Jury selection in the trial of a former Minneapolis police officer charged in George Floyd’s death has begun with the first potential juror excused after she revealed during questioning that she thought the way the officer acted was “not fair”.
The woman, a mother of three from Mexico, said she saw a bystander video showing Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck, but she did not understand why the officer did not get up when Floyd said he could not breathe.
“That’s not fair because we are humans, you know?” she said.
Defence lawyer Eric Nelson noted the woman said on her questionnaire she wanted to be on the jury “to give my opinion of the unjust death of George Floyd”.
Potential jurors must show they can set aside their opinions on the case and view the evidence fairly. The woman said she would be willing to change her mind if she saw evidence from a different perspective, but Nelson used one of his 15 peremptory challenges to dismiss her without providing a reason.
Judge Peter Cahill earlier rejected Nelson’s request to remove her for cause over concerns about her English proficiency.
The questioning illustrates the challenges facing attorneys in seating a jury after a video of Floyd’s arrest has been widely seen around the world.
Cahill set aside three weeks for a process that could go even longer; 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 is 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, holding his position even after Floyd went limp. 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.
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 they will not be told that he was fired or that the city made a “substantial offer” to settle a lawsuit from Floyd’s family. Those details will not be allowed because they could imply guilt, Cahill said.
The city had no immediate comment when asked about the settlement offer. A message left with a lawyer for the Floyd family was not immediately 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 will not be allowed to speculate that she could have saved Floyd if she had intervened. Testimony about what training Chauvin received will be allowed.
Floyd’s death ushered in a wave of summer protests against police brutality and racism over the summer.
Hundreds of people gathered outside the court as proceedings began Monday, many carrying signs that read, “Justice for George Floyd” and “Convict Killer Cops”. On Tuesday, there was little evident protest activity.
The unintentional second-degree murder charge requires prosecutors to prove that Chauvin’s conduct was a “substantial causal factor” in Floyd’s death and that Chauvin was committing felony assault at the time. The third-degree murder charge would require them to prove that Chauvin caused Floyd’s death through a dangerous act without regard for human life.
Manslaughter requires 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.