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In an August deposition in a workplace discrimination lawsuit, Hennepin County prosecutor Amy Sweasy Tamburino claimed that Hennepin County’s medical examiner told her in 2020, prior to releasing his findings, that he found no evidence of asphyxia or strangulation during George Floyd’s autopsy.
The medical examiner’s final autopsy report concluded that Floyd’s death was a homicide caused by "cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression," not a fentanyl overdose.
Sweasy’s deposition transcript revealed no new information that would prove Floyd died of a fentanyl overdose.
Floyd, 46, died in Minneapolis in May 2020 after a white police officer pinned his knee against Floyd’s neck for several minutes. Floyd was Black; his death became a flashpoint in the national discussion over police brutality and inspired widespread racial justice demonstrations. The officer was convicted of second-degree murder.
But now an Oct. 27 Instagram video falsely claims that a former Hennepin County, Minnesota, prosecutor’s August deposition in an unrelated case shows Floyd didn’t die from a homicide.
"So, it actually turns out, … that (officer) Derek Chauvin didn’t kill George Floyd," the man in the video said. "It was either China or Mexico, because new court documents reveal that George Floyd died of a fentanyl overdose and not from asphyxiation or strangulation."
The man in the video cited a 2022 lawsuit filed by Amy Sweasy Tamburino, who goes by Sweasy professionally. The case accuses Hennepin County of violating settlement terms in a prior retaliation and discrimination case.
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(Screenshot from Instagram.)
This claim is unsubstantiated. Fentanyl was found in Floyd’s system, but two autopsies concluded that Floyd died by homicide, not a fentanyl overdose.
At Chauvin’s trial in April 2021, Hennepin County Medical Examiner Dr. Andrew Baker testified that Floyd’s other conditions, including heart disease and drug use, were "contributing causes," but "not direct causes" of Floyd’s death.
"I would still classify it as a homicide today," he said.
The video clip is a truncated segment of an Oct. 24 episode of the "PBD Podcast," which features actor and comedian Vincent Oshana.
In the episode, Oshana referred to a portion of Sweasy’s Aug. 21 deposition related to her November 2022 discrimination lawsuit.
"During her deposition, she discussed a conversation she had after George Floyd’s death when the Hennepin County Medical Examiner Dr. Andrew Baker spoke about the autopsy," Oshana said in the episode, before he appeared to read a few quotes and paraphrased statements from the deposition.
Using Minnesota Court Records Online, PolitiFact found the 313-page rough-draft transcript of Sweasy’s deposition and the parts of Sweasy’s testimony that Oshana referred to. That transcript includes neither the words "fentanyl" nor "overdose."
Sweasy said in her deposition that she called Baker on the Tuesday after Memorial Day — which would have been May 26, 2020, the day after George Floyd was killed — "to ask him if he would perform the autopsy on Mr. Floyd."
Baker did the autopsy, Sweasy said, and then called her later that Tuesday. This was Sweasy’s recollection of the conversation, according to the deposition transcript:
"He told me that there were no medical findings that showed any injury to the vital structures of Mr. Floyd’s neck. There were no medical indications of asphyxia or strangulation.
"He said to me, ‘Amy, what happens when the actual evidence doesn't match up with the public narrative that everyone's already decided on?’ And then he said, ‘This is the kind of case that ends careers.’"
The Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s preliminary findings, which were cited in the criminal complaint charging Chauvin, echoed the language Sweasy recounted, but did not conclude that Floyd died of an overdose.
"The autopsy revealed no physical findings that support a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation," read the complaint, which said the full autopsy report was pending. "Mr. Floyd had underlying health conditions including coronary artery disease and hypertensive heart disease. The combined efforts of Mr. Floyd being restrained by the police, his underlying health conditions and any potential intoxicants in his system likely contributed to his death."
Carolyn Marinan, a Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office spokesperson, said Baker "cannot comment on statements made by other people in their depositions. He stands by the autopsy report and his televised testimony, both of which are publicly available," she said.
Baker’s June 2020 autopsy report said Floyd’s death was a homicide, but cited a different cause: "cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression."
Floyd "experienced a cardiopulmonary arrest while being restrained by law enforcement officer(s)," the report said. It listed arteriosclerotic and hypertensive heart disease, fentanyl intoxication and recent methamphetamine use as "other significant conditions" in the autopsy findings.
