Jury seated in federal trial for three former MPD officers; activists blast judge’s handling

MGN Former MPD officers Tou Thao, Thomas Lane, and J. Alexander Kueng are charged with violating George Floyd’s constitutional rights while in police custody by failing to come to his aid. They have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Observers did not believe Minnesota District Court Judge Paul Magnuson could seat a 12-person jury with six alternates on the first two days of the federal trial involving three former Minneapolis police officers implicated in killing George Floyd. 

But Magnuson did it in one. According to notes shared from journalists who had the four seats in the courtroom, the court was able to pick from 58 jurors called to serve from throughout the state on the first day of the trial involving civil rights charges against former officers J. Alexander Kueng (pronounced ‘King’), Thomas Lane, and Tou Thao.

Twelve of those who were seated, according to pool reporters, hail from the counties in the Twin Cities area: two from Anoka, four from Hennepin, four from Ramsey, one from Scott, and two from Washington. Two of the seated, including a 19-year-old, are from Olmsted County, which includes Rochester, while the remaining jurors each come from Blue Earth, Jackson, and Nicollet counties, all in southwestern Minnesota. 

It is not a racially diverse jury. Everyone except two Asian members of the jury is White. Ten men and eight women compose the jury. Eight of the jurors appeared to be over 40. Ten of them work white-collar occupations, which include computer programming, teaching, customer service, and project management, while three work blue-collar occupations, including retail and facilities maintenance. Three more members of the jury are retired, while two did not appear to disclose their occupations. 

The seated jury and the alternate pool each comprised one Asian person. Every potential juror hailing from greater Minnesota was seated as a juror. 

Jury selection was significantly faster compared to the trials of former police officers Kimberly Potter and Derek Chauvin, with jurors making a quick round of introductions. Jury selection in Potter’s case took a week, while Chauvin’s case took three weeks.

Judge Magnuson hopes to have a speedy trial, as he said at a pretrial hearing on January 11 that he has a lung condition that makes it difficult for him to wear a mask, and he is very worried about catching COVID. 

Judge Magnuson, responding to concerns that a man, later identified by court observers to be of Oromo descent, could not be impartial because of the color of his skin and religion, said that this case has “nothing to do with race, nothing to with religion, or national origin.” The man was later dismissed.

Henry Pan/MSR Courtney Ross, former girlfriend of George Floyd at the press conference outside of the courthouse.

Outside of the courthouse, the partner of Floyd Courtney Ross blasted Magnuson’s comments, saying that the case has everything to do with race. “The fact that four officers killed a strong Black man had everything to do with race. He would have never even been approached if he was a White man–he would have never even been held to the ground, he would have absolutely never been killed,” said Ross.

Michelle Gross, who runs Communities United Against Police Brutality, reminded people about Kueng and Lane’s role in causing Floyd’s death. “And they held guns at him, pointing guns at him, frightening him over what at most would have been a misdemeanor, something that you wouldn’t even go to prison for,” said Gross. 

Activists and local media have also raised concerns about the lack of transparency around the trial compared to the state trials. Instead of a livestream broadcast around the world, which can’t be implemented because rules governing district courts prohibit cameras, members of the public and the press have to go through airport-style security to access two rooms that feed low-quality sound and footage from three fixed cameras directed at the courtroom.

In addition, only four journalists are allowed in the courtroom, along with the prosecution, defense, and the judge and his staff. 

“At the end of the day, we need to be aware that the world is watching what happened in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the world is still watching what is happening with regard to this justice system, and whether these three officers will be held accountable,” said civil rights attorney Nekima Levy Armstrong. 

Even though the jury has been fully seated, opening statements will begin on Monday, January 24, as scheduled. The hearing on Friday, January 21, will discuss what evidence to allow in the trial.