Whatever compensation Dr. David Fowler received for his incredible testimony in defense of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd, it can’t possibly make up for the loss of his credibility and the respect of peers.
The whole world was watching, it seems, when Maryland’s former chief medical examiner testified that nine-plus minutes of Chauvin’s knee on Floyd’s neck, as he lay gasping for air by a police vehicle, did not cause his death.
Fowler even suggested, without evidence, that carbon monoxide fumes from the vehicle could have been a factor. And then there was Floyd’s heart condition, he said, and Floyd’s use of drugs.
Everything but the bad cop’s knee.
The jury was not impressed, however, and convicted Chauvin of murder.
But that’s not the end of the story for Fowler. He’s been harshly and publicly criticized, and his weary visage could become the face of the incredible shrinking expert, the hired gun who fires a blank.
More than 500 medical and public health professionals from around the country signed a letter calling for Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh to review Fowler’s findings related to any in-custody deaths that occurred during his tenure, from 2002 to 2019.
Dr. Roger Mitchell, former medical examiner for the District of Columbia and now chair of the Department of Pathology at Howard University, wrote the letter. He called Fowler’s testimony “disingenuous” and his conclusion that the cause of Floyd’s death should have been listed as “undetermined” outside the accepted standards of his profession.
“Our disagreement with Dr. Fowler is not a matter of opinion,” the letter said. “Our disagreement with Dr. Fowler is a matter of ethics. … If forensic pathologists can offer such baseless opinions without penalty, then the entire criminal justice system is at risk.”
As of Friday, 533 medical and public health practitioners from various disciplines, the majority of them physicians, had signed his letter, Mitchell told me.
“Currently,” the letter noted, “there is no oversight [or] path for formal professional reprimand, or accountability for giving expert forensic medical testimony that falls outside the reasonable standard of medical certainty.”
But now Fowler’s record in Maryland will be examined by Frosh’s office, his spokeswoman, Raquel Coombs, confirmed.
Plus, Fowler faces a lawsuit over his questionable conclusions in the death of 19-year-old Anton Black in 2018. That case has similarities to the death of George Floyd.
Black died in police custody in Greensboro, Caroline County, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. After an officer chased Black and tased him, three officers and a civilian pinned Black to the ground for six minutes. He quickly became unresponsive.
Fowler ruled that Black suffered “sudden cardiac death.” The autopsy also cited Black’s mental condition as a factor, something Black’s family vehemently denied.
“The medical examiner blamed Anton for his own death, peppering its report with false claims about laced drugs, a heart condition and even Anton’s bipolar disorder — instead of the police who killed him,” said Sonia Kumar, senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland.
When contacted for a comment by The Sun, Fowler defended his work and noted that “a large team of forensic pathologists with layers of supervision” conducted autopsies and reached conclusions.
But, of course, as chief ME, Fowler would have been the ultimate supervisor, particularly in cases involving police.
Though he seemed cool about the attorney general’s review — “People need to do what they need to do,” he said — it’s hard to imagine this was the retirement Fowler had in mind after a long career in a field in which he thrived.
Fowler first came to work in the medical examiner’s office in 1994 and worked his way through the ranks.
He served on several professional boards, once as president of the National Association of Medical Examiners.
Over the years, Fowler presented numerous reports on all kinds of morbid issues, from homicides to fatal dog maulings to crib deaths and even deaths by mulch machinery. Here, to give you a sense of his work, is the title of Fowler’s 2010 presentation to the National Academy of Forensic Sciences: “Fatal caffeine intoxication: A Series of Eight Cases, 1999-2009.”
More recently, Fowler contributed to a report on another controversial police custody death, that of Keeven Robinson in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. In that case, from 2018, Fowler was part of a review team from The Forensics Panel, a New York-based practice that provides attorneys with paid experts in pathology, psychology, neuropsychology, medicine, neuroradiology and toxicology.
In the Chauvin case, Fowler’s findings were reviewed by other experts from The Forensics Panel. I got that from the New York psychiatrist who runs the practice, Dr. Michael Welner.
Welner said Fowler was recommended to him some years ago and vetted as a “preeminent forensic pathologist.” Fowler’s work since then, he said, has been “exemplary — ethical, sober, intellectually curious, honest, fair-minded.”
Welner said the Chauvin defense team recruited Fowler to testify. “Unlike other witnesses, he did not approach them,” Welner said. “He agreed to take on the case only if he undertook his work as a collaboration within The Forensic Panel and its rigorous oversight.”
Fourteen physicians and forensic scientists reviewed Fowler’s report on Floyd’s death, Welner said, adding that “the medical opinion expressed in that report is definitive where it can be, accounting for different possibilities when it cannot be.”
Fowler’s conclusions, he said, “reflected fidelity to the medical, crime scene and scientific evidence.”
And then Welner added this: “The report will be appreciated all the more over time for the validity of its findings.”
I’m no expert, doc, but that seems highly unlikely.