The Chauvin Case, Part 2: The Anatomy of the Neck Argues Against Asphyxiation
The anatomy supports the officer's knee NOT being a cause of death in the case of Mr. George Floyd [Updated, corrected typo, 3-5-2023.]
As indicated in the companion article, “The Chauvin Case, Part 1: George Floyd May Have Suffered From Acromegaly: The Condition May Have Contributed to Floyd’s Death, Not Necessarily Officer Chauvin’s Knee,” on Wednesday, January 18, 2023, Derek Chauvin’s attorney, Mr. William Mohrman, requested a vacation of the verdict in the case of the conviction of the former Minneapolis, Minnesota police officer and a remanding of the case back to district court for a retrial:
Please see that article as well as the following link to Dr. Howsepian’s analysis regarding an additional complication, along with others, that could have significantly contributed to Mr. Floyd’s cardiac arrest to the exclusion of any consequence or culpability due to Officer Chauvin’s actions:
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“Former Acting U.S. Solicitor General, Mr. Neal Katyal, representing the state of Minnesota, countered the defense's claims by calling Mr. Chauvin's trial ‘one of the most transparent and thorough . . . in our nation's history’."This statement by the prosecuting attorney is patently inaccurate to anyone who paid close attention to the trial. The determination of the cause of death was a tortured and unconvincing argument by the State including the dubious opinions of some of the expert witnesses. Further, it appears clear to many reasonable people that the subdual of erratically-behaving and unpredictable George Floyd was arguably warranted. That the officers removed Mr. Floyd from the patrol car and permitted him to lie on the ground as he requested based on his report of discomfort—despite the problematic situation that Mr. Floyd was otherwise creating—demonstrates a lack of observable malice on the part of Officer Chauvin and his assisting colleagues.
Please watch these powerful videos (see footnote) which provide a background that completely supports the picture presented here concerning the events of May 25, 2020 when Mr. Floyd died and which unequivocally bolster the picture of Officer Chauvin, malice free, acting with professionalism in a very difficult situation, employing a certainly non-lethal conscious neck restraint maneuver, being totally innocent.
Certitude that a period of quiet could be trusted to persist in the apprehended and extremely large and uncooperative individual was not possible. It was not obvious immediately before his death that Mr. Floyd was no longer a threat to himself or others, and the belligerent crowd did not make the assessment of the situation easier. This intensified the possibility of an untoward situation that the officers were charged with mitigating if possible. It is, in fact, quite plausible that the crowd—by their agitated or even aggravated behavior—contributed to Mr. Floyd’s death. If there was a misjudgement by Officer Chauvin—and it is not here argued that there was—it would still not warrant sentencing the defendant to what is, essentially, a life sentence.
Here, I would like to discuss an additional circumstances of the death that, I believe, strongly argue against Officer Chauvin being criminally responsible in any way for Mr. Floyd’s demise. These circumstances involve the anatomy of the neck and the claim that neck compression either obstructed the airway in the front (anterior) region of the neck and, or, significantly occluded the flow of blood in the carotid arteries critically supplying the brain. Were the latter to occur, this could indeed lead to unconsciousness and quickly to irreversible brain damage and then death. I argue, however that this did not occur. In fact, I argue, this could not have occurred given the material circumstances as they were.
Dr. Andrew M. Baker, M.D., the Hennepin County Medical Examiner who conducted the official autopsy of the decedent, George Floyd, reported preliminarily that examination “revealed no physical findings that support a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation.”
In the official report of 6-1-2020, Dr. Baker includes:
III. No life-threatening injuries identified
A. No facial, oral mucosal, or conjunctival petechiae
B. No injuries of anterior muscles of neck or laryngeal
C. No scalp soft tissue, skull, or brain injuries
D. No chest wall soft tissue injuries, rib fractures (other
than a single rib fracture from CPR), vertebral column
injuries, or visceral injuries
E. Incision and subcutaneous dissection of posterior and
lateral neck, shoulders, back, flanks, and buttocks
negative for occult trauma
That is a whole lot of “no trauma” to report.
