11th juror picked, lawyers clash over expert in Floyd trial

Steve Karnowski and Amy Forliti
Associated Press

Minneapolis – Attorneys at the trial of a former Minneapolis police officer charged in George Floyd’s death moved closer to seating a jury Thursday, choosing two jurors hours after clashing over how much the panel should hear of Floyd’s own actions.

The latest jurors include a white registered nurse in her 50s who reassured the court that she wouldn’t draw on her own medical knowledge at Derek Chauvin’s trial, and a Black grandmother of two who said she didn’t watch the entire bystander video of Floyd’s arrest and didn’t have enough details to formulate a firm opinion on Chauvin or Floyd.

In this image taken from video, prosecutor Jerry Blackwell speaks as Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill presides over pre-trial motions, prior to continuing jury selection, Monday, March 15, 2021, in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

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Earlier, prosecutor Jerry Blackwell argued that a forensic psychiatrist should be allowed to testify on how Floyd’s behavior as officers attempted to put him into the squad car was consistent with any reasonable person’s anxiety or panic during a traumatic event. Officers who confronted Floyd after he allegedly tried to pass a counterfeit $20 bill at a convenience store pointed a gun at him, and he struggled and told them he had claustrophobia as they tried to force him into the car.

Prosecutors want to show that Floyd might have been unable to comply with the officers’ orders, and wasn’t actually resisting arrest – something Blackwell said he was certain that Chauvin’s attorney Eric Nelson intended to do.

“The defense is doing a full-on trial of George Floyd, who is not on trial, but that is what they’re doing,” said Blackwell, adding that the defense also planned to make arguments about Floyd’s drug use.

Nelson said that if the prosecution gets to present that evidence to the jury, the defense should be able to tell the jury about Floyd’s drug arrest a year earlier, when he did not resist getting put into a squad car.

Nelson also has said there are striking similarities between the two encounters that could show a pattern of behavior.

Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill said he’ll rule on the forensic psychiatrist’s testimony on Friday, when he plans to issue a broader ruling on the admissibility of Floyd’s 2019 arrest and on defense motions for delaying or moving the trial.

The judge on Wednesday dismissed two of seven jurors who were seated before news broke last week that the city had reached a settlement with Floyd’s family for $27 million in a civil case. Cahill re-questioned them to see if the massive settlement affected their ability to be fair and impartial.

City leaders have taken sharp criticism for the timing of the settlement. City Attorney Jim Rowader said Thursday that the city agreed to it because there was no guarantee the offer would still be available later.

“In general, there is no good timing to settle any case, particularly one as complex and involved and sensitive as this,” Rowader said, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Of the 11 seated jurors, five are men and six are women. According to the court, five are white, two are multiracial and four are Black. Fourteen jurors, including two alternates, are needed.

The first juror selected Thursday was questioned extensively by attorneys and Cahill about her experience as a nurse, whether she has ever resuscitated anyone and how she would view medical evidence in the case.

The woman said she would draw upon her knowledge to evaluate medical testimony and that she recognizes the amount of time a person can be without air before going unconscious. At one point, Cahill told her: “You can’t be an expert witness in the jury room.”

She said she could refrain from relying on her knowledge.

The second juror, who worked in marketing before retiring and currently volunteers with underserved youth, said she watched the bystander video of Floyd’s arrest for about four or five minutes, then shut it off because “it just wasn’t something that I needed to see.”

She somewhat agreed that Black people and other minorities do not receive the same treatment as white people in the criminal justice system. She had a very favorable view of the Black Lives Matter movement, writing in her questionnaire “I am Black and my life matters.”

She has a neutral view of Blue Lives Matter, saying everyone is important and that she has a relative who is a Minneapolis police officer.

Potential jurors excused Thursday included a woman who said she had been constantly exposed to news of Floyd’s death and that the city’s settlement pushed her to favor the state’s position, and a man who had a deep mistrust of police and couldn’t weigh police testimony as credible.

Another potential juror was dismissed because she is acquainted with a central witness in the state’s case. And prosecutors used a peremptory strike to dismiss a woman who said she was bothered by prior allegations against Floyd and believes the media exaggerates discrimination.

Cahill has set March 29 for opening statements if the jury is complete by then.

Chauvin is charged with murder and manslaughter in the May 25 death of Floyd, a Black man who was declared dead after Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against his neck for about nine minutes. Floyd’s death, captured on bystander video, set off weeks of sometimes-violent protests across the country and led to a national reckoning on racial justice.

Three other former officers face an August trial in Floyd’s death on charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter.