ST. PAUL (Minn.) — Thursday’s federal trial of three Minneapolis police officers accused in the killing of George Floyd saw 18 people selected. The judge said that this case has “absolutely no” to do with race.
One juror of Asian descent was chosen to hear the case against Thomas Lane, J. Kueng, and former Officer Tou Thao. The other six jurors would be of white descent. The court refused to give demographic information.
Thao, a Hmong American, Lane, who’s white, and Kueng (who is Black) are all charged with Floyd’s deprivation of civil rights, while acting under government authority. Derek Chauvin, a white man, used his knees to pin the Black man on the street. Protests and violence erupted worldwide after the videotaped murder. Opening statements will be made Monday.
The selection of the jury took only one day, compared to Chauvin’s state trial which took over two weeks. This would contrast sharply with Chauvin’s jury which was half-white and half-nonwhite.
U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson addressed a potential juror that said he was unsure he could be impartial “due my color”. He sought to reassure him as well as other jurors in this pool.
Magnuson stated that there is nothing to be said about religion, race, or ethnicity in the case.
Later, the man, an immigrant, who appeared to be Black was dismissed.
Two legal experts agreed Magnuson’s comment was correct from a legal standpoint. They pointed out that the officers weren’t accused of targeting Floyd for being Black but of denying him his constitutional rights.
Joe Daly, an emeritus Professor at Mitchell Hamline Law School said, “It’s true that it doesn’t have anything to do with race within the framework of law and facts.” It has everything to do, however, from what I see, it is almost all about race. It is based on what we know about the police’s enforcement of minor crimes against African Americans and how they have acted towards African Americans and minority people.
Mike Brandt, a local defense lawyer, stated that Floyd’s death was “kind of the tipping point” for unarmed Black men being shot by police officers. It was all about race.
The jury pool for Chauvin’s trial was made up of jurors from all over the state. It was more conservative and more diverse than the Minneapolis region. The jury found Chauvin guilty of murder and manslaughter. Later, he pleaded guilty for a federal civil rights offense.
Three jurors will be present at the federal trial, and one alternate are from Hennepin County where Minneapolis is.
Experts in legal and academic fields have been advocating for more diversity on juries, not only in terms of race, but also according to gender and socioeconomic backgrounds. Jurors with the same backgrounds are less likely to be questioned about their biases or preconceptions during deliberations.
Brandt stated, “If I were (prosecuting the case), I would prefer a jury composed of Black jurors.” “If I were representing these cops I would prefer a jury made up of white jurors, which is what they have.”
A separate state trial is scheduled for June 13 and will include the officers on charges of aiding in murder and manslaughter.
Experts predict that the federal trial will be more difficult because the prosecutors will have to prove Floyd’s constitutional rights were violated — unreasonably seizing Floyd and denying him liberty without due process.
Floyd, 46, was killed by Chauvin after he pinned Floyd to the ground and placed his knee on Floyd’s neck. Floyd was then face down, handcuffed, and gasping for air. Kueng placed his back on Floyd’s and Lane held his legs down. Thao prevented bystanders from interfering.
Attorneys for the Floyd family released a statement Thursday stating that bystander video had shown that three officers “directly contributed (Floyd)’s death and failed to intervene in the senseless murder.”
Magnuson, who was questioning potential jurors repeatedly stressed that Chauvin’s cases shouldn’t influence the proceedings. Magnuson said to jurors that he was “harping, harping, and harping” because federal and state law are distinct and he wanted them to be objective.
Federal prosecutors must prove that an officer has willfully deposed someone’s constitutional rights. Prosecutors must show that officers knew they were wrong but still did it.
Kueng, Lane, and Thao were all accused of willfully depriving Floyd the right to be freed from an officer’s indifference to Floyd’s medical needs. According to the indictment, Floyd required medical attention and was not helped by the men who saw him.
Thao and Kueng were also charged with a second charge alleging that they willfully violated Floyd’s right to be free of unreasonable seizure. They failed to stop Chauvin while he knelt down on Floyd’s neck. Although Lane isn’t mentioned in this count, evidence suggests that he twice asked Floyd if he should roll on his side.
Both charges allege that Floyd was killed by the officers.
Federal civil rights violations can be punished by life imprisonment or death. However, federal sentencing guidelines suggest that officers will get much less if they are convicted.