Though, again in the previous article, Dr. Howsepian suggests a variety of imaging studies that should have been carried out to more completely assess the possibility of fractures, there was apparently no frank evidence of neck or skull injuries.
Regarding Dr. Baker’s autopsy report again, I take particular note of “No injuries of anterior muscles of neck or laryngeal structures.” please keep in mind, that whatever flaws may be considered to exist in the thoroughness of Dr. Baker’s report, this should not result in the same mode of skepticism being applied to remarks that were positively recorded.
I am not a physician, medical examiner or a forensic specialist. My doctorate is in biology with a neurobiology/physiology concentration. Among other scientific activities after my doctorate, I taught cadaver anatomy courses and dissection laboratories. During early days as a student, I accumulated three years of experience as a technician working in emergency rooms. This allowed me to witness a variety of injuries, emergency treatments, fatalities and x-ray images. My hope here, using the circumscribed knowledge and background available to me, is to provoke further examination of, and sober reflection upon, the questions at hand by physicians, scientists and engineers with specific, relevant training, as well as to stimulate discussion among the general public. It is time for the public, as well as public officials, to “up their game” (I hate that expression, but sports fans love it) when it comes to conversation about important medical, scientific, historical and public-policy matters.
Conversation need not be rancorous. Indeed, as taught in a good philosophy class or course on scientific method, one needs to consider—objectively, dispassionately and without tendentiousness—multiple working hypotheses. This takes true humility. We are not talking about humility vis-à-vis human status on the smarty-pants totem pole, but rather humility regarding our common, epistemologically-challenged condition, our inability to know all the facts —- even the relevant facts in many cases. But often we can learn enough facts, apply empirical approaches where possible, and engage in reasoning from known principles in order to do real and lasting good. In a politically charged, philosophically confused and spiritually corrupt time it is difficult for the larger number of people to avoid committing acts of dissembling —- or becoming prey to the powers of the dissembling of others. Dissembling continually scrambles the puzzle pieces so that the picture cannot be formed.Electronic and digital devices, contrary to their great potential benefits when used properly, can be harnessed to bamboozle, propagandize, and degrade an indolent public that has always been vulnerable to bread and circuses as well as corruption by petty and needless conveniences. Combining diligence in the face of difficulty with commitment to truth is the road to virtuous, mentally independent, adaptive, fecund and prosperous flourishing.
What is hoped for in this article will require a little tour of human anatomy, specifically anatomy of the neck.
Figure 1. A model of George Floyd’s neck at the time of the his death. The Styrofoam “head” is positioned to the right as was seen in video recordings of the incident where the decedent lay prone on the pavement. Thus, the decedent faced his right shoulder with his chest to the ground. Officer Chauvin's body mass is represented as a potential lever pivoting about a fulcrum. The fulcrum is represented in the picture by the two, toy "Greek" columns acting, in the analysis of force, as a single pillar. The second pillar supporting the mass of the officer is the neck of the decedent. A mannequin “prosector,” located anterior to the neck, guides the viewer with a lecturer’s pointer tipped with a shiny bead. Please see text for further explanation.
The image in Figure 1 incorporates a photograph of an a section through the neck of a cadaver.The image was taken with a top-down perspective and this image is, as presented, bottom-up. This is completely insignificant for our purposes.
Figure 1 is also intended to portray the reasonably inferable directions of force (vectors) with some suggestion of magnitude. The relationship of forces requires some careful thought in this scenario. Dr. Martin Tobin, who did testify at the trial of former officer Derek Chauvin, employed an estimate of 90 pounds of force exerted by Chauvin's knee on the neck of George Floyd. Assuming a mass of Officer Chauvin at the time of the incident of 180 pounds, this would be a reasonable assumption if roughly half of the officer's weight was directed onto the neck of Mr. Floyd.
However, I do not believe that Officer Chauvin applied 90 pounds of his weight through his left knee to Mr. Floyd's large neck, especially since the officer's left knee would have been several inches above the position of the right knee which is generally planted on the pavement.
Figure 2. Officer Derek Chauvin, on May 25, 2020, employing conscious neck restraint in order to subdue Mr. George Floyd. Note, conscious neck restraint is not honestly described as a “choke hold.” Employment of the latter such term must be challenged as suggesting disingenuous intent to obfuscate.