Baker testified during Chauvin’s April 2021 trial that his opinion of what caused Floyd’s death "remains unchanged."
One court exhibit included notes about a conversation in which Baker told prosecutors that the fentanyl found in Floyd’s system was higher than what would be expected for a chronic pain patient.
"If he were found dead at home alone and no other apparent causes, this could be acceptable to call an OD," the exhibit read. Then, according to the notes, Baker said: "I am not saying this killed him."
Baker repeated this during Chauvin’s trial: "Had Mr. Floyd been home, alone in his locked residence with no evidence of trauma, and the only autopsy finding was that fentanyl level, then yes I would certify his death as due to fentanyl toxicity."
But "interpretation of drug concentrations is very context dependent," Baker said, before reiterating that he ruled the death a homicide.
An Instagram video claimed that "new court documents reveal that George Floyd died of a fentanyl overdose."
Fentanyl was found in Floyd’s system, but two autopsy reports found that Floyd’s death was a homicide, not a fentanyl overdose. A deposition transcript revealed no new information that would prove Floyd died of a fentanyl overdose.
We rate this claim False.
PolitiFact Researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.
Instagram post, Oct. 27, 2023
Minnesota Judicial Branch, Case No. 27-CV-22-16364, Videotaped deposition of Amy Sweasy Tamburino, August 21, 2023
Emailed statement from Carolyn Marinan, a spokesperson for the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office, Nov. 1, 2023
Email exchange with Sonia Miller-Van Oort, Amy Sweasy Tamburino’s attorney, Nov. 3, 2023
PolitiFact, No, autopsy doesn’t say George Floyd died of overdose, March 30, 2021
PolitiFact, Two autopsies found George Floyd’s death was a homicide, Sept. 25, 2020
Alpha News, Court docs reveal ‘extreme’ public pressure on prosecutors in George Floyd case, Oct. 17, 2023
YouTube, Home Team | PBD Podcast | Ep. 318, Oct. 24, 2023
C-SPAN, Derek Chauvin Trial for the Death of George Floyd, Day 10, April 9, 2021
C-SPAN, User Clip: Andrew Baker Testimony, April 9, 2021
Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office, Autopsy Report: ME No. 20-3700, May 26, 2023
Newsweek, Fact Check: Tucker Carlson Says New Evidence Clears Derek Chauvin of Murder, Oct. 25, 2023
Minnesota Judicial Branch, Exhibit A - State of Minnesota v. Derek Michael Chauvin, You Thao, J. Alexander Keung, Thomas Kiernan Lane, June 1, 2020
The Associated Press, Medical examiner: No pressure on Floyd autopsy report, Feb. 1, 2022
Axios, Autopsies say George Floyd's death was homicide, June 1, 2020
The Guardian, George Floyd: medical examiner says death was a homicide, June 1, 2020
The Associated Press, Medical examiner: Floyd’s heart stopped while restrained, June 1, 2020
PolitiFact, The death of George Floyd: What you need to know, May 29, 2020
The Associated Press, Experts: George Floyd died from knee to neck, not drug overdose, Oct. 21, 2022
The Associated Press, Expert: Lack of oxygen killed George Floyd, not drugs, April 8, 2021
The Associated Press, Expert: Chauvin never took knee off Floyd’s neck area, April 7, 2021
MPR News, Hennepin County pays $190k to settle top prosecutor's discrimination claim, May 19, 2022
KSTP, Months after settlement, Hennepin County Attorney accused of retaliation again, Nov. 3, 2022
Star Tribune, Prosecutor sues Hennepin County, Mike Freeman for violating terms of $190K discrimination settlement, Nov. 4, 2022
Star Tribune, Read the complaint charging ex-Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd, May 30, 2020
NBC News, Medical examiner who ruled George Floyd's death a homicide blames police pressure for his death, April 9, 2021
ABC News, Independent autopsy finds George Floyd died of homicide by asphyxia, June 1, 2023
CBS News, Two autopsies both find George Floyd died by homicide, but differ on some key details, June 4, 2020
YouTube, Press Conference Sharing the Independent Autopsy Results in Death of George Floyd, June 2, 2020
The New York Times, How Did George Floyd Die? Here’s What We Know, June 2, 2020
NPR, Derek Chauvin Is Sentenced To 22 1/2 Years For George Floyd's Murder, June 25, 2021
NPR, Derek Chauvin Found Guilty Of George Floyd's Murder, April 20, 2021
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