Does It Matter Whether Chauvin Knelt on George Floyd’s Neck Versus His Shoulder?

Does It Matter Whether Chauvin Knelt on George Floyd’s Neck Versus His Shoulder?

In the widely viewed bystander video of George Floyd’s arrest, it seemed plain that Derek Chauvin had positioned his left knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck.

But Mr. Chauvin’s defense has repeatedly suggested, and tried to get witnesses to agree, that his knee was actually on Mr. Floyd’s shoulder.

The most obvious reason for this is that the medical examiner, Dr. Andrew Baker, attributed Mr. Floyd’s death in part to neck compression.

But several experts said it did not matter: The knee could be lethal in either position, neck or shoulder.

“In my opinion, does it make a difference?” asked Dr. Alon Steinberg, a cardiologist who has published a review of the scientific literature on prone restraint deaths. “No.”

Dr. Steinberg said that multiple factors including the restriction of breathing and of blood flow contribute to death during prone restraint.

Dr. Judy Melinek, a forensic pathologist who has written extensively about the case, said, “Even in the absence of pressing on the neck, you’re putting strain on the cardiovascular system, especially if somebody is fighting or struggling against the restraint.”

The prosecution on Thursday appeared to be pursuing a similar argument. The first witness was Dr. Martin Tobin, a pulmonologist who specializes in the mechanics and physics of breathing.

He said that Mr. Floyd died from a “low level of oxygen” that led to brain damage and an arrhythmia that “caused his heart to stop.” Dr. Tobin said terms such as hypoxia or the prosecution’s preferred word, asphyxia, are “really other words for a phenomenon that is a low level of oxygen.”

Mr. Floyd’s breathing was restricted, Dr. Tobin explained, by the way the officers pushed in his cuffed hands, squeezing his rib cage against the hard pavement, and by Mr. Chauvin’s placement of his left knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck and right knee on his back.

Mr. Chauvin’s left knee was on Mr. Floyd’s neck “more than 90 percent of the time,” Dr. Tobin said, and his right knee was on his back at least 57 percent of the time. Dr. Tobin said that for the rest of the time, the available video did not provide a good view of the location of Mr. Chauvin’s right knee.

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