Minneapolis officials who risked tainting the jury pool in Derek Chauvin’s murder trial by publicizing the city’s $27 million payout to George Floyd’s family have confessed the settlement hasn’t actually been finalized but have refused to say why they announced it early.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and City Attorney Jim Rowader defended the timing of the city’s announcement in a press briefing Thursday claiming ‘there is no good timing to settle any case’.
However, when pressed about the move, officials admitted the settlement has not even been ‘finalized’ and must still go through federal court approval.
City officials announced Friday they were awarding a $27 million payout to the Floyd family – the biggest settlement in Minneapolis history and one of the largest ever recorded nationwide.
The announcement threatened to blow open the entire murder trial.
It derailed the jury selection process with two already-selected jurors being dismissed under re-questioning in light of the news of the payout.
And now, the trial could be pushed back altogether as Judge Peter Cahill said he would consider the defense’s motion for a delay due to the timing as they claimed the size of the settlement could influence jurors to decide Chauvin is guilty.
Cahill also slammed the city’s actions ‘unfortunate’ and said news of the deal ‘cuts’ into the trial.
He was also forced to allot three additional peremptory strikes to the defense and one to the state in efforts to get the selection process back on track following the news of the payout.
The judge will announce Friday his decision over a possible delay – the same day he will now give rulings on at least four motions for what is one of the most high-profile trials in US history.
Minneapolis officials who risked tainting the jury pool in Derek Chauvin’s murder trial by publicizing the city’s $27 million payout to George Floyd’s family have confessed the settlement hasn’t actually been finalized but have refused to say why they announced it early. City Attorney Jim Rowader pictured in Tuesday’s press briefing
City officials defended their actions Thursday, before making the bombshell confession that they gave the potentially damaging announcement in the middle of jury selection while the payout has not even been approved in federal court.
‘The settlement is still in the process of being finalized, effectuated, it’s going to need to go through federal court approval,’ said Rowader.
‘Until that process is complete that would also make it very inappropriate to talk about details in relation to the settlement.’
Rowader refused to answer questions about the timing of the payout announcement.
He pushed the blame for his onto Cahill saying the judge ‘does not want us to talk about the settlement’ – despite city officials happily giving a 90-minute press conference about the details of the settlement last week.
‘I think its’s also clear from the judge’s comments this week that he does not want us to talk about the settlement at this time while they are finalizing jury selection,’ he said.
‘So for that reason alone, we are not going to talk about details of the settlement.’
The attorney said the timing was unavoidable because ‘there’s no guarantee that this deal would be available… six months from now.’
‘There is no good timing to settle any case, particularly one as complex, involved and sensitive as this,’ he said.
City officials addressed the media the same day Cahill deferred yet another ruling for Friday – on whether the prosecution in the trial of Derek Chauvin can introduce expert testimony that George Floyd was not resisting arrest as claimed by the defense, but was instead ‘frozen by fear and panic’ that left him unable to breathe or comply.
Mayor Jacob Frey at Thursday’s press conference. Officials defended the timing of the city’s announcement in a press briefing Thursday claiming ‘there is no good timing to settle any case’
Day four of week two of jury selection began Thursday in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the white former Minneapolis cop charged with the murder of black man George Floyd who died after the officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes.
Floyd’s death, which was captured on a widely seen bystander video, sparked protests worldwide as people demanded an end to police brutality and systemic racism.
Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, second-degree manslaughter and third-degree murder.
Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell argued Thursday that the jury should hear the testimony of forensic psychiatrist Dr Sarah Vinson as it brings a vital ‘alternate narrative’ to the defense’s assertions that Floyd, 46, was resisting arrest, faking his emotional responses and intoxicated.
‘The defense is doing a full-on trial of George Floyd, that’s our point of view your honor,’ said Blackwell.
Three more jurors were dismissed Thursday morning – two by the court and the third by the prosecution.
This came one day after the trial was rocked when two confirmed jurors were removed Wednesday following re-questioning in light of the $27 million payout to Floyd’s family by the city of Minneapolis announced Friday.
Cahill will rule on at least four motions Friday: whether the trial should be delayed due to the timing of Minnesota’s settlement with Floyd’s family; whether the trial should be moved to a different Minnesota city; whether the defense can introduce details of a 2019 arrest of Floyd; and whether prosecutors can introduce testimony that Floyd was not resisting arrest.
