At Chauvin trial, some in jury pool have sharp views on case
Published 5:45 pm Tuesday, March 9, 2021
MINNEAPOLIS — The long process of jury selection for a former Minneapolis police officer charged in George Floyd’s death began Tuesday with two jurors picked and five dismissed, including some who said they would not be able to set aside their views on what happened.
One woman who was dismissed said: “I definitely have strong opinions about the case. I think I can try to be impartial — I don’t know that I can promise impartiality.”
Another woman said she saw bystander video showing Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck, and didn’t understand why the officer didn’t get up when Floyd said he couldn’t breathe.
“That’s not fair because we are humans, you know?” she said. She too was dismissed.
The exchanges between potential jurors, attorneys and the judge illustrate the challenges in seating a jury in such a well-known case. Cahill set aside three weeks for a process that could run longer; Opening statements are scheduled no sooner than March 29.
Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death, and jury selection is proceeding despite uncertainty over whether a third-degree murder charge will be added. The state has asked the Minnesota Court of Appeals to stop proceedings until that’s resolved, which could mean a delay of weeks or months.
Floyd was declared dead on May 25 after Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against the Black man’s neck for about nine minutes. Floyd’s death sparked sometimes violent protests in Minneapolis and beyond, leading to a nationwide reckoning on race.
Chauvin and three other officers were fired; the others face an August trial on aiding and abetting charges.
A man who was selected to serve on the jury, a chemist who says he comes to conclusions based on analysis and facts, said he has never watched the video of Floyd’s arrest but that he has seen a still image from the video. When asked if he could decide the case based on the evidence, he said, “I’d rely on what I hear in court.”
The man, whom prosecutors said identifies as white, said he supports the Black Lives Matter movement, but views the organization itself unfavorably. He also has an unfavorable view of the Blue Lives Matter movement. He said everyone should matter the same.
“The whole point of that is that all lives should matter equally, and that should include police,” he said.
A woman who was selected described herself as a “go-with-the-flow” person who could talk with anyone about anything. The woman, who is related to a police officer near Minneapolis, said she initially had a negative perception of Chauvin because of what she saw in the bystander video.
“That video just makes you sad.” she said. “Nobody wants to see somebody die, whether it was his fault or not.”
She said there could be many reasons why Chauvin would pin Floyd to the ground, and that while she has heard Floyd had drugs in his system when he died, she understands that may not have been a factor in his death.
Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, exercised two of his 15 peremptory challenges on potential jurors who identify as Hispanic, which led prosecutors to object that the jurors were being rejected because of their race. Cahill disagreed, noting that the second Hispanic juror to be dismissed had martial arts experience and referred to Chauvin’s restraint as an “illegal” move. The judge said that man made it clear he would stick to his opinions until someone told him otherwise, improperly shifting the burden of proof to the defense.
Cahill ruled on several pretrial motions Tuesday, setting parameters for trial testimony. Among them, Cahill said jurors will hear when Chauvin stopped working for the police department, but not that he was fired or that the city made a “substantial offer” to settle a lawsuit from Floyd’s family. Those details won’t be allowed because they could imply guilt, Cahill said.
Minneapolis City Attorney Jim Rowader said the city made an offer to the Floyd family last summer that was rejected. He didn’t provide details. A message left with an attorney for the Floyd family hasn’t been returned.
Cahill also ruled that a firefighter, who can be heard in the bystander video urging the officers to check Floyd’s pulse, will be allowed to testify about what she saw and whether she thought medical intervention was needed. But she won’t be allowed to speculate that she could have saved Floyd if she had intervened. Testimony about what training Chauvin received will be allowed.