In the national media coverage, the only thing that’s supposed to matter about George Floyd is that he was a black man who died while or after a white police officer knelt on his back and neck for an extended period of time. But at the murder trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin, there are going to be a lot of other facts and issues addressed.
Chauvin is likely to argue that it was not his action that caused Floyd’s death. Most relevant to that assertion are the findings by the medical examiner that Floyd had “severe” heart disease, hypertension, and both methamphetamine and fentanyl in his system. Floyd stood at 6’4 and weighed 223 lbs., and even at that size, the examiner said his heart was too large.
Floyd’s cardiovascular system would likely not fare very well under the stress of an encounter with police, during which he was under the influence of two potent drugs.
It’s worth noting that these two drugs have opposite effects on the body. Amphetamines are a stimulant, known to increase blood pressure and oftentimes aggressive behavior. Fentanyl, in contrast, works more like a sedative.
Is there any question that consuming opioids and stimulants simultaneously would have exacerbated Floyd’s heart condition, especially if he faced a stressful confrontation with police?
The convenience store employee who made the initial 911 call said he believed Floyd was intoxicated and “not in control of himself.” The police officers who apprehended Floyd asked him more than once if he was high on anything. One of them, Thomas Lane, said he assumed Floyd was under the influence of something.
Video footage of the incident shows Floyd’s erratic behavior, including his request to be placed down on the ground rather than inside the police car. That came only after he resisted arrest and instruction from police multiple times, as the state prosecutor’s criminal complaint against Chauvin concedes.
So here’s a relevant question: What are the odds that a confrontation with police, even a mild one, might result in the cardiac arrest for a man who has severe heart disease and is also under the influence of illicit drugs?
Some people have already asserted that this is irrelevant. But Chauvin’s defense team might reasonably maintain otherwise and argue that the death was not caused by anything he did wrong.
It’s not something that factors into the media’s narrative about what happened to Floyd, but it will be something to consider for the trial.