A juror in the Derek Chauvin murder trial attended the March on Washington anniversary last summer, which is drawing online speculation about his motives for serving on the trial and could become grounds for an appeal.
In recent days, a photo of Brandon Mitchell that was originally posted on social media around the Aug. 28 event commemorating Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech began circulating online and on multiple news sites. Many commentators online questioned his motive and its potential to fuel an appeal in Chauvin's case.
Mitchell, who is Black, was one of 12 jurors who convicted Chauvin two weeks ago on all counts against him — second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter — in the May 25 killing of George Floyd, who is also Black. Mitchell was the first juror to go public about his role, and spoke to several media outlets last week.
"I'd never been to [Washington] D.C.," Mitchell said Monday of his reasons for attending the event. "The opportunity to go to D.C., the opportunity to be around thousands and thousands of Black people; I just thought it was a good opportunity to be a part of something."
Chauvin's attorney, Eric Nelson, did not return a message seeking comment. Mitchell's appearance at the rally was first reported by the International Business Times, an online publication.
The matter is likely to be cited by Nelson as one of many bases for an appeal, said a law professor and defense attorney.
"If [Mitchell] specifically was asked, 'Have you ever participated in a Black Lives Matter demonstration,' and he answered, 'No,' to that, I think that would be an important appealable issue," said Joseph Daly, emeritus professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law.
The picture shows Mitchell, 31, standing next to two cousins in Washington, D.C. He is wearing a Black T-shirt with a picture of King surrounded by the words, "GET YOUR KNEE OFF OUR NECKS" and "BLM" (Black Lives Matter). Chauvin knelt on Floyd's neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds.
Mitchell said the social media post was made by his uncle, who is the father of one of the cousins pictured. However, he said, he has no recollection of wearing or owning the shirt.
Mitchell said the event was commemorating the 57th anniversary of King's famous speech, which advocated for civil and economic rights for Blacks, and is credited with helping to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The event was "100 percent not" a march for Floyd, Mitchell said, adding, "It was directly related to MLK's March on Washington from the '60s … The date of the March on Washington is the date."
The event included advocating for racial justice, increasing voter registration, pushing for a new version of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and urging participation in the 2020 census.
It also focused on police use of force. Floyd's brother and sister, Philonise and Bridgett Floyd, and family members of others who have been shot by police addressed the crowd. It served as a rallying point for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a federal police reform bill.
Mitchell said he answered "no" to two questions in the juror questionnaire sent out before jury selection that asked about participation in demonstrations.
The first question asked, "Did you, or someone close to you, participate in any of the demonstrations or marches against police brutality that took place in Minneapolis after George Floyd's death?"
The second asked, "Other than what you have already described above, have you, or anyone close to you, participated in protests about police use of force or police brutality?"
Mitchell said he was not concerned about backlash for his participation in the march, noting its historic significance beyond the Chauvin case.
"This was a big deal," he said of the event. "It's a national thing."
Mitchell took issue with at least one news account of the picture that said he told the court during jury selection that he had no knowledge of Chauvin's case.
"I think I was being extremely honest, for sure," he said of the jury selection process. "I gave my views on everything — on the case, on Black Lives Matter."
Nelson asked Mitchell several questions during jury selection, and Mitchell told him: He had watched clips of bystander video of the incident; he had talked about the case with his family, friends and co-workers; he had wondered why three other officers at the scene didn't stop Chauvin; and he had a "very favorable" opinion of Black Lives Matter.
Mitchell also told Nelson he knew some police officers at his gym who were "great guys," and that he felt neutral about Blue Lives Matter, a pro-police group. He said he could be neutral at trial.
Defense attorney Mike Padden, who is not involved in the case, said Mitchell should have divulged his participation and let attorneys and the judge decide whether it would unfairly influence him at trial.
"It's disconcerting," Padden said. "Maybe with that disclosure, Mr. Nelson keeps him on the jury, but I don't think so."
Padden said had he been in Nelson's shoes and known about the march in conjunction with Mitchell's answer about BLM, he would have asked the court to dismiss him from the jury pool, and were that denied by the judge, he would have used a peremptory strike to dismiss him.
It's the attorneys' jobs to home in on issues and ferret out more detailed answers, said Daly, who praised Nelson's trial performance.
"You don't have to, as a potential juror, go to confession," Daly said. "It's not like you're opening up your entire life and everything you've ever done that may or may not relate to this case. It's the job of the lawyers to look for and find unbiased jurors."
The issue's strength on appeal, Daly said, rests on whether the court believes Mitchell lied in his questionnaire or during jury selection, which is a crime.