Concern appears to be fading that a massive settlement for George Floyd’s family will derail the trial of a former police officer accused in his death, with most potential jurors saying they avoided news of the settlement or could set it aside.
Two jurors seated before news of the city’s $27m settlement broke last week were dismissed Wednesday after being re-questioned by Hennepin county judge Peter Cahill, but five others were retained and two were added later in the day.
Both sides presented arguments Thursday about whether the prosecution can call a forensic psychiatrist to tell the jury about Floyd’s behavior during the fatal encounter.
Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell said Dr Sarah Vinson, of Atlanta, should be allowed to to testify how Floyd’s reactions to the officers’ attempts to put him into the squad car were consistent with any reasonable person’s anxiety or panic during a traumatic event. Police officers who confronted Floyd after he allegedly tried to pass a counterfeit $20 bill at a convenience store put a gun in his face, and he told police he had claustrophobia.
The prosecution wants to show that he might have been unable to comply with the officers’ orders, rather than resisting arrest. But defense attorney Eric Nelson argued 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 from Floyd: both times, as officers drew their guns and struggled with Floyd, he called out for his mother, claimed he had been shot before and cried, and put what appeared to be pills in his mouth. Drugs were found in the first arrest, and an autopsy showed Floyd had drugs in his system when he died.
Cahill said he will rule on Vinson’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.
Nine jurors have been selected through Wednesday. Five are men and four are women. According to the court, four are white, two are multiracial and three are Black, and their ages range from 20s to 50s.
Fourteen jurors, including two alternates, are needed for Chauvin’s trial on murder and manslaughter charges in Floyd’s death.
A woman who was questioned early Thursday was excused after she said she had been constantly exposed to news of Floyd’s death and that the announcement of the city’s settlement pushed her to favor the state’s position, which she was already leaning toward.
Cahill has set 29 March for opening statements if the jury is complete by then.
Chauvin is charged with murder and manslaughter in the 25 May 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.