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Amid ex-cop’s trial, Minneapolis to pay $27 million to settle George Floyd family lawsuit

The makeshift memorial for George Floyd
The makeshift memorial outside Cup Foods, where George Floyd was killed last year when a Minneapolis police officer, now on trial, kneeled on his neck for several minutes.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

The city of Minneapolis agreed Friday to pay $27 million to settle a civil lawsuit from George Floyd’s family over the Black man’s death in police custody, as jury selection continued in a former officer’s murder trial.

City Council members met privately to discuss the settlement, then returned to public session for a unanimous vote in support of the massive payout. It easily surpassed the $20 million the city approved two years ago for the family of a white woman killed by a police officer.

Floyd family attorney Ben Crump called it the largest pretrial settlement ever for a civil rights claim, and thanked city leaders for “showing you care about George Floyd.”

“It’s going to be a long journey to justice. This is just one step on the journey to justice,” Crump said. “This makes a statement that George Floyd deserved better than what we witnessed on May 25, 2020, that George Floyd’s life mattered, and that by extension, Black lives matter.”

“Even though my brother is not here, he’s here with me in my heart,” Philonise Floyd said. “If I could get him back, I would give all this back.”

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L. Chris Stewart, another attorney who worked with the family, said the size of the settlement “changes evaluations and civil rights for a Black person when they die.”

“And what happens is that trickles down to decisions in the communities across this country. When there is a city council or a mayor deciding, ‘Oh, should we get rid of no-knock warrants, should we get rid of chokeholds, do we want to change these policies?’ They have 27 million reasons now why they should. And that will make decisions happen. That will make accountability happen.”

The settlement includes $500,000 for the south Minneapolis neighborhood that includes the intersection next to Cup Foods, which has been blocked by barricades since his death, with a massive metal sculpture and murals in his honor. The city didn’t immediately say how that money would be spent.

Floyd was declared dead on May 25 after then-Officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for about nine minutes. Floyd’s death sparked sometimes violent protests in Minneapolis and far beyond and led to a national reckoning on racial justice.

City Council President Lisa Bender choked up as she spoke at a news conference about the settlement, saying she knew “no amount of money” could bring Floyd back.

“I just want you to know how deeply we are with you,” she said to Floyd’s family members.

Floyd’s family filed the federal civil rights lawsuit in July against the city, Chauvin and three other fired officers charged in his death. The suit alleged the officers violated Floyd’s rights when they restrained him, and that the city allowed a culture of excessive force, racism and impunity to flourish in its police force.

In 2019, Minneapolis agreed to pay $20 million to settle a civil rights lawsuit from the family of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, an unarmed white woman who was shot by an officer after she called 911 to report hearing a possible crime happening behind her home.

It wasn’t immediately clear how the settlement with Floyd’s family might affect Chauvin’s trial or the jury now being seated to hear it. Crump said the settlement was a way “to help shape what justice looks like” rather than waiting for a result from a legal system that many Black Americans distrust.

“The one thing we know as Black people ... is there is no guarantee that a police officer will be convicted for killing a Black person unjustly in our country,” Crump said. “That’s what history has taught us.”

Stewart said the civil case “doesn’t have anything to do with” the trial.

“Justice doesn’t really wait,” he said. “It happens when it happens, and it happened today.”

Ted Sampsell-Jones, a criminal law expert at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law, said the additional pretrial publicity is “bad for the defense” and could lead some jurors to think guilt has already been decided.

“However, this ultimately should not affect the criminal case,” Sampsell-Jones said. “There has already been a ton of pretrial publicity — some of it bad for the prosecution, some of it bad for the defense. All we can do is hope that the jurors will follow Judge [Peter] Cahill’s instructions and decide the case based solely on the evidence presented at trial.”

Crump and others at the news conference called for any protests during Chauvin’s trial to be peaceful. Minneapolis is on edge for potential violence if Chauvin is acquitted, with concrete barriers, fencing and barbed wire encircling the courthouse and the National Guard already mobilized.

Meanwhile, another potential juror was dismissed Friday after she acknowledged having a negative view of the defendant.

The woman, a recent college graduate, said she had seen bystander video of Floyd’s fatal arrest and closely read news coverage of the case. In response to a jury pool questionnaire, she said she had a “somewhat negative” view of Chauvin and thought he held his knee to Floyd’s neck for too long.

“I could only watch part of the video, and from what I saw as a human ... that did not give me a good impression,” she said.

As for not watching the video in its entirety, she said: “I just couldn’t watch it anymore.”

The woman repeatedly said she could put aside her opinions and decide the case on the facts, but Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson nonetheless used one of his 15 challenges to dismiss her.

With jury selection in its fourth day, seven people have been seated. Cahill has set aside three weeks for jury selection, with opening statements no sooner than March 29.

Potential jurors’ identities are being protected, and they are not shown on livestreamed video of the proceedings.

Chauvin and three other officers were fired after Floyd’s death. The others face an August trial on charges of aiding and abetting in his killing. The defense hasn’t said whether Chauvin will testify.


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