As jury selection continued for a third day Thursday in the trial for ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, one juror was dismissed by the court with cause after explaining that she could not “un-see” what she described as the “traumatizing” bystander video showing a knee pressed to George Floyd’s neck – and stating that the rioting that following his death was necessary to advance the BLM movement.
Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill dismissed the woman identified as “Juror #37,” expressing doubts that she could reasonably presume Chauvin is innocent until proven guilty. By the end of day Wednesday, five jurors – out of ultimately 14 sought – had been seated, and questioning continues Thursday.
“I’m going to focus on one issue and that’s the presumption of innocence,” Cahill said, addressing “Juror #37.” “Do you think you could do that — presume that he is innocent as you enter the courtroom?”
“I wouldn’t like that verdict,” she stated, before the judge interjected, “So if it if it was ‘not guilty.'”
Cahill thanked the woman for her honestly and dismissed her. Addressing the defense and prosecutors after she left, the judge explained, “When I finally gave her the space to say, how do you feel, do you think sitting here right now and it has to be right now, not later, can you presume the defendant innocent? She answered unequivocally, no.”
In an earlier line of questioning lead by Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, the woman reiterated that she wrote a lengthy paragraph on her juror questionnaire that she believed that Chauvin had a “hateful look on his face” as he pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck in the bystander video that went viral online last May.
She said in the questionnaire that she had a neutral opinion toward Floyd because she did not know him personally, but she saw media reports of family members saying he was a “good guy.” Before filling out the questionnaire, the woman said she watched police body-camera footage showing Chauvin and Floyd’s interactions on May 25, 2020 about three or four times – but she was only able to view the viral bystander video from start to finish once due to her strong emotional response.
“The one where you can hear him crying out for his mom,” she said. “I was only able to watch that one time.”
The juror wrote in the questionnaire that she cried upon watching to video. Because the bystander video is submitted as evidence in the case, Nelson pointed out that anyone who sits on the jury would need to watch the video again.
The juror wrote in the questionnaire that her community has been both negatively and positively affected.
“I mean negatively affected because there was a life taken — positively affected because it’s become a movement and the whole world knows about it” she told the court, explaining the response.
Nelson pressed as to whether she considered property damage that occurred during rioting following Floyd’s death a negative impact.
“I feel like if that was what needed to happen in order for this to be brought to the world’s attention and that’s what needed to happen,” she said.
Nelson read the next question in the questionnaire that asked: “No matter what you have seen or heard about this case and no matter what opinions you might have formed, can you put all of that aside and decide this case only on the evidence you receive in court, follow the law and decide the case in a fair and impartial manner?”
The woman wrote, “Yes, I can be fair and follow the law, but I cannot unsee that video.”
“This is what I’m asking you to do, is looking in your heart and looking in your mind, can you assure us unequivocally that you can set all of that aside? All of that and focus only on the evidence that’s presented in this courtroom?” Nelson asked.
“I can assure you,” she responded. “But like you mentioned earlier, the video is going to be a big part of evidence and there’s no changing my mind about that.”
Following the juror’s dismissal, Special Attorney for the State Steven Schleicher objected to that fact that the court moved to dismiss her with cause, arguing that she stated that she could put her opinions aside in the case and if the defense wanted to use their peremptory challenges to remove her, they could have.
Nelson said the defense made a motion for cause over “several equivocal statements” made by the juror over her ability to be impartial in terms of how the video had impacted her emotionally. Cahill granted that motion and dismissed her with cause over the presumption of innocence question.
“I recognize that this juror said that she could set aside her opinions,” Nelson said. “However, whenever pressed even by the state, she had very difficult, a very difficult time acknowledging that she could apply the presumption of innocence because of her viewing of the video. And then it would be essentially that she was had already made up her mind.”