Derek Chauvin takes off his mask momentarily in court Thursday as day four of week two of jury selection began
Judge Peter Cahill has deferred ruling on whether the prosecution in the trial of Derek Chauvin can introduce expert testimony that George Floyd was not resisting arrest as claimed by the defense, but was instead ‘frozen by fear and panic’ that left him unable to breathe or comply. Pictured Chauvin and his attorney Thursday morning
Blackwell said Thursday Dr Vinson would testify to the fact that all of Floyd’s erratic behaviours were manifestations of psychological conditions.
‘It’s an alternate explanation to the narrative put forward by the defense. If we’re not able to officer [that] then the defense shouldn’t be allowed to stand up and say he’s resisting arrest, fabricating any of this, to say it’s drug induced which is an interpretation for behavior,’ he said.
‘Either both sides can put forward interpretations of behavior or no sides can.’
He described Floyd as ‘non-compliant’ rather than resistant and said: ‘He is frozen by fear and panic. His difficulty breathing – it’s not a heart problem it’s a panic problem.’
Cahill questioned any doctor’s ability to state this without having examined Floyd personally.
‘She’s an MD not a pathologist,’ he said, adding that ‘it’s not mutually exclusive that someone is in a mental health crisis and also resisting arrest.
‘They start to thrash about refusing to be handcuffed – it may be induced by a mental health crisis but it’s still resisting arrest wouldn’t you agree?’
Blackwell did not agree – drawing a distinction between ‘an inability to comply’ and the ‘intent’ implicit in resistance.
Cahill (pictured) will rule Friday on at least four motions: whether the trial should be delayed or moved; whether the defense can introduce details of a 2019 arrest of Floyd; and whether prosecutors can introduce testimony that Floyd was not resisting arrest
STATE OF MINNESOTA V DEREK CHAUVIN – THE CHARGES
Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, which in Minnesota can be ‘intentional’ or ‘unintentional.’
The second-degree murder charge requires prosecutors to prove Chauvin caused Floyd’s death while committing or trying to commit a felony — in this case, third-degree assault.
Prosecutors must convince the jury that Chauvin assaulted or attempted to assault Floyd and in doing so inflicted substantial bodily harm.
Prosecutors don’t have to prove that Chauvin was the sole cause of Floyd’s death – only that his conduct was a ‘substantial causal factor.’
If the prosecution can prove Chauvin committed third-degree assault on Floyd, he can be convicted of Floyd’s death.
Prosecutors are fearful that Chauvin will escape conviction for second-degree murder, that carries a maximum 40 year sentence.
But because Chauvin does not have any prior convictions, sentencing guidelines recommend he serve no more than 25.5 years behind bars.
The manslaughter charge has a lower bar, requiring proof that Chauvin caused Floyd’s death through negligence that created an unreasonable risk, and consciously took the chance of causing severe injury or death.
In other words, Chauvin should have been aware that through his actions he was placing Floyd at risk of dying even though it may not have been his intent to kill him, according to prosecutors.
If convicted of second-degree manslaughter in Minnesota, the charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
But sentencing guidelines for someone without a criminal record call for no more than four years behind bars.
Third-degree murder would require a lower standard of proof than second-degree.
To win a conviction, prosecutors would have to show only that Floyd’s death was caused by an act that was obviusly dangerous, though not necessarily a felony.
That would result in a maximum sentence of 25 years.
But there are caveats.
Chauvin has no criminal history, which means he will probably end up serving about 12.5 years whether he is convicted of second or third-degree murder.
He said that the Minneapolis Police Department’s own code on de-escalation called upon police officers to make that distinction and asked: ‘Would a reasonable officer not have recognized the behavioral crisis and not employed the force that [Chauvin] did?’
The defense argued that if Vinson is allowed to testify on Floyd’s state of mind, they should be able to present details of Floyd’s arrest in May 2019.
Cahill echoed this, warning the prosecution that if he opens the door to their testimony he may also open the door to the defense sharing details of the arrest where they argue Floyd exhibited ‘remarkably similar’ behaviors.
Cahill will rule on the motion Friday.
On Tuesday, the two sides had skirmished over whether evidence of this 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.
Cahill will also rule on this request Friday.
