A United States judge is weighing whether a recent settlement reached between the city of Minneapolis and George Floyd’s family would affect the impartiality of the jury in the trial of the former police officer charged in Floyd’s death.
The judge in the trial of Derek Chauvin, who faces murder and manslaughter charges, said on Monday that the timing of the city’s announcement on March 12 was “unfortunate”.
“I wish city officials would stop talking about this case so much,” said Judge Peter Cahill of the Hennepin County District Court.
Cahill said he plans to recall the seven jurors already selected to see if they had heard any news of the settlement and whether it would affect their impartiality.
“At the same time, I don’t find any evil intent that they are trying to tamper with the criminal case,” he said.
Authorities have set aside three weeks for the jury selection, as potential jurors are being asked about their prior knowledge of the case as prosecutors and Chauvin’s defence team seek to ensure impartiality.
Floyd died on May 25 after Chauvin pressed his knee against his neck for more than eight minutes during an arrest that was caught on video.
His death sparked widespread protests across the US and around the world, as demonstrators called for an end to racial injustice and police violence against Black people.
Protesters rallied last week outside the government building where Chauvin’s trial will take place in Minneapolis to demand justice for Floyd.
“We’re going to continue showing up for community,” Minneapolis NAACP Vice President Anika Bowie told Al Jazeera from the protest. “We understand that justice will prevail within us. We will show up, and we will be very persistent, challenging the system.”
Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter in relation to Floyd’s death.
On Monday, the former officer’s lawyer Eric Nelson said the financial settlement announced last week “has incredible potential to taint the jury pool”.
Nelson asked for a continuance and raised the possibility of renewing his previously unsuccessful motion to move Chauvin’s trial to another city.
“I am gravely concerned with the news that broke on Friday,” he said.
Minneapolis announced on Friday that it had agreed to pay $27m to settle a civil lawsuit filed by Floyd’s family over his death.
Floyd family lawyer Ben Crump called it the largest pretrial settlement ever for a civil rights claim.
Legal experts said publicity about the settlement could be bad for the defence, leading some potential jurors to think guilt has been decided. But they doubted it would really affect the criminal trial.
Prosecutor Steve Schleicher said the state had no control over the Minneapolis city council and Mayor Jacob Frey, who announced the settlement.
Absent a delay or change of venue, Nelson, the defence lawyer, urged the judge to consider giving both sides extra strikes to remove potential jurors who might be biased.
But Schleicher said the jurors selected promised they could decide the case based only on the evidence presented at trial and he urged the court to “take a step back” and determine whether there is an actual problem before deciding on solutions.
Cahill said he would take the request for a continuance under advisement, but that he did not think it would be appropriate to grant additional strikes to either side.
The earliest opening statements would begin in the trial is March 29.