The city of Minneapolis on Friday agreed to pay US$27 million to settle a civil lawsuit from George Floyd’s family over the Black man’s death in police custody, 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 US$20 million the city approved two years ago to the family of a white woman killed by a police officer.
Floyd family lawyer 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,” Mr. 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.”
L. Chris Stewart, another lawyer 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 chokeholds, 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 US$500,000 for the south Minneapolis neighbourhood that includes the 38th and Chicago intersection that has been blocked by barricades since his death, with a massive metal sculpture and murals in his honour. The city didn’t immediately say how that money would be spent.
Mr. Floyd was declared dead on May 25 after Derek Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against his neck for about nine minutes. Mr. Floyd’s death sparked sometimes violent protests in Minneapolis and beyond and led to a national reckoning on racial justice.
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 Mr. Floyd back.
“I just want you to know how deeply we are with you,” she said to Mr. Floyd’s family members.
Mr. Floyd’s family filed the federal civil rights lawsuit in July against the city, Mr. Chauvin and three other fired officers charged in his death. It alleged the officers violated Mr. 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 US$20 million to the family of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, an unarmed woman who was shot by an officer after she called 911 to report hearing a possible crime happening behind her home, to settle her family’s civil rights lawsuit. Ms. Damond was white.
It wasn’t immediately clear how the settlement might affect the trial or the jury now being seated to hear it. Mr. 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 Black people 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,” Mr. Crump said. “That’s what history has taught us.”
Mr. 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, said it’s 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,” Mr. 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 [Peter] Cahill’s instructions and decide the case based solely on the evidence presented at trial.”
Mr. Crump and others at the news conference called for any protests during Mr. Chauvin’s trial to be peaceful. Minneapolis is on edge for potential violence if Mr. Chauvin is acquitted, with concrete barriers, fencing and barbed wire encircling the courthouse and the National Guard already mobilized.
Meanwhile, another potential juror was dismissed Friday after she acknowledged having a negative view of the defendant.
The woman, a recent college graduate, said she had seen bystander video of Mr. 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 Mr. Chauvin and that she thought he held his knee to Mr. Floyd’s neck for too long.
“I could only watch part of the video, and from what I saw as a human, I, that did not give me a good impression,” she said. She said she did not watch the bystander 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 Mr. Chauvin’s lawyer Eric Nelson nonetheless used one of his 15 challenges to dismiss her.
With jury selection in its fourth day, seven people have been seated. Judge Cahill has set aside three weeks for jury selection, with opening statements no sooner than March 29.
Potential jurors’ identities are being protected and they are not shown on livestreamed video of the proceedings.
Mr. Chauvin and three other officers were fired. The others face an August trial on aiding and abetting charges. The defence hasn’t said whether Mr. Chauvin will testify in his own defence.
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