Jury in federal trial in Floyd’s murder appears mostly white
ST. PAUL, Minnesota.
A jury of 18 who appeared mostly white was chosen on Thursday for the federal trial of three Minneapolis police officers charged with the murder of George Floyd, a case that the judge said would-be jurors have “absolutely nothing” to do with race.
The jurors chosen to hear the case against former officers Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Kueng appeared to include an Asian among the 12 jurors who would deliberate if no alternate was needed, and a second person of Asian descent among the six alternates, with all others appearing in white. The court declined to provide demographic information.
Thao, who is Hmong American; Lane, who is white; and Kueng, who is black, are widely accused of stripping Floyd of his civil rights while acting under government authority as Derek Chauvin, who is white, used his knee to pin the black man to the street . The videotaped killing sparked global protests, violence and a re-examination of racism and policing. Opening statements are scheduled for Monday.
The one-day jury selection was remarkably quick compared to Chauvin’s trial on state charges, where the process took more than two weeks. The apparent composition of the jury would also contrast sharply with Chauvin’s jury, which was half white and half non-white.
Responding to a prospective juror who said he wasn’t sure he could be impartial “because of my color,” U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson sought to reassure him and the other jurors in the group.
“There is absolutely nothing on the subject of religion, race or ethnicity that is involved in this case,” Magnuson said.
The man, an immigrant who appeared to be black, was later fired.
Two legal experts said Magnuson’s remark was legally correct. They noted that the officers are not accused of targeting Floyd because he was black, but rather of depriving him of his constitutional rights.
“It’s true that it has nothing to do with race in law and in fact,” said Joe Daly, professor emeritus at Mitchell Hamline Law School. “But from what I can see, it has almost everything to do with race. It has to do with what we know about how police enforce petty crimes against African Americans, how police have acted towards African Americans, minorities.
Mike Brandt, a local defense attorney unrelated to the case, said Floyd’s killing “was kind of the tipping point of unarmed black men being killed at the hands of police. It had everything to do with the race”.
The jury pool was selected from across the state — far more conservative and less diverse than the Minneapolis area from which Chauvin’s state trial jury was drawn. That jury found Chauvin guilty of murder and manslaughter. He later pleaded guilty to a federal civil rights charge.
Three of the jurors who will deliberate in the federal trial and one of the alternates are from Hennepin County, where Minneapolis is located.
Academics and legal experts have increasingly argued for greater diversity in juries, not just in terms of race, but also gender and socioeconomic background. They say jurors who share the same background are unlikely to have their biases and preconceptions challenged during deliberations.
“If I was (prosecuting this case), I would want a jury made up of black jurors,” Brandt said. “If I represent these cops, I would prefer a white jury, that’s what they have here.”
The three officers face a separate state trial, scheduled for June 13, for aiding and abetting both murder and manslaughter.
Legal experts say the federal trial will be more complicated as prosecutors must prove officers deliberately violated Floyd’s constitutional rights – unreasonably seizing him and depriving him of liberty without due process.
Floyd, 46, died on May 25, 2020, after Chauvin pinned him to the ground with his knee on Floyd’s neck for 9½ minutes while Floyd was face down, handcuffed and out of breath. Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back and Lane held his legs up. Thao prevented passers-by from intervening.
A statement from attorneys for the Floyd family on Thursday said bystander video showed the three officers “directly contributed to (Floyd’s) death and did not intervene to stop the senseless killing.”
Magnuson, who interviewed potential jurors, repeatedly stressed that Chauvin’s cases should not influence the proceedings. Magnuson told jurors he “harassed and harassed and harassed” because state and federal laws were different and he wanted to make sure they could be objective.
Federal prosecutors face a high legal standard to show that an officer deliberately deprived someone of their constitutional rights. Essentially, prosecutors must prove that the officers knew what they were doing was wrong, but did it anyway.
Kueng, Lane and Thao are all charged with willfully depriving Floyd of the right to be free from an officer’s willful indifference to his medical needs. The indictment says the three men saw that Floyd needed medical attention and did not help him.
Thao and Kueng are also charged with a second count alleging they willfully violated Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure by failing to arrest Chauvin as he knelt on Floyd’s neck. . It’s unclear why Lane isn’t mentioned in this count, but evidence shows he twice asked if Floyd should be rolled to his side.
Both counts allege that the officers’ actions resulted in Floyd’s death.
Such federal civil rights violations are punishable by up to life in prison or even death, but federal sentencing guidelines say officers would face significantly less if they were found guilty.
Associated Press writers Tammy Webber contributed from Fenton, Michigan, and Doug Glass from Minneapolis.
Find full AP coverage of the murder of George Floyd at: https://apnews.com/hub/death-of-george-floyd