Judge Rules Jurors Can Hear Evidence Related To George Floyd’s 2019 Arrest, Denies Venue Change

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Jurors in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin will be allowed to hear evidence related to George Floyd’s arrest in 2019, a year before the fatal encounter with police, the presiding judge ruled Friday, March 19, 2021.

Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill also denied the defense’s request to move or delay the trial.

Floyd, a Black man, died in police custody on May 25, 2020, when Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes. As he lay on the ground under Chauvin, Floyd cried out, “I can’t breathe” more than 20 times. The incident sparked protests worldwide.

Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Latest updates:

  • The judge on Friday denied the defense’s request to move or delay the trial after the defense argued the potential jury pool had been tainted by pretrial publicity and the city’s widely reported announcement of a historic $27 million settlement with Floyd’s family.
  • Twelve jurors — five men and seven women — have been selected so far. Six identify as white, two as multiracial, and four as Black, according to the court. Five of the jurors are in their 20s or 30s, three in their 40s, three in their 50s, and one in their 60s.
  • Attorneys hoped to select two final jurors Friday to serve as alternates.
  • Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and city attorney Jim Rowader said Thursday they don’t think the city’s settlement announcement has had a negative effect on the trial. But the presiding judge expressed frustration that city officials continued to talk about the settlement.
  • The trial is scheduled to begin on March 29.

Judge allows some evidence from George Floyd’s 2019 arrest

Jurors will be allowed to hear some evidence related to George Floyd’s arrest in May 2019, Cahill said Friday. Cahill initially ruled in January that the jury could not hear the evidence but heard fresh arguments this week after new evidence was uncovered related to his 2020 arrest.

Cahill said the two arrests are “remarkably similar” but that jurors can only hear evidence from the 2019 arrest that is related to Floyd’s medical state – not his emotional behavior – since it pertains to the cause of death in the 2020 incident.

He ruled that a portion of an officer’s body camera video of the 2019 incident could be admitted. Jurors can also see a photo from the incident showing pills on the seat of a car and hear what Floyd’s blood pressure was at the time of the prior arrest, as well as why a paramedic at the scene recommended Floyd go to the hospital.

“The whole point here is we have medical evidence of what happens when Mr. Floyd is faced with virtually the same situation,” Cahill said, adding, “The May 6th, 2019, the incident is relevant only to that extent. Mr. Floyd’s emotional behavior, calling out for his mother – all of that is not admissible.”

Previously, Cahill ruled on motions to include evidence about Chauvin’s history.

Evidence related to 16 incidents involving Chauvin and the three other former Minneapolis police officers charged in Floyd’s death cannot be brought up at trial, Cahill ruled in January.

Prosecutors also sought to admit evidence at the trial of eight incidents involving Chauvin to demonstrate that the former officer did “intentionally assault Mr. Floyd in a manner inconsistent with training.” When Cahill ruled in January, he admitted evidence from two of the eight incidents. The six other incidents involved Chauvin’s use of force or restraint techniques, including when he restrained people by applying pressure to the neck area.

The three other former officers – Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng, and Tou Thao – are scheduled to stand trial together this summer.

Judge denies request to move, delay trial over $27M civil settlement

Also on Friday, the judge denied the defense’s request to move or delay the trial. The defense argued the potential jury pool had been tainted by pretrial publicity and the city’s widely reported announcement last Friday of a historic $27 million settlement with Floyd’s family.

On Wednesday, the court cut two jurors because they said they were influenced by the settlement. Cahill on Friday admitted he was “shocked” and “surprised” that the announcement had swayed the two jurors, but he said he still believed the court was giving Chauvin the fairest trial possible.

“Unfortunately, I think the pretrial publicity, in this case, will continue no matter how long we continue it,” he said, adding, “And as far as a change of venue, I do not think that that would give the defendant any kind of a fair trial beyond what we are doing here today. I don’t think there’s any place in the state on Minnesota that has not been subjected to extreme amounts of publicity in this case.”

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison cheered the judge’s decision.

“The court has taken careful, considered steps to mitigate the effects of pre-trial publicity that make a continuance and change of venue unnecessary,” he said. “A week ahead of schedule, both sides have now agreed on 12 jurors, more than half of whom were selected since early last Friday afternoon and all of whom have been carefully screened for impartiality in the face of inevitable pre-trial publicity not only in Hennepin County but in every part of Minnesota.”

Of 326 jurors in the initial potential jury pool, the court question 57 in the first eight days of jury selection. The defense struck 12, the state struck six and the court excused 27, according to the judge.

‘There is no good timing to settle any case,’ city lawyer says

After the court cut two jurors who said they were swayed by the city’s $27 million settlement with the Floyd family, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and city attorney Jim Rowader said Thursday they don’t think the proceedings have been hurt by the settlement.

Rowader said in a press conference the city decided to move forward with the settlement in part because there was “no guarantee” the deal would’ve been available weeks or months from now. He declined to elaborate.

“There is no good timing to settle any case, particularly one as complex and involved and sensitive as this,” he said. “It’s clear from the judge’s comments this week that he does not want us to talk about the settlement at this time while they’re finishing jury selection.”

In court, Eric Nelson, the lead defense attorney, complained that the city had addressed the settlement at another press conference.

The prosecution brought it up again at the end of the day, spurring Cahill to angrily respond, “I’ve asked the City of Minneapolis to stop talking about it,” referring to the settlement. “Everybody just stop talking about it,” Cahill said. “Let me decide what the ramifications are.”

Six of the eight potential jurors questioned Thursday said they knew about the settlement, and all three people seated knew the amount. Only one juror said his awareness of the settlement would affect his impartiality – that it made him think Chauvin was guilty.

A look at Derek Chauvin’s jury after 12th juror selected

Twelve jurors, five men, and seven women, have been selected for Chauvin’s trial. Given the circumstances of Floyd’s death — a Black man dying under the knee of a white police officer — the racial makeup of the jury is a key concern. Six of the jurors identify as white, two as multiracial, and four as Black, according to the court.

The court added three women Thursday: a white nurse in her 50s, a Black grandmother in her 60s and a white woman in her 40s who works in insurance. With the new picks, the court now needs just two alternates to serve on the jury.

As of Thursday afternoon, the defense has used 12 of its 18 peremptory challenges, which it can use to strike potential jurors without having to explain why. The state has used six of its 10.

Jury selection encountered some setbacks earlier in the week. The court did not select any jurors Tuesday amid debate over whether they could be unbiased in such a high-profile case. And on Wednesday, the court cut two jurors because they said they were influenced by the city’s historic $27 million settlement with Floyd’s family.

Attorneys for the defense and prosecution have spent the past week and a half questioning potential jurors about their views on racism, discrimination, policing of communities of color, and Black Lives Matter. But on Thursday, Eric Nelson, the lead defense attorney, told a prospective juror that the trial is “not about race.”

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