Maryland will review about 100 autopsies of people who died in police custody involving physical restraint because of concerns about the state's former medical examiner's testimony in the death of George Floyd, the state’s attorney general said Wednesday.
A team of forensic pathologists and behavioral scientists narrowed down the scope of the in-depth review after looking at about 1,300 autopsies conducted during the tenure of Dr. David Fowler, who testified for the defense at the 2021 murder trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin.
After Chauvin's conviction in Floyd's killing, medical experts raised concerns about the work of the Office of Chief Medical Examiner in Maryland. Four-hundred such experts signed a letter to Attorney General Brian Frosh asserting that Fowler's testimony deviated from standard medical practice in assessing cause of death and classifying the manner of Floyd’s death as “undetermined” rather than “homicide.”
The letter called for an investigation to determine whether the office's in-custody death determinations under Fowler’s leadership exhibited racial or pro-law enforcement bias or failed to follow appropriate practices and protocols, Frosh's office said Wednesday in its announcement.
Fowler was Maryland's chief medical examiner from 2002 to 2019.
Fowler wrote in an email to The Washington Post that he has not read the panel’s recommendations, but “I look forward to doing so.” He told the newspaper he has offered his full cooperation in the audit.
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“As I have said since this effort was announced in May of 2021, I am proud of my seventeen years of service as Maryland’s Chief Medical Examiner, and I am confident that any fair review will confirm that the Office met or exceeded all applicable professional standards,” he said in an email.
Frosh announced in May 2021 that his office would conduct an independent audit. A team of seven then developed the shape, scope, and methodology of the audit, including the manner in which cases for review should be selected.
The team's report details key factors and questions to be addressed by the audit. They include whether the cases were adequately investigated and whether medical examiner's operations and investigative protocols were consistent with best practices. They also include what role restraint played in each death and whether the medical examiner's determinations were correct.
The report proposes conducting the audit in two phases. In the first phase, reviewers will be given access to case files and asked to give their own initial opinion about each case. In the second phase, the reviewers will meet to discuss each case and attempt to reach a consensus on key questions, such as the quality of the investigation and case workup by the medical examiner's office, and its conclusions regarding cause and manner of death.
The attorney general's office said it will recruit additional independent forensic pathologists and other experts to perform a detailed review of the medical examiner's files.