MINNEAPOLIS — The judge in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with murder in the death of George Floyd while being arrested, said on Monday, March 15, he was concerned publicity about the city's $27 million settlement with Floyd's family could taint the jury pool.
Calling the timing of the Friday, March 12, settlement announcement "unfortunate," Judge Peter Cahill of the Hennepin County District Court said he would recall seven jurors seated last week to ask if they had seen news of the settlement and whether it would affect their impartiality.
"I wish city officials would stop talking about this case so much," the judge said before resuming jury selection on Monday morning. "At the same time, I don't find any evil intent that they are trying to tamper with the criminal case."
The trial in a heavily fortified tower in downtown Minneapolis is being closely watched as a bellwether of the way U.S. law enforcement agencies use force and violence in policing Black people.
Chauvin, who is white, was captured in a bystander's video with his knee on Floyd's neck for nearly 9 minutes as Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man in handcuffs, cried out for his life and his mother, who had recently died. The death ignited global protests against racism and police brutality. Chauvin and three other police officers were fired the day after the arrest.
Floyd's family filed a federal wrongful-death lawsuit against Chauvin and the city of Minneapolis last year. The city called a news conference to announce the settlement, which included emotional comments by Floyd's brothers and Mayor Jacob Frey.
Eric Nelson, Chauvin's lead lawyer, said the news was "profoundly disturbing" to the defense.
"By my count, this is the third highly prejudicial press leak or press release that has very suspicious timing, to say the least, and has an incredible propensity to taint a jury pool," he told the court before jury selection resumed.
Besides asking to recall the seven jurors already seated, Nelson requested the judge reconsider his request to move the trial to a different county, which Cahill said he would consider.
'All over the media'
Prosecutors from the Minnesota attorney general's office told the court they had no control over the city's mayor, council or news media.
"You would agree that this is unfortunate, wouldn't you?" the judge asked prosecutors. "That we have this reported all over the media when we're in the midst of jury selection?"
Sarah McKenzie, a city spokeswoman, wrote in an email: "City leaders are following Judge Cahill's guidance and will not comment on any aspect of the criminal proceedings underway."
The judge dismissed the first potential juror to appear in court on Monday, who appeared to be a white woman in her 50s, after she expressed surprise at the size of the settlement, saying it suggested the city felt it could not win a civil trial.
Two additional jurors were seated on Monday, bringing the total to nine. They were a Black man and a white woman.
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They joined seven jurors seated last week who comprise three white men, one Black man, one Hispanic man, one mixed-race woman and one white woman, according to the court.
Two jurors are in their 50s and the rest in their 20s and 30s, the court said. Judge Cahill has promised the jurors anonymity for the duration of the trial.
The eighth juror, a Black man who works in banking, said he strongly supported the message of the Black Lives Matter movement and that he was able to be impartial in weighing Chauvin's conduct.
"I don't think he had any intention of harming anyone," he said of Chauvin, "but somebody did die."
The ninth juror, a white woman in her 50s, said she was a single mother working as an executive assistant in healthcare. When asked her views on Black Lives Matter, she said that, above all, "all lives matter."
Chauvin, 44, is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He has pleaded not guilty, saying he followed his police training, and has spent much of the trial making pages of notes on a yellow legal pad.
All potential jurors who have appeared so far said they know who Chauvin is and what the video shows him doing; most said they had formed a negative opinion of him, though some said they could remain open to the possibility his actions were not criminal.
The court is planning to have opening arguments commence on March 29. Chauvin faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted on the most serious charge.