MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – As George Floyd repeatedly repeated “I can’t breathe” to police officers holding him in a corner of Minneapolis, some of the officers responded by saying he could speak. One told Floyd that “a lot of oxygen” is needed to speak, while another told angry viewers that Floyd was “speaking so he can breathe.”
That reaction, seen in police immobilization deaths across the country, is dangerously wrong, medical experts say. While it would be correct to believe that a person who cannot speak cannot breathe, the opposite is not true: talking does not imply that someone is getting enough air to survive.
“The ability to speak does not mean the patient is not in danger,” said Dr. Mariell Jessup, scientific and medical director for the American Heart Association.
“To speak, you just have to move air through the upper airways and vocal cords, a very small amount,” and that doesn’t mean there is enough air in the lungs, where it can supply oxygen to the rest of the body. said Dr. Gary Weissman, a lung specialist at the University of Pennsylvania.
The false perception that someone who can speak can also get enough air is not part of any known police training curriculum or practice, according to experts in police training and use of force.
“I don’t know of any standard police officer training that lets them know: ‘Hey, if someone can still speak, they don’t have trouble breathing, so you can keep doing what you’re doing,'” Craig said. Futterman, professor at the University of Chicago School of Law and expert in the use of force.
Floyd, a black man who was handcuffed, died on May 25 after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck for almost 8 minutes, keeping Floyd immobilized even after he stopped moving. . In the moments before his death, Floyd told police that he could not breathe more than 20 times.
A transcript of one of the two police body camera videos released Wednesday shows that at one point after Floyd said he couldn’t breathe and that he was being killed, Chauvin said: “Then stop talking, stop screaming. You need a lot of oxygen to speak. “
The widely viewed video of the viewers shows Tou Thao, the officer handling the people who had gathered, told the concerned crowd, “He’s talking, so he can breathe.”
The medical community disagrees.
In a recent article in the medical journal Annals of Internal Medicine, Weissman and others wrote that when air is inhaled, it first fills the upper airways, trachea, and bronchi, where speech is generated. The article says that this “anatomical dead space” represents about a third of the volume of ordinary respiration, and only the air that leaves this space goes to the alveoli in the lungs for gas exchange, which is when oxygen is sent to the bloodstream and carbon dioxide is removed as waste.
The volume of an ordinary breath is about 400 to 600 ml, but normal speech requires about 50 ml of gas per syllable, so saying the words “I can’t breathe” would require 150 ml of gas, the authors wrote.
A person can pronounce words by exhaling alone, using the spare reserve after exhaling normal breath. But, the article says, “Adequate gas exchange to sustain life requires inhalation. … Waiting until a person loses the ability to speak may be too late to avoid catastrophic cardiopulmonary collapse.”
Minneapolis police spokesman John Elder said there is nothing in the current training to indicate to officers that a person who can speak while restrained can breathe. He said that training on the topic of speaking and the ability to breathe arises only when discussing whether someone can speak or cough while choking on a foreign object, and even then, the person’s condition needs to be reevaluated. Chief Medaria Arradondo also said that the restriction used by Chauvin was not taught by her department.
But the misperception that a speaking person can breathe has also arisen in other high-profile deaths in custody.
Craig McKinnis died in May 2014 in Kansas City, Kansas, after police grabbed him during a traffic stop. According to a federal lawsuit, McKinnis’s girlfriend said that after McKinnis cried, “I can’t breathe,” one of the officers said, “If you can speak, you can breathe.”
Eric Garner yelled “I can’t breathe” 11 times on a street in Staten Island, New York, in July 2014 after he was arrested for selling loose and tax-free cigarettes. The video recorded by a viewer showed officers and paramedics circling without any apparent urgency as Garner lay on the street, slowly limping.
Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who performed the strangulation, was fired. Pantaleo’s advocates have included Rep. Peter King, a Republican from New York, who said at the time that the police were right to ignore Garner’s pleas that he couldn’t breathe.
“The fact that he was able to say it meant he could breathe,” said King, the son of a police officer.
“And if you’ve ever seen someone locked up, someone who resists arrest, he’s always saying, ‘You’re breaking my arm, you’re killing me, you’re breaking my neck.’ So if the cops had calmed down or they would have let go at that stage, the whole fight would have started again.
Futterman said best practices offer police training on positional asphyxiation and teach officers to put a person aside for recovery, if necessary. And, he said, throttles or other restrictions that restrict oxygen are considered deadly force, and can only be used as a last resort to prevent the imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm.
He said that just because a person is fighting does not give an officer the right to use deadly force.
According to a transcript of his interview with state investigators, Thomas Lane, the officer who was on Floyd’s legs, said he had had past experiences where someone with an overdose would pass out and then become more aggressive. He told investigators he asked if Floyd should be sideways, and after Chauvin said they would remain in position, he thought it made sense since an ambulance was on the way. Lane said he saw Floyd and believed he was still breathing.
Randy Shrewberry, executive director of the Institute for Criminal Justice Training Reform, said officers are supposed to ease any restrictions once a person is under control.
“The moment they are under control, or the moment you have someone restricted, that’s when it all stops,” said Shrewberry.