We may not know the names of the jurors for the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd.
But that doesn’t mean we don’t know anything about them.
Over about two weeks, lawyers for the prosecution and defense quizzed potential jurors about their knowledge of Floyd’s death, their opinions of Chauvin, and their attitudes about police, racial injustice, and the protests and rioting that followed Floyd’s death.
Some questioned how much force was used against Floyd, who lay on the ground for more than nine minutes as Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck. Several believe the criminal justice system needs to be reformed. More than one questioned the movement to defund police departments.
Discussing her opinion about Black Lives Matter, one woman responded, “I am Black, and my life matters.”
The jurors pledged to set their opinions aside. But their answers provide a glimpse into how they might respond to the evidence in the coming weeks.
Opening arguments are to start Monday.
Twelve people will sit on the jury and two will serve as alternates. For Chauvin’s trial, a 15th person was selected, too. He is set to be dismissed Monday morning if the others arrive as scheduled.
Citing his science training, the first juror selected said he is “pretty logical” and passionate about his work. He said that background would make him a good juror.
He plays Ultimate Frisbee and frequently hikes and backpacks during the warmer months. He and his fiancee recently visited the area where George Floyd died, in part because they have considered moving to that area of Minneapolis, he said.
He said he had not seen the now-famous bystander video of the confrontation that ended with Floyd’s death, only still images. But he said he’d be willing to watch the video during the trial: “For the sake of the jury process, I would be willing to be uncomfortable.”
Eric Nelson, Chauvin’s lead defense lawyer, asked the juror what he meant when he wrote on his juror questionnaire that Floyd had been “killed” by Chauvin. “I wouldn’t say it’s demonstrative of my opinion,” the juror replied.
He said his personal impression of the Minneapolis Police Department “is fine.”
Questioned about his opinions on Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter, he said, “I support the message that every life should matter equally.”
Getting a chance to serve on the Chauvin jury was the reason this young woman registered to vote, she told the court. “I was super-excited” to be called for the jury, she said. “That’s actually why I voted.”
The young woman, whose occupation didn’t come up during jury questioning, has an uncle who works as a police officer in northern Minnesota. One of her only concerns about jury duty was whether she would have time to check her blood sugar because she has Type 1 diabetes.
Like some other jurors, she said she could face personal risk by serving. “But I’m not as concerned about it as I probably should be,” she said.
Friends “kind of consider me to a type of mediator,” she said, which could be helpful during jury deliberations.
She said she believes her community improved because of the massive protests that took place after Floyd’s death. Asked about her opinion on Black Lives Matter, she said, “I like the idea of what it’s supposed to be about. But it’s been turned into a marketing scheme by companies.”
She noted that she’d heard some people mention that Floyd had drugs in his system. “I don’t necessarily agree” that drugs could have caused his death, she said. “It could have everything to do with it. It could have nothing to do with it.”
This juror said one concern about serving on the jury would be whether he could block out enough time from work for what’s estimated to be a four-week trial.
A friend of a friend is a police officer, but the acquaintance wouldn’t sway his views, the juror said. Besides, the officer is on the K-9 unit and mostly “talks about his dog” with him, the man said.
The juror has seen parts of the bystander video two or three times, he said, but not the whole thing.
Questioned by prosecutor Steve Schleicher, he said he’d read that Floyd might have had “hard drugs in his system,” meaning anything stronger than marijuana. “Frankly, I don’t think that should have much influence on the case. Whether you’re involved in drugs or not shouldn’t affect whether you end up alive or dead,” he said.
He dismissed reports that Floyd had what he described as a “checkered past,” saying, “What happened in the past shouldn’t be on trial here.”
Regarding Black Lives Matter, he said: “I think some of the ways that groups have gone about it hasn’t been the best. But I believe Black lives matter.”
The West Africa-born man who emigrated to the U.S. 14 years ago said he and his wife discussed “how it could have been me, or anyone else,” who died. He appeared to say that not because of his skin color, but because the couple once lived in the area where Floyd died.