Chauvin’s attorney Eric 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 behavior 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.
But prosecutor Matthew Frank argued that evidence from the 2019 arrest was prejudicial.
He called it ‘the desperation of the defense to smear Mr. Floyd’s character, to show that what he struggled with an opiate addiction like so many Americans do, is really evidence of bad character.’
And he argued that the only relevant thing in Floyd’s death is how he was handled by Chauvin and the other officers.
‘What these officers were dealing with is what they were responsible for,’ Frank said.
‘What is relevant to this case is what they knew at the scene at this time.’
Cahill said he would stop the defense ‘very quickly’ from suggesting at trial that Floyd didn’t deserve sympathy because he used drugs.
‘You don’t just dirty up someone who has died in these circumstances as a defense,’ he said.
Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell (left) argued Thursday that the jury should hear from forensic psychiatrist Dr Sarah Vinson as a vital ‘alternate narrative’ to the defense’s (right Eric Nelson) assertions that Floyd, 46, was resisting arrest, faking his emotional responses and intoxicated
But he said he would weigh the defense’s argument that alleged drug use during the 2019 arrest that led to ‘a hypertensive emergency’ is relevant to what may have caused Floyd’s death in 2020.
‘I think that’s, that’s the only relevance I see,’ Cahill said.
One legal expert said he saw legitimate grounds for Cahill to allow the 2019 arrest at trial given the evidence found in the follow-up searches of the cars.
But he said it also could unfairly prejudice the jury against Floyd.
‘The problem is, it’s not possible to do one without doing the other,’ said Ted Sampsell-Jones, a professor at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law.
‘The evidence does have some legitimate relevance, but it also carries a significant potential for unfair prejudice. It’s a difficult evidence problem that Judge Cahill will have to carefully balance.’
Michael Brandt, a local defense attorney, said the new evidence would bolster the argument that Floyd had a ‘propensity for ingesting pills when being arrested’ and that he knew that it could be a way to stay out of jail.
That might be enough for jurors to pass up convicting Chauvin on the most serious charges, Brandt said.
The question of Floyd’s drug use has played out in jury selection, with prosecutors gauging prospective jurors’ attitudes.
One person picked for the jury, a black man in his 30s, said he didn’t judge drug users more harshly than others.
‘My opinion on them is no different than my opinion on anybody else. It’s just something they are struggling with, they are possibly trying to get through,’ he said.
Chauvin (left) is the officer who is seen in bystander video kneeling on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes on May 25, 2020. His attorneys claim that drugs found in Floyd’s system were what caused his death. Floyd is seen right in the undated file photo
Pictured: Floyd family lawyer, Attorney Ben Crump (left), and Jacob Frey, Mayor of Minneapolis (right) shake hands at a press conference at the Minneapolis Convention Center after the city reached a $27 million ‘wrongful death’ settlement with the family of George Floyd
Another, a white man in his 30s, said he’d heard news stories that Floyd may have been under the influence of drugs, but when asked what he thought about it said he didn’t think it should affect the case.
‘Whether you are under the influence of drugs doesn’t determine whether you should be living or dead,’ he said.
Chauvin’s attorney has also asked that the trial be delayed or moved elsewhere.
THE TWO DISMISSED JURORS FROM THE DEREK CHAUVIN CASE
Juror No. 4: The fourth juror selected, a white, Minnesotan male in his thirties who is in sales management, was dropped from the case on Wednesday.
Describing himself as ‘a very logical person who tries to eliminate emotion as much as possible,’ he told the judge last week that he was willing to postpone his wedding plans to take part in the case.
He was due to marry on May 1.
He claimed to have watched the video of Floyd dying once in full and a couple of times partially and that he could set aside his personal opinions.
He admitted to knowing one potential witness, a forensics officer with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, and has a cousin formerly in law enforcement.
He also said that he was sensitive to the notion that people are ‘treated differently due to their color,’ having taken a couple of civil rights courses in college.
The juror also said that he had ‘strongly favorable’ views of the Black Lives Matter movement.
On Wednesday, he admitted that the ‘sticker price’ of $27million had swayed him in a way that a $2000 pay out might not.
He said, ‘I would say that the dollar amount was kind of shocking to me. That kind of sent the message that the City of Minneapolis saw a wrong and they wanted to make it right to the tune of that.’
