The former head medical examiner who testified that police officer Derek Chauvin did not kill George Floyd will be having seventeen years worth of his in-custody death reports independently reviewed, officials have announced.
Dr. David Fowler testified that the primary cause of Floyd’s death was a sudden heart rhythm disturbance during police restraint due to underlying heart disease, contradicting several experts who said Floyd died due to a lack of oxygen.
He also said that Floyd´s drug use and exposure to carbon monoxide from the police car contributed to his death.
Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh made the review announcement Friday, a day after receiving a letter from former Washington DC medical examiner Roger A. Mitchell that was signed by 431 doctors from around the country.
The letter said Fowler’s testimony and conclusions were outside the bounds of accepted forensic practice and all of his previous work should be questioned, The Baltimore Sun reported.
Frosh agreed and said in a statement on Friday, April 23, 2021, ‘It is appropriate for independent experts to review reports issued by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) regarding deaths in custody.’
He said his office is already in talks with the governor’s office about how to coordinate the review.
It would call into question the validity of all in-custody death reports during Fowler’s tenure, which went from 2003 to 2020.
Fowler told The Baltimore Sun that he was not aware of any review but defended his office’s work and said he is not the only person responsible for autopsy conclusions.
‘There’s a large team of forensic pathologists, with layers of supervision, and those medical examiners always did tremendous work,’ Fowler told The Baltimore Sun.
Fowler was called to the stand by Chauvin’s defense team and testified that Floyd died of a sudden heart rhythm problem due to his heart disease.
‘The cause of death statement of any individual should be injury, disease, or combination thereof, reached to a reliable degree of medical certainty,’ Mitchell wrote in the letter.
‘Dr. Fowler’s stated opinion that George Floyd’s death during active police restraint should be certified with an ‘undetermined’ manner is outside the standard practice and conventions for investigating and certification of in-custody deaths,’ Mitchell said. ‘This stated opinion raises significant concerns for his previous practice and management.’
Raquel Coombs, a spokeswoman for Frosh, said in a statement that the review of death determinations will not involve any state officials or staff connected to a lawsuit filed by the family of Anton Black, a 19-year-old who died in police custody in Greensboro in 2018.
Black’s death was captured on video, which showed Greensboro police holding the unarmed teenager down for more than six minutes. Fowler ruled that Black died because of a sudden cardiac event while struggling with police, and not because they pinned him in a prone position.
The attorney general´s office is defending the state in the lawsuit brought by Black´s family against Fowler, the state, and others. They have asked for the Black case to be thrown out.
‘We have taken steps to wall off those in our office who are representing the (Office of the Chief Medical Examiner) and its current and former employees, including Dr. Fowler, from those who might be involved in any review of (the examiner´s) reports,’ Coombs wrote.
Included in the time period to be reviewed is the death of Tyrone West, who died after struggling with Baltimore police following a traffic stop in 2013. Witnesses and the officers themselves said there was a violent struggle between the officers and West, but the state medical examiner´s office ruled that he died from natural causes exacerbated by the struggle and the summer heat.
West´s sister, Tawanda Jones, has been fighting for eight years to get her brother´s case re-opened. She said word of the review was ‘the best news I´ve gotten all day.’
One of Fowler´s office´s best-known rulings came in the death of Freddie Gray, who they determined died from injuries suffered in the back of a police van. The autopsy concluded that officers´ failure to take care of him and seek medical attention made his death a homicide, and prompted State´s Attorney Marilyn Mosby to swiftly file charges against six officers. All were either acquitted or had their charges dropped.
Brian Peterson, a chief medical examiner for Milwaukee County, said he and Fowler have been friends for years and served together on committees. Peterson told The Washington Post he finds the investigation into Fowler´s time as chief medical examiner unnecessary and called Fowler an ‘excellent, experienced forensic pathologist.’