Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill on Wednesday dismissed two jurors who had been seated for the trial of a former Minneapolis police officer accused in George Floyd’s death over concerns they had been tainted by the city’s announcement of a $27 million settlement with Floyd’s family.
Cahill recalled seven jurors who were seated before the settlement was announced last week, on the request of former officer Derek Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson. Cahill questioned each about what they knew of the settlement and whether it would affect their ability to serve.
The dismissal of only two jurors suggested the impact of the settlement on the jury pool was less than feared, likely reducing the chance of Cahill granting a defense request to delay the trial. The judge has set March 29 for opening statements if jury selection is finished by then.
Cahill was careful to ask jurors if they had heard about the settlement without giving details, asking if they had been exposed to the “extensive media coverage about developments in a civil suit between the city of Minneapolis and the family of George Floyd.”
The first dismissed juror, a white man in his 30s, said he heard about the settlement. “I think it will be hard to be impartial,” he said.
“That sticker price obviously shocked me,” the second dismissed juror said. The Hispanic man in his 20s said he thought he could set the news aside, but wasn’t sure, and after a long pause, Cahill dismissed him.
Cahill retained five other jurors, including a Black man in his 30s who told Cahill he heard about the settlement on the radio Friday evening but could put it aside and decide the case only on evidence presented in the courtroom.
“It hasn’t affected me at all because I don’t know the details,” he said.
Nelson called the timing of the announcement in the middle of jury selection “profoundly disturbing” and “not fair.”
Eight jurors have been seated, including five men and three women. Four are white, one is multiracial and three are Black, and their ages range from 20s to 50s. Fourteen jurors, including two alternates, are needed.
One was chosen Wednesday, a Black man in his 40s who said he works in management and has lived in the Twin Cities area for about two decades after immigrating to America. He expressed neutral opinions on several topics, including his view of Chauvin, and said he could start with a presumption of innocence.
He said he trusts police, but when asked if it’s fair for a jury to evaluate the officer’s actions, he said yes. “I would say it’s another pair of eyes and a new mind just looking at the action,” he said.
Several were excused, including a man whose race was not disclosed who said he would tend to believe a police officer’s version of events over that of a citizen, and a Black man who expressed negative views about the Minneapolis Police Department.
He said Floyd was an example of another Black man “killed” or “murdered” by police. He said he used to live in the area near Floyd’s arrest and had seen Minneapolis police ride through the area and antagonize residents if someone had been shot or jailed.
A third potential juror, a man who said he is white and also lives in that area, was dismissed after he said he had watched video of Floyd’s and Chauvin’s interaction multiple times and that it would be difficult for him to presume Chauvin’s innocence.
Chauvin is charged with murder and manslaughter in the May 25 death of Floyd, a Black man who was declared dead after Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against his neck for about nine minutes. Floyd’s death, captured on bystander video, set off weeks of sometimes-violent protests across the country and led to a national reckoning on racial justice.
The judge said he will rule Friday on Nelson’s request to delay or move the trial and another to admit evidence of Floyd’s 2019 arrest in Minneapolis. Cahill previously rejected that request, but said he would reconsider after Nelson argued that new evidence makes it admissible: Drugs were found in December that year during a second search of the car Floyd was in, and were found in a January 2020 search of the squad car into which the four officers attempted to put Floyd.
During the first arrest, several opioid pills and cocaine were found. An autopsy showed Floyd had fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system when he died.
Prosecutor Matthew Frank argued that evidence from the 2019 arrest was prejudicial and an attempt to smear Floyd’s character.
Three other former officers face an August trial in Floyd’s death on charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter.
The judge opened court Wednesday by threatening to remove a media pool and shut down a media center over some reporting on the case. A visibly angry Cahill described a pool report that included a reporter’s attempts to read notepads at the defense and prosecution tables, and described security in the court where the trial is taking place.
Cahill said any media that have posted details about security should take them down or risk being kicked out of the media center. He did not name any reporters or media organizations.
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