Mr. Neal Katyal, representing the state of Minnesota during the Appeal Hearing of January 25, 2023, is misdirecting when he states that Mr. Floyd died “at the hands” of the officers of the Minneapolis Police Department.Mr. Floyd was in custody and there was a requirement in the process of subdual for Mr. Floyd to be touched by one or more officer. The misdirecting, slight of hand is the implication that this physical contact caused the death of Mr. Floyd.
In response to Mr. Chauvin’s attorney’s opening remarks, Mr. Katyal again mentions the fact of Chauvin’s knee on the decedent’s neck. This item of fact in the events of May 25, 2020 attracted immediate public conviction that Chauvin “killed” Floyd and fueled the threatening-mob conditions along with the response of heavily-armed troops surrounding the courthouse. What was not a fact was the erroneous and false assumption that the knee on the back of Mr. Floyd’s neck caused or contributed to the death of Mr. Floyd.
Much of the threatening mob fervor outside the courtroom, to the prosecution’s unquestionable advantage in the trial, was profoundly dependent upon the emotional impact of the image and the narrative of the supposedly death-delivering “knee” on the public’s psyche.
In my legal-layman’s opinion, that the knee on the neck was the provocative element that marshaled hysterical mob behavior and—given that this contributed to pretrial prejudice—this fact should have been securely affixed to the prosecution's case --- and then shown to be, as it is, totally false in terms of being the cause of Mr. Floyd’s death.
No reasonably conclusive proof is in evidence that any other aspect of the subdual process or contact with police officer’s caused the death of Mr.George Floyd.
Further, in my layman's opinion regarding the argumentation of this case, this lack of convincing causative role in the death of Mr. Floyd by any aspect of the subdual process via the conscious neck restraint maneuver, or any other aspects of contact between the officers and Mr. Floyd, is an important fact and a potent summary narrative that could and should be developed by the defense for Mr. Floyd.
In short, it was George Floyd's neck that Derek Chauvin was falsely "hung by," and--in the cause of justice--the prosecution's case must be made to suffer for that false claim to the point of this verdict being vacated.
Try this, as I did, with a stack of books simulating Mr. Floyd's neck in order to mimic the technique called conscious neck restraint. See Figure 2. This is the technique taught and approved by the Minneapolis Police Department at the time. You will see, I believe, that this so positions the body that it is difficult to exert as much pressure with the (left) knee in the elevated position relative to the other (right) knee. It certainly must be acknowledged that the question of how much force was applied consistently to Mr. Floyd's neck is debatable. Still for the time being, two columns are shown in Figure 1 to suggest as a relative, non-quantitative estimation that more of Officer Chauvin's body mass was born by his other knee on the pavement and possibly intermittently by one or both arms than by the knee on the decedent’s neck. Ex post facto tests of the magnitudes and temporal patterns of forces could possibly be conducted to determine statistical ranges and force profiles that various men of similar build to Officer Chauvin might have exerted on a subdued individual of Mr. Floyd’s physical characteristics. Though not fully conclusive, such a study could be extremely helpful in bracketing the range of physical possibilities describing this situation.
Let’s enjoy a quick anatomy lesson of the human neck. The shiny tip of the prosector mannequin’s pointer falls over the image of the anterior edge of a circular structure roughly the size of a silver dollar. This is a vertebra of the bony spinal column in the neck. The front half of the vertebra contains reddish bone marrow. The posterior half of the vertebra makes up a bony, protective tunnel for the very-delicate, pronouncedly-white colored spinal cord, the bundle of communicating nerve fibers connecting the brain with the nervous system of the body, distributing controlling messages and receiving sensory signals. A section of the enclosed spinal cord can be seen in this view. Readers are likely familiar with the appearance and texture of spinal cord as that white segment in the bony notch of one edge of a pork chop: a bisected vertebra from a pig’s back. In addition to acting as the main support for the axis of the body, the bony vertebral column is well formed for guarding the spinal cord by virtue of it being tightly knit together with a multitude of strong muscles and very tough ligaments and connective tissue.