Since coming to the U.S., he’s become a big fan of American football, rooting for the Minnesota Vikings and the Golden Gophers of the University of Minnesota. He said he withdrew from social media about a decade ago for security and privacy reasons. He manages several people at work and helps resolve conflicts, he said.
He saw clips of the video on TV. Based on what he saw and conversations with family and friends, he wrote on his jury questionnaire that he had a “somewhat negative” opinion of Chauvin.
However, he said he didn’t know what had happened before the video started. Referring to Floyd, he said: “I think it was important for me to know the facts that led to his arrest and how he ended up dying.”
People in his community understood the protests that followed Floyd’s death, he said. However, they “were not okay with the looting” that occurred.
He opposes the movement to defund police departments. “For the police to make my community safe,” he said, “they have to have the money.”
This single mother has two sons in high school and said she loves the outdoors.
Although she watched only some of the bystander video, what she saw was troubling. “It was emotional,” she said. “I decided I didn’t want to watch it.”
In her juror questionnaire, she wrote that she didn’t know police procedures. “But a man died, and that’s not procedure,” she wrote. Floyd was “not a model citizen,” but he “didn’t deserve to die,” she wrote.
She “had sympathy for Mr. Floyd, as well as the officers,” she wrote, because “everyone’s life changed.”
During jury questioning, the woman said she is concerned about personal safety and privacy, even though the judge said jurors’ names would not be made public until sometime after the trial when he deems it safe.
She said the protests after Floyd’s death produced something good – “the raising of voices around the world for change – and something bad. “The businesses suffered,” she said.
Although she said she “wouldn’t want a community without” police, she supports criminal justice reform. “It’s years and years of laws made for a society that no longer exists. And it’s got to change,” she said.
She said a Black friend at work had taught her about inherent bias by describing the detailed instructions she felt she needed to give her son on what to do if he were ever pulled over by police.
“I never thought about that for my son,” the juror said.
He said he enjoys his job because he works one-on-one with customers and helps them set and meet financial goals. A basketball fan, he coaches youth sports, which he said often entails mediating disputes among parents over their kids’ playing time.
He wrote on his questionnaire that he wanted to be picked for the jury because “from all the protests … this is the most historic case of my lifetime and I’d like to be a part of it.”
He said he’s seen parts of the bystander video two or three times, but never in its entirety.
He voiced strong opinions in his juror questionnaire, but in court he said he could assess the trial evidence impartially.
He did not think Chauvin “set out to murder anyone,” he wrote. However, “Why didn’t the other officers stop Chauvin?”
Apparently referring to Chauvin, he wrote: “I don’t know if he was doing something wrong or not. But somebody did die.”
The juror recounted interactions with police that painted them in different ways. Once he saw cops slam a kid to the ground, which he characterized as overkill. However, some police officers go to the gym where he works out, and “they’re great guys,” he said.
Answering a question from Schleicher, a prosecutor, he said he would be able to explain a not-guilty verdict to the children he coaches.
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The mother of two older children, an assistant to a healthcare industry executive, said some of the rioting that erupted after Floyd’s death happened near her home.
She’s a motorcycle enthusiast who began riding with her husband before he died. She said she still rides her 2018 Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail “with him, now, in spirit.”
She said she had heard about the bystander video in news reports, but she “could never watch the whole thing” because it would be “too disturbing for me.”
On her questionnaire, she wrote about the police officers: “I think they could have handled it differently.”
She offered mixed views about police in general. Last summer, she saw cops question a young Black man who had been yelled at by a woman. She described the police response as “harassment.”
However, she said had “placed trust” in police officers. “I believe in that, unless they show me something different,” she said.
Referring to the protestors who lashed out after Floyd’s death, she said, “maybe they felt they were never heard. … I don’t believe that to be true, but I’m not them.”
An immigrant who came to Minnesota roughly 18 years ago, this man was among the potential jurors who knew about the $27 million civil settlement the city of Minneapolis reached with Floyd’s family over his death. The settlement was announced during jury selection.
