Nichols likely died of internal injuries from blunt force trauma, medical experts told CNN on Friday after viewing the newly released video of the traffic stop arrest.
Body camera footage included moments when the attack could damage many organs — including the liver, lungs or brain — and damage to any of them could be fatal, they said.
Nichols died three days after being confronted by police at the hospital.
Dr. Kendall Von Crowns, chief medical examiner in Tarrant County, Texas, noted that Nichols’ slender frame meant his organs were “a few millimeters below the surface of his skin” without too much pressure. Extra padding or other protection to keep the body from being attacked.
“When these balls came in, they hit the right side of his body,” he said, “so, you know, your liver is on that side. So his liver was vulnerable to an almost direct hit, which It could have caused his liver to tear or rupture which in turn could have caused intra-abdominal bleeding. These could also have fractured his ribs on the right side which could then have been displaced by the ensuing kick and caused his lung to tear or tear, This in turn caused bleeding in his chest cavity.”
Internal bleeding can limit the amount of blood and oxygen reaching the brain, which can lead to brain death before a person dies, he said.
Dr. Victor Weedn, a forensic pathologist at George Washington University, said it’s not common for people to die from external blood loss after a beating.
In particular, he pointed out that the officers were using batons, which resulted in more “focused” and powerful blows compared to fists.
“Head trauma can lead to death from brain swelling and bleeding,” Weedn said. “When the brain swells, it creates pressure and it collapses the veins. When your veins collapse, you don’t have circulation and you die.”
CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta told CNN’s Erin Burnett, “The brain is the organ in the body that doesn’t have any room to expand because it’s enclosed by the skull.”
“As a result, someone may slowly and increasingly slip into a coma, which appears to be what is happening with Mr Nichols,” he said.
Internal bleeding can quickly be fatal.
Paramedics aren’t particularly equipped to help patients with internal injuries like this, Von Crowns said. The point is to get him to the hospital for emergency surgery or a blood transfusion as quickly as possible.
“We’re talking minutes,” he said. “He really needs medical attention right away.”
Medical assistance arrived minutes later as Nichols was propped up next to a car with his hands cuffed behind his back, the video showed.
“There was a lot of wasted time there, which was very important because somebody was basically very sick, lying on the ground in handcuffs, and nobody was looking after him,” Gupta said.