Juror No. 6: A Hispanic man in his 20s or 30s who works in trucking though he said he was willing to serve on the jury even if it meant a loss of business.
He said that after watching the video of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck, the former police officer ‘gave me the impression of showing off his authority.’
The juror added that he believed the entire situation could have been avoided if Floyd complied with police.
He told the judge on Wednesday that news of the $27million settlement confirmed opinions that he had already held.
Of the jurors who were excused on Wednesday from the jury the first admitted, ‘I have very strong opinions and clearly the City of Minneapolis has some strong opinions too that kind of confirms the opinions I already have.’
Cahill said he would rule Friday on those motions, but he has previously rejected moving it, saying publicity about Floyd’s death has reached every corner of the state. Cahill also awarded additional juror strikes to each side this week.
The progress in the jury selection was briefly walked back Wednesday when two jurors were dismissed after they told the judge their decision in the case would be swayed by a $27million wrongful death settlement paid out to the family of George Floyd.
The payout by the city of Minneapolis was revealed on Friday, in the middle of jury selection for the trial and after seven of the panel had already been chosen.
Cahill interviewed the seven jurors already selected Wednesday morning and was only satisfied that five of them could still serve as fair and impartial in the trial of the former Minneapolis police officer.
The two jurors seated on Monday, after the settlement was revealed, were not re-questioned and remain on the panel.
On Tuesday none of the eight prospective jurors questioned were approved.
Two jurors were then approved on Wednesday, bringing the total back to nine.
One of those who was retained during Wednesday’s re-questioning, a black man, told Cahill he heard about the settlement on the radio Friday but that he could put it aside and decide the case only on the evidence that was presented in the courtroom.
‘It hasn’t affected me at all because I don’t know the details,’ he said.
The two new jurors seated Wednesday include 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 the United States, and a multiracial woman in her 40s who works as a consultant.
The man said he had a neutral view of Chauvin and could start with a presumption of innocence. He said he trusts police, but that it would be fair for a jury to evaluate the officer’s actions.
The woman said she agreed that police don’t always treat white and black people equally, but that she has a pretty strong faith in police in her community. She said it’s important for people to cooperate with police.
‘I’ve probably been taught or learned along the way that you respect police and you do what they ask,’ she said.
Cahill also allotted three additional peremptory strikes to the defense and one to the State after the loss of two jurors.
Of the nine jurors selected so far, five are men and four are women.
Four are white, two are multiracial and three are black, and their ages range from 20s to 50s.
Fourteen jurors, including two alternates, are needed for the trial.
Cahill has set March 29 for opening statements if the jury is complete by then.
The three other fired officers Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng involved in Floyd’s will stand trial in August on charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter.
BREAKDOWN OF SEATED JURORS IN THE DEREK CHAUVIN TRIAL
Derek Chauvin (pictured in a Minneapolis courtroom on March 15) has been charged with second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the May 2020 death of George Floyd
As of Wednesday, nine of the 14 jurors who will hear the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin have been impaneled.
When the day started, there were a total of nine seated jurors, but Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill dismissed two jurors – a white man and a Hispanic man – after they admitted their views were altered by Friday’s announced $27million settlement between the family of George Floyd and the City of Minneapolis.
The seated jurors include five men and four women.
Of the nine jurors, five are white, three are black, and one is mixed race.
Juror No. 1: A white man in his 20s or 30s who works as a chemist. He told the court that he has an ‘analytical’ mind.
He claims not to have seen the infamous nine-minute clip during which George Floyd died under the ex-Minneapolis police officer’s knee.
The juror described himself as a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, though he criticized it as ‘too extreme’ and said: ‘All lives should matter.’
Juror No. 2: A woman of color in her 20s or 30s who is also related to a police officer.
The young woman from northern Minnesota described herself as ‘super excited’ to be called to be part of the jury pool in such a high profile case.
She said that she had seen the video of Floyd’s death only once and revealed that she has an uncle who is a police officer in the state, but was clear that it would not affect her ability to be fair and impartial in this case.
Juror No. 3: A white man in his 30s who works as an auditor and is friends with a Minneapolis police officer in the K9 unit.
The juror described himself as honest and straightforward.
He said that while he has seen Facebook video of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck at least twice, he has not formed an opinion about the former officer’s guilt.
