Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill denied a defense request to delay or move the trial of a former Minneapolis police officer charged with George Floyd’s death after a $27 million civil settlement for Floyd’s family raised concerns about tainting the jury. While in a separate ruling, Cahill said he would allow the jury to hear limited evidence from Floyd’s 2019 arrest, but only that pertaining to the cause of Floyd’s death in 2020, as he acknowledged there are several similarities between the two incidents, including that Floyd swallowed drugs after police confronted him.
The rulings were a blow to Derek Chauvin's defense. His attorney, Eric Nelson, had sought to halt or move the trial due to concerns that the settlement announcement had tainted the jury pool. Jury selection was halfway complete last week when the city of Minneapolis unanimously approved the payout to settle a civil lawsuit over Floyd’s death.
Nelson called the timing of the settlement deeply disturbing and unfair, and said it jeopardized Chauvin’s chance for a fair trial. Chauvin is charged with murder and manslaughter. Cahill, who has called the timing "unfortunate,” said he thought a delay would do nothing to stem the problem of pretrial publicity. As for moving the trial, he said there’s no place in Minnesota that hasn’t been touched by that publicity.
The judge had previously denied a defense attempt to allow evidence from the prior arrest to be submitted at the trial, but he heard fresh arguments this week because of drugs found in January in a second search of the police SUV in which the four officers attempted to put Floyd in 2020.
He said Thursday that he would allow medical evidence of Floyd's physical reactions, such as his dangerously high blood pressure when he was examined by a paramedic, and a short clip of an officer’s body camera video.
He said Floyd’s "emotional behavior” such as calling out to his mother in 2019 won’t be admitted. Nelson argued that similarities between the encounters are relevant, with Floyd calling out for his mother, claiming he had been shot before, crying and putting what appeared to be pills in his mouth.
Prosecutor Matthew Frank said the defense was simply looking for a backdoor way to portray Floyd as a bad person, and the only relevant issue in Floyd’s death is how he was treated by police.
Floyd, who was black, was declared dead May 25 after Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for about nine minutes while he was handcuffed and pleading that he couldn’t breathe.
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. Just two more jurors were needed for the trial.
The 12 jurors seated through Thursday are evenly split by race, with six white jurors, four black and two multiracial, according to the court. The last two jurors chosen will be alternates. Opening statements are to be heard March 29 if the jury is complete. That process was on track to finish nearly a week early despite news that the city would pay a $27 million settlement to Floyd's family.
Jurors added Thursday include a white registered nurse in her 50s who assured the court that she wouldn’t draw on her medical knowledge at Chauvin’s trial, and a black woman in her 60s who said she didn’t watch the entire bystander video of Floyd’s arrest and didn’t know enough to form a firm opinion of Chauvin or Floyd.
The 12th juror seated, a white woman in her 40s who works in commercial insurance, said she has experience with someone who struggled with alcohol and might view someone who uses drugs cautiously, saying they could act violently or aggressively when under the influence.
However, she said she doesn't believe someone who uses drugs or doesn’t cooperate with the police should be treated poorly. "If someone uses drugs, I don’t think there should be ramifications of violence for that,” she said.
Three other former officers face an August trial in Floyd’s death on charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter.