mr. Floyd had an “exceptionally strong heart.”
Asked whether he saw signs that Mr. Floyd had a heart attack, Dr. Rich said, “None, whatsoever.”
On cross-examination, Mr. Chauvin’s lawyer, Eric J. Nelson, asked Dr. Rich whether a combination of factors, including previous drug use, narrowing arteries, high blood pressure and the struggle with the officers, could have resulted in Mr. Floyd’s death even without being restrained in the prone position.
“I found no evidence to support that,” Dr. Rich answered.
Mr. Nelson also asked Dr. Rich whether Mr. Floyd would have survived had he simply got into the back seat of the squad car.
Had he not been restrained in the way that he was, Dr. Rich replied, “I think he would have survived that day.”