Attorneys sift strong opinions, anxiety among Chauvin jurors
One was anxious about high emotion surrounding the case. One worried his family might be targeted. And one was delighted to receive the jury summons
By Amy Forliti
MINNEAPOLIS — One was anxious, worried about high emotion surrounding the case. One worried his family might be targeted. And one was delighted to receive her jury summons — even after learning she might wind up on the panel considering whether to convict a former police officer in George Floyd's death.
Jury selection for Derek Chauvin opened Tuesday, a grinding process during which attorneys asked the prospective jurors one by one whether they could keep an open mind, what they think of the criminal justice system, how they resolve conflicts and much more.
“I definitely have strong opinions about the case,” one woman said. "I think I can try to be impartial — I don’t know that I can promise impartiality.”
She was dismissed. So was another woman, who said she didn't understand why Chauvin didn't get up when Floyd — in a widely seen bystander video that showed Chauvin with his knee pressed on Floyd's neck — kept saying he couldn't breathe.
“That’s not fair because we are humans, you know?” she said.
Three in the pool were seated on the jury, and six others were dismissed by day's end, in a process that actually began months ago, when potential jurors responded to an extensive questionnaire that explored their familiarity with the case and their own contacts with police. The questionnaires have not been made public and the jurors' identities are being kept secret.
The three jurors who were selected — two men and one woman — all said they had heard some details about the case against Chauvin but would be able to put aside what they heard or opinions they had formed and make a decision based on evidence in court. One of the selected jurors said he hadn’t seen the bystander video of Floyd’s arrest at all, while the others described seeing it minimally.
The person who worried about the divisiveness of the case was dismissed, as was the potential juror who feared his family could be targeted.
The exchanges between potential jurors, attorneys and the judge illustrate the challenges in seating a jury in such a well-known case. Judge Peter Cahill has set aside at least three weeks for jury selection. 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.
The first man who was selected to serve on the jury, a chemist who says he works to find facts and thinks analytically, said he has never watched the video of Floyd's arrest but that he has seen a still image from it. 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, who 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.
The races of the second and third jurors selected were not made clear in court.
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 in greater Minnesota, said she initially had a negative perception of Chauvin because of what she saw in the bystander video, but said she doesn't know him and could be proven wrong.
“That video just makes you sad,” said the woman. “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.
The third juror selected, an auditor, also told the court he would be open-minded. When asked how he resolves conflicts on teams at work, he said: “We use more facts over emotions in those cases.”
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 also 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.