Hennepin County Medical Examiner Andrew Baker, up for reappointment to his fifth term as the county coroner, faced a challenge Tuesday from a county commissioner unhappy over his recent autopsy of George Floyd.
Commissioner Angela Conley voted against Baker's reappointment because of his findings on Floyd, whose death May 25 at the hands of Minneapolis police has sparked an international outcry for police reform.
Commissioner Irene Fernando also voted against Baker's reappointment because the board was given a short deadline to act. Baker's reappointment would take effect Friday, which Fernando said didn't allow time to evaluate his office's performance and get feedback from residents.
County Administrator David Hough said the vote was delayed for three months due to the pandemic. The board, acting in committee, approved Baker's reappointment on a 5-2 vote and is expected to ratify the committee vote Thursday.
Baker's report ruled Floyd's death a homicide and mentioned police restraint and underlying health conditions as causes. But Conley took exception to the report's mention of "potential intoxicants in his system," which she said criminalized him even in death. Floyd's toxicology report showed that he had fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system when he died.
"Why would this be listed?" said Conley. "The community lost trust in the system. That report was ultimately the catalyst of an insufficient [third-degree] murder charge by the county and later upgraded to [second-degree] murder by the state."
An independent autopsy by Floyd's family also listed his death as a homicide but said he died as a result of mechanical asphyxiation caused by the police officer kneeling on Floyd's neck for more than eight minutes. Conley said that report proved "what millions of people around the world saw with their own eyes."
"Baker's report gave the very reason not to trust these processes that haven't brought justice in the past," she said. "With a good conscience, I can't approve this today."
Baker was first named the county's medical examiner in 2004. A former president of the National Association of Medical Examiners, he has been spearheading plans for a new medical examiner facility in Minnetonka.
Several commissioners agreed with Conley's concerns but said Baker has an excellent reputation. Commissioner Debbie Goettel said the county needs to revisit "how we do business" and how to improve its operations.
Board Chairwoman Marion Greene said one of the few things that County Attorney Mike Freeman and Chief Public Defender Mary Moriarity agree on is Baker's expertise.
Commissioner Jan Callison said she's worked with Baker for 12 years and said his list of credentials is impressive.
"In my experience, I find him professional, honest and trustworthy," she said.