2 jurors dropped from Chauvin trial after USD 27M settlement

Minneapolis: A judge on Wednesday dismissed two jurors who had been seated for the trial of a former Minneapolis police officer in George Floyd’s death over fears that the jurors had been tainted by the city’s announcement last week of a USD 27 million settlement to Floyd’s family.

Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill recalled seven jurors and was questioning each one in turn to find out what they knew about the settlement and whether it affected their ability to serve. 

Former officer Derek Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, had requested the recall.

Cahill was being careful to ask jurors if they had heard the news of the settlement without giving details, saying only that there had been extensive media coverage about developments in a civil suit between the city of Minneapolis and the family of George Floyd and asking if they had been exposed to it.

The first dismissed juror said he had heard about the settlement. 

 I think it will be hard to be impartial, he said. 

 That sticker price obviously shocked me, the second juror dismissed said. 

He 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.

Nelson had called the timing of the announcement in the middle of jury selection profoundly disturbing to the defense and not fair. 

He has also requested a delay in the trial, which Cahill is considering. 

Nine people had been selected for the jury, including seven before Friday’s settlement was announced.

Jury selection through Tuesday had been proceeding faster than expected. Cahill has set opening statements for March 29 at the earliest, but dismissal of some of the jurors already seated risked imperiling that date.

The questioning came at the request of former officer Derek Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, who called the timing of last week’s announcement by city leaders in the middle of jury selection profoundly disturbing” and not fair. 

Nelson has also requested a delay in the trial, which Cahill is considering. Cahill has set opening statements for March 29 at the earliest, but dismissal of some of the jurors already seated could imperil that date.

Nine jurors had been seated through Tuesday, including five who are white, one who is multiracial, two who are Black and one who is Hispanic. The jurors include six men and three women and range in age from their 20s to their 50s. Fourteen people, including two alternates, are needed.

Chauvin is charged with murder and manslaughter in the May 25 death of Floyd, a Black man who was declared dead after Chauvin pressed his knee against his neck for about nine minutes. Floyd’s death, captured on a widely seen bystander video, set off weeks of sometimes-violent protests across the country and led to a national reckoning on racial justice.

On Tuesday, the two sides skirmished over whether evidence of Floyd’s 2019 arrest in Minneapolis should be allowed at trial. 

The judge previously rejected Chauvin’s attempt to tell the jury about the arrest a year before his fatal encounter with Chauvin but heard fresh arguments Tuesday from both sides. He said he would rule on the request Thursday.

Nelson argued that new evidence makes the earlier arrest admissible: Drugs were found last December during a second search of the car Floyd was in, and were found in a January search of the squad car into which the four officers attempted to put Floyd.

He also argued the similarities between the encounters are relevant: Both times, as officers drew their guns and struggled to get Floyd out of the car, he called out for his mother, claimed he had been shot before and cried, and put what appeared to be pills in his mouth. 

Both searches turned up drugs in the cars. Officers noticed a white residue outside his mouth both times, although that has not been explained. 

In the first arrest, several opioid pills and cocaine were found. An autopsy showed Floyd had fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system when he died.

 The similarities are incredible. The exact same behaviour in two incidents, almost one year apart, Nelson said.

Paramedics who examined Floyd in 2019 warned him that his blood pressure was dangerously high, putting him at risk for a heart attack or stroke, and took him to a hospital for examination. Nelson argued that shows Floyd knew that swallowing drugs might result in going to the hospital rather than jail.