Ayyyeee… What’s Goodie Everyone. So I got some tea, and it involves Former Police officer Derek Chauvin and the George Floyd murder trial.
The attorney for Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged in George Floyd’s death, on Monday asked the judge overseeing the case to delay the trial and reconsider a “change of venue” motion, saying he was “gravely concerned” that the announcement last week that the city had agreed to pay Floyd’s family $27 million to settle a wrongful-death lawsuit had tainted the jury pool.
Chauvin’s defense attorney, Eric Nelson, questioned the “suspicious timing” of the settlement and argued that it was “highly prejudicial” against his client. He asked Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter A. Cahill to “at least” call back the jurors already seated in the case to question them about whether they had read news of the settlement and if they could continue to be impartial in the trial.“The fact that this came in the exact middle of jury selection, it’s perplexing to me,” Nelson said. “Whose idea was it to release this information?”
Nelson also criticized members of the Minneapolis City Council and Mayor Jacob Frey, suggesting they had intended to sway public opinion in the case. He was particularly critical of Frey, who is a civil rights lawyer, saying, “He should have known better.” And he mentioned that council member Jeremiah Ellison is a son of Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office is handling the case against Chauvin though Nelson quickly added that he was not “accusing Mr. Ellison of anything.” “It is profoundly disturbing to the defense because ultimately the goal of this system is to provide a fair trial. And this is not fair,” Nelson said.
Judge Cahill agreed he would have to call back the seated jurors but suggested he would do so closer to the date of opening arguments, scheduled for March 29. He said he would take the other defense motions into consideration and proceed with jury selection. Steve Schleicher, a Minnesota special assistant attorney general who is one of the prosecutors in the case, did not immediately oppose the defense motion for continuance, but he pressed Cahill to “take a step back [and] look at the actual effect” before making a decision. He agreed with the judge’s assessment that the development was “unfortunate.” “All I can say to the court is there are some things that the state of Minnesota and this prosecution team can control, and there are some things that the state cannot and does not control,” Schleicher said. “We can control the witnesses we call. We can control the evidence that we bring in. We can control the motions, but we cannot and do not control the civil aspect of the case. We cannot and do not control the Minneapolis City Council, and we certainly cannot and do not control the news cycle.”Cahill did not immediately rule on the defense requests but agreed that the developments were “concerning.” “I wish city officials would stop talking about this case so much,” Cahill said. “But at the same time, I don’t find any evil intent that they are trying to tamper with this criminal case.”
The settlement was announced during an afternoon break in jury selection Friday and went unmentioned for the rest of the day, even as several city officials, including Frey, joined the Floyd family and their attorneys at a nearby news conference to announce the payout.
Derek Chauvin, the White police officer filmed with his knee on Floyd’s neck for about nine minutes during a police investigation on May 25, is facing charges of second and third degree murder and second degree manslaughter in the Black man’s death. Three other officers charged in the case J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas K. Lane and Tou Thao are set to be tried separately in August.
Attorneys for all four officers have repeatedly called for the trial to be moved out of Hennepin County, arguing it is not possible to seat a fair jury in Minneapolis because of the extensive news coverage and intense emotions over Floyd’s death and policing. Nine jurors have been seated, including two more Monday: a Black man in his 30s who coaches youth sports and a White woman in her 50s who told the court she works as an executive assistant at a health-care clinic in Minneapolis.Jury selection has moved at a faster pace than expected as the court seeks to impanel 12 jurors and up to four alternates. Potential jurors have been asked to avoid the news since they were summoned in the case in late December, and Cahill often begins their questioning by asking whether they have “accidentally” been exposed to any headlines and what they recall of that news.
Some observers have said it is possible that Cahill could scrap jury selection and start over.“This development is not good for anybody. Nobody wants to redo this,” said Joe Tamburino, a longtime Minneapolis defense attorney. “This is not good for the defense. … And this is not good for the prosecution. Under our rules of ethics, they have a greater duty to make sure fairness occurs in trials than anyone else. And this is bad for the system.”
The impact on jury selection was immediate. The first potential juror summoned for questioning Monday morning told Cahill that she had heeded the court’s request to avoid the news but accidentally heard about the $27 million settlement on the radio Friday.