Imagine now a geometric plane (the frontal plane) dividing the head into a front, anterior half composed of the face and a posterior half made up of the back of the head. This plane would pass, almost diametrically, through the vertebral column pictured above.
Notice the many structures in this anterior region of the neck and the comparatively uniform aspect characterizing the substance of the back of the neck, posterior to the vertebral column and said, frontal, dividing plane.
Now, direct your attention, please, to the prominent, roughly triangular-appearing structure immediately anterior to the cervical vertebra. This is the airway, in simple language. The shadow of the mannequin prosector’s pointer falls on the posterior slit (the rima glottidis) between the true vocal cords (plicae vocales). The airway is supported by various cartilaginous structures that prevent collapse. Choking by collapse of the airway can be produced, but this action requires powerful compression of this anterior region of the neck, as with pressure from thumbs of an encircling grip, a constricting noose or garret, or an arm wrapped around the front of the neck and squeezed tightly.
Notice above and below the airway, on a slight diagonal, are the largest of the dark, raisin-shaped objects. These are the cut exposures of the right (above) and left (below) jugular veins. These very expandable vessels return blood from the brain and structures of the head and I mainly point them out as landmarks. The external jugular veins, just under the skin and wide and slightly behind the internal jugular veins can also be seen, the right (above) being more discernible.
Two, very critical blood vessels pertaining to this question of the cause of Mr. Floyd’s death are the common carotid arteries. In cross section, here, they appear to be only about a fifth to a tenth of the area of the internal jugular veins. These common carotid arteries are located between the internal jugular veins and the airway structure described immediately above. The arteries possess walls that are thicker and more elastic than their companion or comparably-sized veins because arteries convey blood under high pressure with pulsatile action before dividing repeatedly down into microscopically-sized capillary beds. For this reason, the arteries in this photo—in their condition of being after death—appear reduced in area without the inflating action of blood supply from a beating heart.
Bony processes project laterally from the vertebra. In the neck (cervical) region, these processes are perforated by openings (foramina) that surround, guide and protect another pair of important arteries, the vertebral arteries. These require some effort to spot in the aforementioned deflated state, but detecting them is not impossible. The right vertebral artery is visible just above the centrum of the vertebra on a line directed toward the large, right jugular vein.
These four paired arteries, specifically the right and left common carotid arteries and the paired vertebral arteries, are the suppliers of blood to the brain. Circumventing the problem of a possible occlusion or compression of one of these four brain-critical arteries in disease or trauma, the blood from all four are delivered into a confluent structure called the Circle of Willis at the base of the brain. Here the outflow of blood from the carotid and vertebral arterial flows are recombined and confluently distributed to the brain. Diminished flow in one or two of the arteries, especially if brief, in the normal condition or in minor states of disease can be compensated for.
Numerous other very important nerves to the neck as well as the chest and abdominal organs can also be found in this anterior portion of the neck, along with ganglia of nerve cells, glands and lymph nodes. These only need glancing reference to their existence in this context in order to underline that it is the front portion of the neck, anterior to the vertebral column, that contains the many, vulnerable and fairly fragile structures.
Now, please turn your attention to the back, posterior half of the neck. This is the region in the photograph, again on a slight diagonal, roughly under the label-word, “knee” printed on the lever arm representing Officer Chauvin’s knee to the right (of the photograph) and his remaining body mass to the left (of the photograph). The either reddish or brownish meaty-looking mass is just that: muscle. The muscles closest to the vertebral column are the true muscles of the neck. There are additional muscles that attach to the shoulder blades as well as the shoulders and back. There is not need for the purpose of this article to provide unnecessary detail. The important thing to note is that most of these posterior muscles are very tough and function in holding the head in a chin-up, erect position against the relentless pull of gravity when the body is upright. Many of these muscles are also involved in the turning of the head to the right and left when activated asymmetrically.
Much of the white tissue observable surrounding and interspersed within the bundles of muscles comprise connective tissue with an extracellular matrix itself containing tough fibers acting like rebar in concrete. Associated with vertebral column and its processes is cartilaginous tissue generally known as gristle.