“I don’t know what it was about,” he said. “I will put it aside.”
After saying he had seen the bystander video, the man said “it would be helpful” if Chauvin testified in his own defense. However, he said he would not hold it against the former officer if he exercised his constitutional right not to testify.
The man said he had not formed an opinion about who or what killed Floyd.
He said he was satisfied with how police responded after his home was burglarized, even though they were unable to solve the crime. The “defund the police” movement is misguided, he said. “If they were defunded, how could they come and help me?”
Questioned about Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter, the man said, “every life matters, and should not be disrespected.”
The man said he’s teaching a young relative how to drive, which prompted an exchange about police stops. If his young relative were pulled over by police officers, he said he would advise him to stop and answer their questions.
“Cooperation is good,” he said. “That is my opinion, yes.”
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The working mother was among several jurors who’d heard about the civil settlement Minneapolis reached with Floyd’s family. Familiar with such agreements from work, she said she doesn’t believe they “declare guilt.”
She said she saw parts of the bystander video several times. “I only know that George (Floyd) died due to this encounter,” she wrote in her juror questionnaire, adding that the police officers appeared to take “little to no action” about Floyd’s condition.
However, she wrote, “I do not know what happened before.”
Like some other jurors, she had some safety concerns about being involved with the high-profile trial, saying jurors could be targeted.
The protests after Floyd’s death brought positives and negatives to her community, she said. They gave a voice to people who “really didn’t feel heard,” she said. But there was “a lot of damage done to businesses and probably homes.”
She said she has never had personal experiences with inequality. Schleicher asked what she thought would happen if she inadvertently left a store without paying for something.
She replied that she would expect to be questioned and treated “respectfully,” and she would cooperate with police, as she’d been taught. She said someone who doesn’t cooperate with police is like a speeding driver who won’t pull over when the lights and siren come on.
“That’s not me,” she said.
The single woman who lives alone and likes visiting her nieces and nephews said she cares for patients on ventilators, including many battling COVID-19.
She knew about the civil settlement with the Floyd family and said she didn’t think it would affect her decision-making one way or another. She said she saw parts of the bystander video four or five times.
Before deciding what happened, she said she’d like to know more, including what training Chauvin had received and whether Floyd had been armed or resisted police. “I’d have to weigh what the experts would say and what the judge directs,” she said.
She said she hadn’t formed an opinion about what caused Floyd’s death or who was responsible. But she said this about how long Chauvin knelt on his neck: “I suppose knowing that Mr. Floyd died, I would say, yes, it was too long.”
In her jury questionnaire, she strongly agreed that minorities receive unequal treatment in the criminal justice system. Under questioning, she said she did not automatically trust police officers. “They’re human,” she said.
Challenged on why she should be chosen as a juror, she said, “I think I can be impartial and listen to instructions I’m given and ignore the outside stuff.”
She said she would avoid using her training to act like an expert in medical issues for other jurors. However, she said, “We all use our life experiences to make judgments.”
The grandmother who loves to visit her two grandchildren and volunteer at a youth organization was prepared for jury questioning. She was one of the few people who brought a copy of her pretrial questionnaire.
She’d heard about Minneapolis’ civil settlement with the Floyd family and said it had not affected her thoughts on the case.
She said the bystander video has popped up on social media. She probably watched it “for four or five minutes” before turning it off. “It just wasn’t something I needed to see,” she said.
In answering the questionnaire, she said she was neutral on both Floyd and Chauvin. About the protests that followed, she said, there have been “so many stores that have been looted or destroyed.” However, “I think some people may have come together or helped businesses get back on their feet.”
Police officers don’t make her feel unsafe, she said. “I do know they are there to protect the community, and I appreciate that,” she explained.
And she offered a personal view of Black Lives Matter: “I am Black, and my life matters.”
She was shocked to receive the jury duty summons and questionnaire for the Chauvin trial. “I didn’t expect to be part of something of this magnitude,” she said.
