Why Derek Chauvin May Get Off His Murder Charge

A deeper look at the policies behind the death of George Floyd

Pictured: Derek Chauvin (left) and George Floyd
  1. The Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) allows the use of neck restraint on suspects who actively resist arrest, and George Floyd actively resisted arrest on two occasions, including immediately prior to neck restraint being used.
  2. The officers were recorded on their body cams assessing George Floyd as suffering from “excited delirium syndrome” (ExDS), a condition which the MPD considers an extreme threat to both the officers and the suspect. A white paper used by the MPD acknowledges that ExDS suspects may die irrespective of force involved. The officers’ response to this situation was in line with MPD guidelines for ExDS.
  3. Restraining the suspect on his or her abdomen (prone restraint) is a common tactic in ExDS situations, and the white paper used by the MPD instructs the officers to control the suspect until paramedics arrive.
  4. Floyd’s autopsy revealed a potentially lethal concoction of drugs — not just a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl, but also methamphetamine. Together with his history of drug abuse and two serious heart conditions, Floyd’s condition was exceptionally and unusually fragile.
  5. Chauvin’s neck restraint is unlikely to have exerted a dangerous amount of force to Floyd’s neck. Floyd is shown on video able to lift his head and neck, and a robust study on double-knee restraints showed a median force exertion of approximately approximately 105lbs.

“Trying this case will not be an easy thing. Winning a conviction will be hard,” Ellison said.

There is still much to the case that remains unknown. As new information emerges, we should adjust our view accordingly. But a close inspection of all current information does not point to a murder charge being appropriate.

1. George Floyd’s symptoms started well before being restrained to the ground

From the original government complaint, we know that he was falling to the ground and claiming he couldn’t breathe while still standing up.

2. The Minneapolis Police Department policy authorizes neck restraint for actively resisting suspects

The Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) recognizes two types of resistance to arrest. There is active resistance, defined as follows:

3. The officers reasonably determined that George Floyd was suffering from Excited Delirium

In 2018, the MPD published a report on the use of ketamine in excited delirium. Attached to this report is an authoritative document on excited delirium entitled “White Paper Report on Excited Delirium”. A white paper is an authoritative report. The MPD attached this white paper because it was considered by the MPD the most authoritative document on excited delirium syndrome (ExDS).

  • Police Noncompliance [Y]
  • Lack of Tiring [Y]
  • Unusual Strength [?]
  • Pain Tolerance [?]
  • Tachypnea [?]
  • Tactile Hyperthermia [?]
  • Bizarre behavior generating calls to police [Y]
  • Suspected or known psychostimulant drug or alcohol intoxication [Y]
  • Erratic or violent behavior [?]
  • Ongoing struggle despite futility [Y]
  • Yelling/shouting/guttural sounds [?]
  • Agitation [Y]
  • Inappropriately Clothed [N]
  • Mirror/Glass Attraction [?]
  • Suspected or known psychiatric illness [N]
  • Failure to recognize or respond to police presence at the scene [likely N]

Given the irrational and potentially violent, dangerous, and lethal behavior of an ExDS subject, any LEO interaction with a person in this situation risks significant injury or death to either the LEO or the ExDS subject who has a potentially lethal medical syndrome. This already challenging situation has the potential for intense public scrutiny coupled with the expectation of a perfect outcome. Anything less creates a situation of potential public outrage. Unfortunately, this dangerous medical situation makes perfect outcomes difficult in many circumstances.”

  • “LEOs must also be aware that remorse, normal fear and understanding of surroundings, and rational thoughts for safety are absent in such subjects.”
  • “ExDS subjects are known to be irrational, often violent and relatively impervious to pain. Unfortunately, almost everything taught to LEOs about control of subjects relies on a suspect to either be rational, appropriate, or to comply with painful stimuli. Tools and tactics available to LEOs (such as pepper spray, impact batons, joint lock maneuvers, punches and kicks, and ECD’s, especially when used for pain compliance) that are traditionally effective in controlling resisting subjects, are likely to be less effective on ExDS subjects.”
  • “The goals of LEOs in these situations should be to 1) recognize possible ExDS, contain the subject, and call for EMS; 2) take the subject into custody quickly, safely, and efficiently if necessary; and 3) then immediately turn the care of the subject over to EMS personnel when they arrive for treatment and transport to definitive medical care.”
  • “In those cases where a death occurs while in custody, there is the additional difficulty of separating any potential contribution of control measures from the underlying pathology. For example, was death due to the police control tool, or to positional asphyxia, or from ExDS, or from interplay of all these factors? Even in the situation where all caregivers agree that a patient is in an active delirious state, there is no proof of the most safe and effective control measure or therapy for what is most likely an extremely agitated patient.”
  • “There are well-documented cases of ExDS deaths with minimal restraint such as handcuffs without ECD use. This underscores that this is a potentially fatal syndrome in and of itself, sometimes reversible when expert medical treatment is immediately available”.

4. Neck restraint is common in ExDS, and ExDS suspects have died in all types of restraint

As noted earlier, the government complaint against Chauvin states that the officers suspected excited delirium:

Informational Asymmetry: what the police and EMTs know, and what the public knows

It’s important to understand that the public — including journalists — are not well-versed in ExDS, and consequently do not have a good intuition as to what constitutes excessive force. As noted in the white paper, “there is no proof of the most safe and effective control measure,” “any LEO interaction with a person in this situation risks significant injury or death”, “this already challenging situation has the potential for intense public scrutiny coupled with the expectation of a perfect outcome […] Unfortunately, this dangerous medical situation makes perfect outcomes difficult […].” It would helpful here to examine ExDS in depth, and compare it to the George Floyd case.