Students of physics are trained to analyze matter and energy in static and dynamic situations by re-imagining complex systems as more simplified parts. Replacing complicated structures and relationship with simplified, equivalent systems enables mathematically rational interpretations. Here, for example, we can imagine an arrow of force upward through, as I called it before, Officer Chauvin’s combined “pillar” of support from his right leg and to some degree and intermittently, his arms as they may have planted on the ground, the vehicle or Mr. Floyd’s back. The other pillar of support for the mass of Officer Chauvin was his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck.
What made up this pillar of support constituted by Mr. Floyd’s neck? That support would have been provided by the extremely tough and significantly incompressible mass of connective tissue, bone and very tough muscular elements of Mr. Floyd’s posterior neck region. Chauvin’s knee, as documented by Dr. Baker the M.E., did not create evidence of extreme or damaging forces applied to the neck. Furthermore, the structures of the posterior region of the neck are perfectly able to perform as a pillar of support for the officer’s knee even if it were the full 90 pounds of force that Dr. Tobin posited.
Most importantly, note from Figure 1 that Officer Chauvin’s knee could not have compressed the anterior neck region of Mr. Floyd’s neck: it is a geometric impossibility given the protective capacity of the posterior region of the neck to act as a supporting pillar. The force of Officer Chauvin’s knee had no significant access to the delicate structures of the anterior neck because the structural integrity of the posterior neck acted as a pillar of support for the officer’s knee. There would have been no imaginable way for pressure form Officer Chauvin’s neck to have restricted or impeded either the flow of air through Mr. Floyd’s upper respiratory tract, nor could have the officer’s knee compromised the arterial flow to the brain via the carotid and vertebral arterial system supplying the Circle of Willis.
That the decedent’s head was turned to his right is not likely to have constricted his airway since the structure of the airway accommodates this maneuver without impediment to breathing as you can easily test for yourself.
I would not want a policeman’s knee on my neck in the position that Mr. Floyd was in. A knee on the neck—-that sounds bad. The mere words conjure up ideas of choking and strangulation. But naive and merely emotional response, and an avoidance of considering the material facts of this situation, is required to conclude that Mr. Floyd’s neck behaved physically like a children’s foam pool noodle under the pressure of Officer Chauvin’s knee. This just could not be so. The neck is not uniformly compressible in all directions. The knee applied to the neck as we witnessed in videos of the event could not have produced asphyxiation of George Floyd. This assessment is clearly contrary to the unsubstantiated (and I believe disgracefully sloppy) claims of Drs. Wilson and Baden.
The claim by pulmonologist, Dr. Tobin, as reported by Dr. Howsepian, that there was an 85% percent restriction of Mr. Floyd’s airway is also extremely dubious. Beyond my suspicion that this is mechanically incorrect as described above, if I had the opportunity to cross examine Dr. Tobin, I would have asked, additionally, how he came to that conclusion with an astounding and incredible resolution sufficient to distinguish between 85% and either 80% or 90%, suggesting a confidence with plus or minus 5%. I would have been impressed had Dr. Tobin been able to support a claim of restriction of the airway of a quarter, one half or three quarters, plus or minus a quarter. To me, Dr. Tobin’s assessment suffers from an exaggerated numerical accuracy—-possibly a yielding to the temptation to sound authoritative. My conclusion, however, coincides and is consistent with the initial one made by Dr. Baker, the Hennepin County M.E., that there was no evidence for traumatic asphyxia or strangulation. I suspect that this was, indeed, Dr. Baker’s better moment. (See Part 1, the companion article, for mention of a subsequent external factor influencing Dr. Baker’s, frankly speaking, tortured conclusion for homicide.)
There are genuine cases of police abuse, as we have witnessed especially in Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand during the extreme, tyrannical phases of the imposed COVID policies in those countries. These cases of abuse by police are duly disturbing and angering regardless of the ethnicity or race of the victims. I do not, however, see the case of Officer Chauvin subduing George Floyd as representing one of police abuse when it comes to this particular action of subdual.
[The case of Mr. Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee had not yet occurred at the time of writing of the above, unchanged, paragraph.]
I deeply regret that I am just getting this perspective before the public now. I am sure that Dr. Howsepian and I will further discussion concerning whether his suspicion of the presence of acromegaly alters any of my analyses or how it may impact other conclusion of the determination of guilt or sentencing.
Needless to say, I believe that the situation as I presented it to you irrefutably creates a condition where one cannot conclude beyond a reasonable doubt, that Officer Derek Chauvin caused the death of Mr. George Floyd. Without arguing the additional material, chemical and behavioral items in evidence (all of, which further support the same conclusion, in my estimation), the above analysis establishes Derek Chauvin’s innocence and demands his release and—by whatever means is permissible under the law—restitution for damages.
We as a nation, and even the peoples of other nations, suffered an unprecedented wave of death, violence and destruction along with political and social evils. There was massive malfeasance and malice on display and in force. I urge that these matters must be lawfully adjudicated.
Again, because this case involves a potentially innocent man’s life—Mr. Derek Chauvin—the evidence above clearly casts serious doubt, if not great confidence, that Mr. Chauvin did not kill Mr. Floyd. “THEREFORE, YOU MUST ACQUIT” should have prevailed at the time of trial. This reality must now be reflected in the current proceeding.
Please feel free to share on Twitter, Gab, Facebook, and other social media sites—as well as with your county sheriff’s, municipal and state police and law enforcement associations—and news outlets.
This is a critical set of videos from Twitter poster, @cigs_and_wigs.
For the purposes of addressing lay audiences, it is sometimes helpful to eliminate confusion concerning the somewhat odd term, ‘positive’. As found in laboratory work, certain philosophical discussions and in law—particularly regarding evidence—’positive’ has a variety of meanings, i.e., “in existence,” “overt,” “constructed,” “legislated and even possibly somewhat or wholly arbitrary,” “artifactual,” “not naturally inherent nor arising unaided,” or “not by means of absence.” In a potentially contentious discussion, it is important to point out that ‘positive’ does not imply valuation and, in particular, ‘positive’ does not necessarily imply a condition normally considered desirable, such as news of a positive lab test for gonorrhea is usually not received by a patient with glee.
‘Decedent’ is a term used preferentially in certain legal contexts. I chose to avoid the term, ‘victim’, which strongly connotes suffering a fate or death as the result of the voluntary or negligent action of another, others, or self. As a matter of form, agnostic avoidance of those implications will be employed except, perhaps, in concluding remarks and when explicitly signaled as an opinion so as to let the reader form their own opinions during the building of the hypothesis.
‘Anterior’ is an anatomical descriptor meaning toward the front of the human body or face (however the face is turned) and ‘dorsal’ means toward the back of the body. In humans, as opposed to, say, a fish—given the position of head with respect to the main body axis—it is the preferred practice to refer to the back of the head as ‘posterior’. As a matter of well-considered conjecture in the case of Mr. Floyd’s final position, the dorsal-to-anterior axis of the neck is shown with a slight, anterior-down direction since it seems unlikely that this axis would have been perfectly horizontal with the surface of the pavement.
Color Atlas of Anatomy: A Photographic Study of the Human Body, Third Edition. Johannes W. Rohen, Chihiro Yokochi and Lynn J. Romrell, New York/Tokyo: Igaku-Shoin. 1993. p. 179.
A fine slice of an object with internal structure, e.g. an orange, produces two halves whose faces are, for all intents and purposes, completely complementary mirror images. Thus, the photograph used in Figure 1 is reversed from right to left, however, the human neck is symmetrical in its structures in a fine slice when considered generally. Of course, a particular individual may have an injury, lesion or feature that is idiosyncratically asymmetrical. If there are normal differences in symmetry of the neck of which I am unaware, I would think it very difficult, if not impossible, for an expert anatomist, medical imaging specialist or head and neck surgeon to detect it in such an image as Figure 1.
Please see minute 18:55 of the following video revealing Attorney Neal Katyal making reference to the knee on Mr.Floyd’s neck and the misleading statement of “death at the hands of four police officers:”