Defense Attorneys Cry Foul Play In Case Against Officers

Riiver Nihil

In a new court filing on Wednesday, the defense for the other three officers charged in the death of George Floyd has made some new, serious allegations that could change the entire outcome of the case. At least for one of the officers.

The defense attorney for Tou Thao alleges that the medical examiner, Dr. Andrew Baker, was “directly and indirectly coerced by the State and its agents,” into changing his autopsy findings. It implies that after having a couple of conversations with former Washington DC medical examiner Dr. Roger Mitchell, Dr. Baker added evidence.

Baker conducted Floyd’s autopsy on May 25, 2020, and found “no physical evidence suggesting that Mr. Floyd died of asphyxiation,” the attorneys wrote in the filing.

Initially reported last June, the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office released a criminal complaint that said, according to Baker’s initial autopsy, that there were “no physical findings that support a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation.” The report also concluded that Floyd had arteriosclerotic and hypertensive heart disease and experienced cardiopulmonary arrest while being restrained.

The court filing goes on to detail what allegedly happened in the two conversations between Mitchell and Baker. Mitchell made a call to Baker before his findings were finalized to tell him to “first of all fire his public information officer.” He also wanted to know what happened because he “didn’t think it sounded like Baker’s words.”

“Baker said that he didn’t think the neck compression played a part,” the filing said.

The second conversation was much more ominous, as Mitchell told Baker he would submit an article to The Washington Post, criticizing his findings. He insisted that “neck compression has to be in the diagnosis,” threatening Baker to change his stance or be at the whim of the press.

“Dr. Mitchell orally made the threat to unlawfully injure Dr. Baker’s trade unless Dr. Baker changed his autopsy findings,” alleges the filing. “Dr. Mitchell told Dr. Baker to include neck compression in the final findings and warned Dr. Baker he was going to publish a damaging op-ed in the Washington Post. After Dr. Baker changed his findings, Dr. Mitchell did not publish the op-ed.”

This wouldn’t be the first time Mitchell decided to alter the course of this case. Thao’s attorneys also brought up the fact that Mitchell attacked Dr. David Fowler when he [Fowler] testified that “the primary cause of Floyd’s death was a sudden heart rhythm disturbance during police restraint due to underlying heart disease.”

Mitchell wrote a letter, signed by 431 doctors from around the country, that demanded investigations be initiated into the 17-year career of Dr. Fowler and his medical license.

“Dr. Mitchell unlawfully injured Dr. Fowler’s trade by penning an open letter, which resulted in an investigation into every death report in Maryland during Dr. Fowler’s tenure,” the filing reads. “Dr. Mitchell has set the stage that he will threaten the trade and professional reputation of any physician who suggests that Mr. Floyd’s death could be labeled as ‘undetermined’.”

Tao’s attorneys are concerned that Mitchell has deliberately caused this case to change course, stating that Mitchell “has essentially stated that any medical expert who wants to testify that Mr. Floyd’s death could be undetermined should, and will, face penalties by him. Dr. Mitchell’s accusations and spurring of legal fallacies creates a chilling effect for Mr. Thao and violates his due process rights in that it has become extraordinarily difficult to find medical experts who are willing to state that Mr. Floyd’s death was undetermined in fear of their professional reputation and licensure.”

Thao’s attorneys ask the judge to drop the case against him and prevent Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and prosecutors Matthew Frank, Neal Katyal, Lola Velazquez-Aguilu Erin Eldridge, Corey Gorden, and Joshua Larson from participating in any trial for Thao. They’ve also asked for the dismissal of any jurors who know the open letter or op-ed by Mitchell.

The trial for the remaining three officers was pushed back until March 2022 to provide space around Derek Chauvin, whose sentencing is set for June 25, 2021.

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