4.1 ExDS Encounters Explored

Willard Truckenmiller

Willard Truckenmiler was a sheriff’s deputy. While celebrating his birthday, he began to display “agitated and unusual behavior”. When officers arrived on the scene — many of them his colleagues— he did not recognize them and assumed a fighting stance. The responding officers suspected ExDS. The officers “handcuffed him and forced him to into a seated position on the ground”, and EMS personnel gave him ketamine. Moments later he experienced trouble breathing and went into cardiac arrest. He died two days later.

Roy Scott

Roy Scott was 65 years old. Police were called to his residence. After coming outside with a pipe in his hand and pulling a knife out of his pocket, police decided to pat him down. The police handcuffed him and began patting him down when he began experiencing extreme emotional distress. The police tried to deescalate verbally, which did not work. They then tried keeping the suspect on his back, which did not work. They momentarily placed him in the prone position, and even engaged in neck restraint for less than a minute. The police are calm the entire time — one officer tells the other officer to “just keep holding him, he’s going to keep rolling around, he’s going to hurt himself”. The police eventually place him on his side in the recovery position, which is a candidate for the safest restraint position in ExDS encounters. They hold his head with their palms so that he doesn’t bang it on the ground.

More Cases of Note

  • It takes four officers to restrain this man experiencing ExDS in prone restraint until the EMT arrives (likely with ketamine).
  • In this case from 2011, the officers used a taser and knee-to-back prone-restraint.
  • In this more recent video, it takes six officers, a taser, and multiple batons to restrain the suspect. Even with six officers restraining him, he is still able to get halfway up. At 6:14 in the video, a Black police officer kicks the suspect near the head and then applies force near the suspect’s neck — this is appropriate use of force, even though it appears unnecessary, because the suspect was an extreme threat. This particular ExDS suspect was able to cause facial injuries to the officers despite being overpowered 6-to-1. As the white paper notes, ExDS suspects often “show signs of unexpected strength”.

A Parallel Case: Donald Lewis

A case of note in a scientific journal

An article, “Delayed In-Custody Death involving Excited Delirium”, proves that ExDS deaths can occur without any restraint or even drug stimulant.

4.2 What do EMS personnel think about ExDS?

It may be of interest to see what EMS personnel on the ground think about ExDS. Using archives of comments on the popular forum Reddit, we can get a halfway decent gauge of how professionals dealing with ExDS feel about the condition. One user, more than a year before the George Floyd incident, asked the following: “ What is your excited delirium story? What tactics would you recommend for handling such individuals?”:

EMS personnel answer, “What is your excited delirium story? What tactics would you recommend for handling such individuals?

5. George Floyd had a potentially lethal amount of fentanyl in his system, a history of drug abuse, and two serious heart conditions — resulting in an unusually fragile condition

George Floyd’s autopsy sheds light on his state of cardiovascular health. He was found to have arteriosclerotic heart disease and hypertensive heart disease. Additionally, he was found to have the following drugs in his system:

  • Norfentanyl 5.6 ng/mL 3. 4-ANPP 0.65 ng/mL 4.
  • Methamphetamine 19 ng/mL

6. There is reason to believe Chauvin’s knee-to-neck restraint did not exert a dangerous amount of force

From the footage we have of Floyd’s arrest, we see at 2:11 Floyd is able to lift his head and neck despite the placement of Chauvin’s knee. This occurs exactly at 2:11 through 2:12, and only for a moment. Yet this act would be impossible were Chauvin exerting a dangerous amount of pressure with his knee.

A Minneapolis-based Study

This study conducted at the Minneapolis-based University of Minnesota. The officers were recruited from the Minneapolis police department. The study was conducted last year.

  • “When a cause of death cannot otherwise be determined, positional asphyxia is often suggested […] Proponents of this theory often hypothesize that subjects restrained prone, with applied downward weight force, hobbled, or in maximal restraint (restrained on their stomach with hands and wrists secured to the handcuffs) were unable to breathe because the position caused chest wall and abdominal restriction that prevented adequate expansion of the lungs. Subsequent rigorous scientific studies, however, using sophisticated measurements have debunked the positional or restraint asphyxia hypothesis because the prone position does not produce respiratory compromise.”
  • “To date, none of the published human clinical studies, or epidemiological studies, support the hypothesis that the pronerestraint position causes or contributes to ventilatory compromise”
  • “DiMaio and DiMaio observed that acceptance of the concept of positional asphyxia as the cause of death in restraint associated deaths often involves the suspension of common sense and logical thinking. Further, other researchers have commented that positional asphyxia is an interesting theory unsupported by the experimental data. Nor are significant changes in cardiovascular measures found.”

A note on the analysis made by the New York Times

The NYT published a “play by play” analysis on YouTube, analyzing how George Floyd died. They omit important information in their analysis.

  • The NYT mentions complaints made against the officers. However, the NYT does not mention that only one of these complaints was found to have merit against Chauvin, when he asked a woman who was speeding 10 MPH over the limit to step out of her car. The NYT omits the average number of complaints against officers, which is approximately one every 3 years. The NYT also omits that Chauvin obtained two medals of valor, which was ironically reported by the NYT elsewhere.
  • The NYT says “we don’t know why” they pulled Floyd out of the car. This is misleading, as we know they were unable to keep him detained in the squad car.
  • The NYT omitted that Floyd was able to lift up his head and neck.
  • The NYT omitted — completely — that the officers believed he was suffering from ExDS. (This is not a joke. The NYT omitted the linchpin of the case.)
  • The NYT ignores his history of drug use, his two heart conditions, as well as the fentanyl found in his system.

Writer, researcher. Lover of nuance. Shoot me an email. GavriloDavid@gmail.com

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