The juror did acknowledge having a ‘somewhat negative’ view of Chauvin in light of the clip.
On his juror questionnaire, he wrote that Floyd had done ‘hard drugs’ and had a ‘checkered past’ – though he said he could set aside his opinions and be impartial.
Juror No. 4: The fifth juror seated is a married IT manager in his thirties who emigrated from West Africa to the United States 14 years ago.
Like other jurors, he said that he supported the ideals of the Black Lives Matters movement but went further than his peers saying, ‘All lives matter, but black lives matter more because they are marginalized.’
He also voiced support for Blue Lives Matter and when questioned by the prosecution said he was strongly opposed to defunding the police, stating that the presence of police made him feel safer.
‘I believe our cops need to be safe and feel safe in order to protect our community,’ he said.
He told the court that he believed in the country’s justice system and wanted to serve on the jury because it was his civic duty.
‘I also believe that to make the justice system work I think we need people that are part of the community to sit as a juror,’ he said.
He said that he was not on social media but had seen the video of Floyd’s death and formed a slightly negative view of Chauvin.
All prospective jurors are asked about their views on the video showing Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck during his fatal arrest in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020
He added that he was conscious that he did not know what had happened before or after the short clips he had seen.
Chauvin’s attorney pressed the potential juror on one answer that he had written in response to the jurors’ questionnaire. He stated that, while discussing Floyd’s death with his wife, he had said, ‘It could have been me.’
Asked what he meant by that the juror explained that he used to live in the area where Floyd died and said, ‘It could have been me or anyone else. It could have been anybody. It could have been you, that’s what I mean.’
Juror No. 5: The single mother-of two, white and in her early 50s, described herself as being in the ‘C-class’ of executives and works in healthcare advocacy.
She admitted to knowing Attorney General Keith Ellison and having had work dealings with his office, but neither defense nor prosecutors viewed this as any impairment to her service.
In response to a jury pool questionnaire, she said she had a ‘somewhat negative’ view of Chauvin, and that she thought he held his knee to Floyd’s neck for too long.
She said she felt empathy for both Floyd and the officers, adding that ‘at the end of the day I’m sure that the intention was not there for this to happen.’
Juror No. 6: A black man in his 30s, works in banking, and is youth sports coach.
Chauvin’s attorneys will argue that Floyd’s death was caused by drugs in his system
He said that he was keen to be a juror at a trial which he viewed as ‘historic moment.’
Answering the prospective jurors’ lengthy questionnaire he said that he did ‘not believe the defendant sent out to murder anyone,’ but that, having viewed the video of Floyd’s death he was left at a loss as to what Chauvin was thinking.
He professed himself strongly in favor of Black Lives Matters – as a statement not a movement or organization.
But his view of Blue Lives Matters was ‘somewhat negative.’
He said, ‘I think that police lives matter but I feel like the concept of Blue Lives Matter only became a thing to combat Black Lives Matter, where it shouldn’t be a competition.’
Juror No. 7: A white single mother in her 50s who works as executive assistant for a health clinic near Minneapolis.
She wrote in her questionnaire that she could not watch the entire video of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck ‘because it was too disturbing to me.’
Nonetheless, she said: ‘I’m not in a position to change the law. I’m in a position to uphold the law.’
She added: ‘[Chauvin] is innocent until we can prove otherwise.’
Juror No. 8: A black father of one son expressed neutrality on almost all key points though he strongly disagreed with defunding the police.
The man, who is in his early 40s, said that he had no opinion of Chauvin and only a ‘somewhat favorable’ view of Floyd based on the fact that there had been so many demonstrations in support of him.
Asked about Black Lives Matter versus Blue Lives Matter he said that he believed, ‘Every life matters but black people their lives are not valued.’
He added, ‘Just because that’s what they think doesn’t mean that’s what it is but we have to respect it.’
Juror No. 9: A white mother of one who convinced all parties that she could be fair and impartial.
She said that she did not believe the justice system was perfect ‘because humans are involved so there’s always room for improvement where humans are involved.’
And she admitted to having formed a slightly negative view of Chauvin, though had a strong faith in the police in general.
She said she felt ‘neutral’ about Floyd but what scant opinions she had formed she said she could set them aside and start from the ‘blank slate’ of presumed innocence.