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Forensic Magzine September 22, 2021: Maryland Chooses Experts for Post-Floyd OCME Audit

In April, David Fowler, Maryland’s chief medical examiner from 2002 to 2019, testified that former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was not responsible for George Floyd’s death. He testified that the primary cause of Floyd’s death was a sudden heart rhythm disturbance during police restraint due to underlying heart disease—not a lack of oxygen.

That testimony caught the attention of Roger Mitchell, Washington D.C.’s former chief medical examiner. Just a couple weeks later, Mitchell and 431 doctors from around the country sent a letter to Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh outlining concerns with Fowler’s conclusions and, subsequently, his previous casework.

“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. This stated opinion raises significant concerns for his previous practice and management,” the letter stated.

Frosh agreed, and now, five months later, the attorney general has announced the 7-member design team that will develop the process for reviewing in-custody death determinations made by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) during Fowler’s tenure.

The team will shape the scope and methodology of the audit, including the manner in which cases for review will be selected.

While the selection criteria are unknown at the moment, looking at just the time period of Fowler’s work, the death of Tyrone West could be a case included for review. In 2013, West, a 44-year-old Black male, died after running from Baltimore police during a traffic stop. Witnesses and police officers say there was a violent struggle but accounts vary. During the autopsy, Fowler determined that West died of cardiac arrhythmia when his heart suddenly stopped beating, exacerbated by dehydration, a heart condition, and excessively high temperatures. The medical examiner said neither asphyxia nor trauma from the fight contributed to West’s death. more

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