The city of Minneapolis on Friday agree to pay $27 million US to settle a civil lawsuit from George Floyd's family over the Black man's death in police custody, even as jury selection continued in a former officer's murder trial.
Council members met privately to discuss the settlement, then returned to public session for a unanimous vote in support of the massive payout. It easily surpassed the $20 million the city approved two years ago to the family of a white woman killed by a police officer.
Floyd was declared dead on May 25 after now-former police officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against Floyd's neck for about nine minutes. Floyd's killing sparked protests in Minneapolis and beyond and led to a national reckoning on racial justice.
Floyd family attorney Ben Crump called it the largest pretrial settlement ever for a civil rights claim, and thanked city leaders for "showing you care about George Floyd."
"It's going to be a long journey to justice. This is just one step on the journey to justice," Crump said. "This makes a statement that George Floyd deserved better than what we witnessed on May 25, 2020, that George Floyd's life mattered, and that by extension, Black lives matter."
"Even though my brother is not here, he's here with me in my heart," Philonise Floyd said. "If I could get him back, I would give all this back."
Chris Stewart, another attorney who worked with the family, said the size of the settlement "changes evaluations and civil rights for a Black person when they die."
"And what happens is that trickles down to decisions in the communities across this country. When there is a city council or a mayor deciding, 'Oh, should we get rid of no-knock warrants, should we get rid of choke holds, do we want to change these policies?' They have 27 million reasons now why they should. And that will make decisions happen. That will make accountability happen."
The settlement includes $500,000 for the south Minneapolis neighborhood that includes an intersection that has been blocked by barricades, a massive metal sculpture and murals in Floyd's honour since his death. The city didn't immediately say how that money would be spent.
City council offers condolences
City Council President Lisa Bender choked up as she addressed a news conference about the settlement, saying she knew "no amount of money" could bring Floyd back.
"I just want you to know how deeply we are with you," she said to Floyd's family members.
Floyd's family filed the federal civil rights lawsuit in July against the city, Chauvin and three other fired officers charged in his death. It alleged the officers violated Floyd's rights when they restrained him, and that the city allowed a culture of excessive force, racism and impunity to flourish in its police force.
In 2019, Minneapolis agreed to pay $20 million US to the family of Justine Ruszczyk Damond to settle her family's civil rights lawsuit. Damond, an unarmed woman who was shot by an officer after she called 911 to report hearing a possible crime happening behind her home, was white.
The federal lawsuit sought unspecified compensatory and special damages in an amount to be determined by a jury. It also sought a receiver to be appointed to ensure that the city properly trains and supervises officers in the future.
Impact on murder trial?
It wasn't immediately clear how the settlement might affect the trial or the jury now being seated to hear it. Crump said the settlement is a way "to help shape what justice looks like" rather than waiting for a result from a legal system that many Blacks distrust.
"The one thing we know as Black people … is there is no guarantee that a police officer will be convicted for killing a Black person unjustly in our country," Crump said. "That's what history has taught us."
Stewart said the civil case "doesn't have anything to do with" the trial. "Justice doesn't really wait," he said. "It happens when it happens and it happened today."
Ted Sampsell-Jones, a criminal law expert at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, Minn., said the settlement brings additional pretrial publicity that is "bad for the defence" and could lead some jurors to think guilt has already been decided.
"However, this ultimately should not affect the criminal case," Sampsell-Jones said. "There has already been a ton of pretrial publicity — some of it bad for the prosecution, some of it bad for the defence. All we can do is hope that the jurors will follow Judge Cahill's instructions and decide the case based solely on the evidence presented at trial."
Crump and others at the news conference called for any protests during Chauvin's trial to be peaceful. Minneapolis is on edge for potential violence if Chauvin is acquitted, with concrete barriers, fencing and barbed wire encircling the courthouse and the National Guard already mobilized.
Jury selection continues
Meanwhile, another potential juror was dismissed Friday after she acknowledged having a negative view of Chauvin.
The woman, a recent college graduate, said she had seen a bystander video of Floyd's arrest and closely read news coverage of the case. In response to a jury pool questionnaire, she said she had a "somewhat negative" view of Chauvin and that she thought he held his knee to Floyd's neck for too long.
"I could only watch part of the video, and from what I saw … that did not give me a good impression." She said she did not watch the video in its entirety because "I just couldn't watch it anymore."
The woman repeatedly said she could put aside her opinions and decide the case on the facts, but Chauvin's attorney Eric Nelson nonetheless used one of his 15 challenges to dismiss her.
With jury selection in its fourth day, six people have been seated — five men and one woman. Three of those seated are white, one is multiracial, one is Hispanic and one is Black, according to Cahill.
He has set aside three weeks for jury selection, with opening statements set to begin no sooner than March 29.
Friday's quick dismissal echoed others earlier in the case for similar reasons. On Thursday, one woman was dismissed after she said she "can't unsee the video" of Chauvin pinning Floyd.
Jurors pressed on potential bias
Nelson pressed the woman hard on whether she could be fair despite her strong opinions.
"Looking in your heart and looking in your mind can you assure us you can set all of that aside, all of that, and focus only on the evidence that is presented in this courtroom?" Nelson asked.
"I can assure you, but like you mentioned earlier, the video is going to be a big part of the evidence and there's no changing my mind about that," she replied.
Potential jurors' identities are being protected and they are not shown on livestreamed video of the proceedings.
Chauvin and three other officers were fired. The others face an August trial on aiding and abetting charges. Lawyers haven't said whether Chauvin will testify in his own defence.
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