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A judge Wednesday dismissed two jurors who had been seated in the trial of the former Minneapolis police officer charged with murder in George Floyd's death over concerns that a $27 million settlement the city reached with Floyd's family last week would affect their ability to be impartial.
A lawyer for the former officer, Derek Chauvin, had asked Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill to recall the seven jurors — of the nine seated — who had been selected before Minneapolis announced the record settlement last Friday.
The judge recalled the jurors Wednesday morning via Zoom and inquired about whether they had any knowledge of a civil lawsuit between the city and Floyd's family. Cahill was careful not to ask jurors specific details about the settlement, such as its amount.
The first dismissed juror, a Hispanic man in his 20s, said the settlement would affect his ability to be impartial "a lot."
"So, last time I was asked about my strong opinions against Chauvin," he told Cahill. "Clearly the city of Minneapolis has some strong opinions, as well. And this just kind of confirms my opinions that I already had."
The judge told the man it was a separate case and wouldn't be among the evidence in Chauvin's trial.
The man said it would be hard to be impartial and was excused for what Cahill described as "an unfortunate broadcast of certain details." He told the man he appreciated his honesty.
The other juror who was dismissed, a white man in his 30s, told Cahill "that dollar amount was kind of shocking to me. That kind of sent the message that the city of Minneapolis felt that something was wrong and they wanted to make it right to the tune of that dollar amount."
"I think in the headline if it would have said $2,000 versus $20 million, that's a big change," the second dismissed juror said. "So I think that sticker price obviously shocked me and kind of swayed me a little bit, yes."
Cahill retained five jurors, including a woman who said she had seen headlines about the settlement but didn't read any stories about it. Asked if it affected her ability to be impartial she said: "I've been thinking about this question a lot. I don't think so."
"It wasn't surprising that the city made this settlement," she said. "I think they made their position clear when they decided to defund the police or take actions or steps towards that."
A Black man in his 30s who remains told Cahill he heard about the settlement on the radio Friday evening. He said he could decide the case only on evidence presented in the courtroom.
"It hasn't affected me at all because I don't know the details," he said. "I'm not a lawyer so obviously I don't know what went into making that decision."
On Monday, Chauvin's attorney, Eric Nelson, said the timing of the announcement by city officials in the middle of jury selection was "profoundly disturbing," "not fair" and "has incredible potential to taint the jury pool." He also requested a delay in the trial and a change of venue, which Cahill is considering. Prosecutor Steve Schleicher said the state had no control over Mayor Jacob Frey and the City Council, who announced the settlement Friday.
Two jurors were seated Wednesday afternoon, a Black man in his 40s who lives in the suburbs and a multiracial woman, bringing the total number of jurors to nine. The woman had been previously identified by court officials as white.
The man said he had seen bystander video of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd's neck on Facebook two or three times and on the news. He wrote on his juror questionnaire that he had a neutral opinion of Chauvin based on what he had seen, read or heard "because so far, I have not heard anything or statements from" him.
The man wrote that he had a somewhat positive impression of Floyd "because the media talked a lot about him in a positive manner and there have been a lot of demonstrations supporting him." He said his view of Floyd has not changed since completing the questionnaire and that he could presume Chauvin innocent.
The woman selected Wednesday wrote on her questionnaire that she had formed a somewhat negative impression of Chauvin because she believed he and other officers at the scene "appeared to take little action despite the pleas of George and bystanders."
During questioning, she told Nelson she based her opinion on what she had seen on the news. She also wrote that she had a neutral opinion of Floyd because "I only know that George died as a result of this encounter" and "I do not know what his actions were prior to this taking place." She told Nelson she had not learned more about him since completing the questionnaire. She said she did not form an opinion that Chauvin was responsible for Floyd's death and that she could judge the case on the evidence presented during the trial.
Chauvin, who was recorded on bystander video kneeling on Floyd's neck for about nine minutes, is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter. The video brought worldwide attention to Floyd's death and prompted global racial justice protests.
The City Council unanimously approved the settlement Friday. Floyd's family filed a federal lawsuit in July against the city and the four officers involved in the arrest that led to his death. The three other officers, who were also fired the day after Floyd's death, are scheduled to stand trial in August. They are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter.
The settlement is the largest in the city's history.