MINNEAPOLIS: The judge in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer facing murder charges for the deadly arrest of George Floyd, said on Monday that the timing of the city's announcement of a US$27 million settlement with Floyd's family was "unfortunate".
Judge Peter Cahill of the Hennepin County District Court also said he would soon recall the seven jurors already seated so far to ask them if they had seen news of the settlement, which was announced on Friday, and whether it would affect their impartiality.
"I wish city officials would stop talking about this case so much," the judge said before resuming jury selection on Monday morning. "At the same time, I don't find any evil intent that they are trying to tamper with the criminal case."
He is presiding over one of the most closely scrutinised trials in years, one that is being closely watched as a bellwether of the way US law enforcement agencies use force and violence in policing Black people.
Chauvin, a white man, was captured in a bystander's video with his knee on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man in handcuffs, cries out for his life and his mother, who had recently died. Nationwide protests against racism and police brutality erupted soon after.
Floyd's family filed a federal wrongful-death lawsuit against Chauvin and the city of Minneapolis last year. The city held a widely viewed news conference with family members on Friday to announce the US$27 million settlement.
Eric Nelson, Chauvin's lead lawyer, said the news was "profoundly disturbing" to the defense.
"By my count, this is the third highly prejudicial press leak or press release that has very suspicious timing, to say the least, and has an incredible propensity to taint a jury pool," he told the court before jury selection resumed.
Besides asking to recall the seven jurors already seated, Nelson also asked the judge to reconsider his request to move the trial to a different county, which Cahill said he would consider.
Prosecutors from the Minnesota attorney general's office told the court they had no control over the city's mayor, council or news media.
"You would agree that this is unfortunate, wouldn't you?" the judge asked prosecutors. "That we have this reported all over the media when we're in the midst of jury selection?"
Among the seated jurors are four white men, including one who is Hispanic; one white woman; a woman who is of mixed race; and a black man who immigrated to the United States about 14 years ago. All but one are in their 20s and 30s, the court said.
Chauvin, 44, is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He has pleaded not guilty, saying he followed his police training.
All potential jurors who have appeared so far in the Hennepin County District Court in a heavily fortified tower in downtown Minneapolis say they know who Chauvin is and what the video shows him doing; most said they had formed a negative opinion of him, though some said they could remain open to the possibility his actions were not criminal.
The court is planning to have opening arguments commence on Mar 29. Chauvin faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted on the most serious charge.