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Jury seated in federal trial for 3 former officers in George Floyd death

Prosecutors say the men failed to protect the civil rights of Floyd when he was killed in 2020.

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A pedestrian made his way in front of a gated Warren E. Burger Federal Building as jury selection begins in the trial of ex-Minneapolis officers charged in George Floyd killing, in St. Paul on Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022.
Star Tribune / TNS
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ST. PAUL -- It took a single day to find 18 jurors for the federal trial of the three ex-Minneapolis police officers charged with violating George Floyd’s constitutional rights while in police custody. Opening statements are expected Monday.

Floyd was killed in May 2020 after former officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for more than nine minutes.

Former officers Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng, who were on the scene, are charged with failing to provide medical aid to Floyd. Thao and Kueng are charged with failing to intervene with Chauvin’s use of force.

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From left, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao.
Courtesy photos / Hennepin County Sheriff's Office

Chauvin was found guilty in April on state murder and manslaughter charges. He was sentenced to 22½ years in prison. He pleaded guilty last month to federal charges of violating Floyd’s civil rights.

On Thursday, federal Judge Paul Magnuson told prospective jurors the federal case was complicated by the separate state court proceedings against Chauvin, but that jurors "have to decide this case based upon the evidence that is presented in this case, and the law as the court will instruct you in this case."

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Magnuson told the court the trial could last about a month.

By noon, 10 potential jurors had been excused from service; most said they didn’t feel like they could decide the case impartially.

A juror who said he had roots in Minnesota’s East African Oromo community told the judge that he was worried he couldn’t be fair because of his race. Magnuson reassured him that race wouldn’t be a factor, but excused him after the man insisted he couldn’t be impartial.

“This case has unequivocally nothing to do with race, and nothing to do with religion, and nothing to do with nation of origin,” Magnuson said. “That’s not a part of this case in any way, shape or form.”

A Hennepin County resident was also excused after she told the judge that she had been troubled by “vandalism” that happened in her community after Floyd’s killing.

Magnuson told jurors he knew some residents were upset by “what I refer to as anarchy in the streets.”

“It’s vitally important that even though that fear is a primal emotion of a human person, that fear can not control (your actions) in the courtroom,” Magnuson said.

‘We are tired'

Outside the courthouse, Floyd’s partner Courteney Ross said she only recently watched the entire video of Floyd's death taken by a bystander and eventually seen around the world. The video, she said, reaffirmed her belief that all of the officers involved share equal responsibility for Floyd's killing.

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george floyd
George Floyd. Special to The Forum.

"It reminded me of the length of time that they all had a moment to reach out for help. In fact, if they would have stepped one step back and got off his neck and his back and did nothing, they could have saved his life,” she said.

Joined by advocates for police change, Ross said she hoped the public would not lose its appetite to remake policing. "We are tired. We have been trapped in not only the pandemic, but within this second Civil Rights Movement that isn't moving fast enough," Ross said.

She expressed concern about racial diversity in the jury pool. Jurors in the federal trial are selected from beyond Hennepin and Ramsey counties, where most Minnesotans of color live.

Floyd family attorney Ben Crump released a statement saying, "we trust and expect that an impartial jury representative of the community will be seated to do this important work.”

All three defendants are also charged in state court with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter. That state trial is now scheduled to start on June 13.

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