The spotlight on the trial makes her concerned about personal safety after the proceedings conclude, she said.
She said she saw snippets of the bystander video four to five times. She wrote on her juror questionnaire that she had formed a somewhat negative view toward Chauvin and Floyd.
“I don’t believe he deserved to die, but the police used excessive force, and he wasn’t perfectly innocent,” she wrote.
She offered a similarly mixed view about the movement for police reform. “I would be terrified if our police departments were dismantled, but it’s obvious that change has to happen,” she said.
Answering questions from the prosecution, she said she had heard Floyd had been involved with drugs. She has known people with addiction problems, specifically with alcohol, she said.
“There’s reasons they struggle with addiction,” she explained. “That doesn’t make them bad people.”
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The self-described animal lover with a fondness for dogs said she had seen clips of the bystander video on television two or three times.
On her questionnaire, she wrote, “This restraint ultimately was responsible for Mr. Floyd’s demise.” However, she added a caveat: “The video may not show the entirety of the situation that happened.”
When questioned about the confrontation between Chauvin and Floyd, she said, “It could have been handled differently.”
She is the only member of the jury who said her workplace had been damaged after Floyd’s death. “It was not due to protests, it was due to rioting,” she said. Some people “took an opportunity to break in.”
The damage wouldn’t affect her impartiality, she said.
She wrote on her questionnaire that she strongly agreed that police in her community make her feel safe. “I have had no issues with law enforcement,” she said in court.
Under questioning by the prosecution, she agreed that people who cooperate with police officers have nothing to fear. “If you’re not listening to what the commands are, obviously, something needs to happen,” she said.
The married woman who recently got a Goldendoodle puppy said she was indifferent when she received the jury duty summons and questionnaire for the Chauvin trial. “I’m a registered voter. I knew it was coming” eventually, she said.
She said she had heard about the $27 million settlement with the Floyd family but didn’t think it would affect her judgment in the criminal trial. “I don’t know anything about it; I just saw the number and that was it.”
She said she’d seen parts of the bystander video four or five times on TV. On her questionnaire, she wrote that she had a somewhat negative to neutral view of Chauvin. The negative impression likely resulted from constant news stories after Floyd’s death, she said.
“But the neutral side of it was, I’m always thinking about the person, and again where they came from, what they’ve been through,” she said. Referring to Chauvin pressing his knee on Floyd’s neck, she said, “My neutral side of that was, was that his training to do that?”
She said her decision-making would be aided if she heard both sides of the story at trial. However, reminded that Chauvin has no duty to testify, she said she would accept that.
Her professional background came out when she was asked her opinion of Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter. “As a social worker, I was trained to respect everyone, no matter what,” she said.
The accountant and his wife recently got a Bernese Mountain puppy. He described himself as an avid sports fan who plays tennis.
He saw about 30 seconds of the bystander video. He said he’d heard about Minneapolis’ civil settlement with Floyd’s family, but didn’t believe it would influence him.
Although he doesn’t like the prospect of jurors’ names eventually being made public, he said, “I understand it’s part of the process.”
On his questionnaire, he cited a somewhat negative view of Chauvin. He wrote that it shouldn’t take four or five police officers to respond to a complaint about a counterfeit bill, and the force seemed excessive.
“I think the duration was a bit unnecessary,” he said in court.
He recounted in court a discussion with coworkers about how they would strive to end racism, and he said he read a book on the subject. Asked what it said, he replied, “It’s been a while. … Nothing’s jumping out at me.”
He said he endorsed Black Lives Matter’s advocacy for equality, but not the group’s tactics. The organization might bear a small measure of responsibility for the rioting after Floyd’s death, he said.
While voicing support for Blue Lives Matter, he said he doesn’t believe the group has done enough “to advance the conversation” on equality and gun control.
Responding to a question from the prosecution, he offered a personal view on the controversy over athletes who take a knee during the national anthem to protest racial inequality. “I would prefer if someone would express their beliefs in a different manner,” he said.
Contributing: N’dea Yancey-Bragg