The pool of prospective jurors empaneled for the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin came from the suburbs and Minneapolis, ranged in age from 18 to 75 and overwhelmingly believed that Blacks and people of color don't receive equal treatment as whites.
A Star Tribune review of 109 juror questionnaires provided last week by Hennepin County District Court looked at data such as age, occupation and beliefs about the police, race and George Floyd. The findings showed that while three-quarters of the respondents said they believed Blacks and people of color were treated unequally by the criminal justice system, less than a quarter thought the system was failing.
Although many said they believed police are more likely to use force against Black suspects, most said the police made them feel safe. Nine participated in demonstrations after Floyd's death; more than half had favorable opinions about Black Lives Matter.
"I was very sad for my Black co-workers and friends," wrote a 55-year-old white, male customer service manager from Richfield. "It felt like we digressed to the 1960's!"
Chauvin, 45, was found guilty in April of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for killing Floyd, 46, who was Black, by kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes.
The court sent prospective jurors in Hennepin County the 16-page questionnaire in December 2020. It asked respondents about several topics but did not ask their race. However, a few did volunteer their race.
The 12 jurors who deliberated in Chauvin's case included two multi-race women, three Black men, a Black woman, four white women and two white men. None of the prospective jurors quoted in this article served on the jury.
Prospective jurors' names were not publicly disclosed by the court; the names of the people who were seated on the jury were revealed last week.
Prospective jurors are randomly chosen from driver's license, state identification and voter registration records.
Three-fourths of the respondents had a negative impression of Chauvin and the three other former Minneapolis officers charged in the case. A fourth of respondents felt the same way about Floyd.
The defendants — Chauvin, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao — responded to a call on May 25, 2020, that Floyd had used a counterfeit $20 bill. He died after they restrained him stomach-down in the street. Chauvin's attorney argued at trial that Floyd's drug use and underlying health issues caused his death.
"As a police officer, you are to protect and serve. This action was neither," wrote a 49-year-old male architect from Minneapolis. "It is reported that George was intoxicated and using counterfeit bills. These are not 'good character' or honorable actions, but these are not actions that should bring about your death."
The average age of respondents was 41, and about 59% had at least a four-year college degree. Of 24 cities represented, Minneapolis had the largest share of respondents, 25%, or, 27 individuals, followed by Eden Prairie (11%) and Plymouth (9%).
Women made up about 44% of the group; about 56% were men. Respondents included teachers, students, stay-at-home parents, a doctor, a pizza delivery driver and others.
Three men who were police officers at the time and one retired male officer filled out questionnaires; none was questioned by attorneys or the presiding judge during the in-person jury selection process that vetted potential jurors.
The jury trial will be chaotic "because of all the media attention and all of the special interest groups wanting to get some attention," wrote a retired St. Louis Park deputy police chief. "Because of that and the social unrest that will occur after the trial, no matter what the outcome, my personal preference would to be far removed from it."
A 23-year-old Brooklyn Park man said he was an officer in a neighboring city, which he didn't identify, and has many friends who are Minneapolis officers. He had a "very positive" opinion of the officers involved and a "very negative" opinion of Floyd, whom he described as a "criminal and drug addict."
He had a "very unfavorable" opinion of Black Lives Matter and called it a "hat[e]full" organization. He had a "very favorable" opinion of Blue Lives Matter. "The police are the best and should be respected," he wrote.
He said he didn't want to serve on the jury because of his job.
A 50-year-old Rogers man said he's been a Minneapolis officer for 25 years. His opinion of the defendants was "neutral" and "somewhat negative" for Floyd, whom he wrote "made the decision to commit the crime and resist. He did not deserve to die or be hurt, though."
On the question of whether he had personally seen police use more force than needed, he checked "yes" and wrote, "On calls sometimes cops go too hard. No [sic] very often."
A 26-year-old Minnetonka police officer wrote that he didn't believe the officers "intended to bring harm to Floyd" and the "encounter may have ended differently if Floyd had cooperated. I believe Floyd still would have died based on the Fentanyl in his system."
Some feared retaliation regardless of the verdict.
"There is no part of me that wants to serve as a juror on this case," wrote a 35-year-old Minnetonka woman who works as a brand partner for a clothing retailer. "This is a racially charged case that has received national attention. I worry about the safety of my family especially my children."
"With such a high profile case, how do you guarantee the safety of jurors?" wrote a 59-year-old male accountant from Maple Grove. "There are individuals and organizations with very strong feelings regarding this incident. I don't want to be harassed during or after this trial has ended!"
Others said they could not be unbiased after viewing bystander video of Floyd's arrest. A 58-year-old Minneapolis woman who listed her job as retirement coach wrote that, like many, Floyd's death deeply affected her.
"The emotional upheaval and huge mind-opening learning I've gone through about how deeply embedded racism is in our country makes me unable to be unbiased," she wrote. "Our jury system depends on unbiased jurors carrying out justice. I cannot do that in this case."
A 28-year-old Minneapolis cosmetology student said she didn't want to serve because of bias against the police. "My strong distrust with police and how policing is done in my community has traumatized me in a way that I could not put my bias aside," she wrote.
Nearly 76% of respondents said Blacks and people of color did not receive equal treatment as whites in the criminal justice system, but only 20% said they felt the system did not work. Forty-seven percent said the system worked and 20% said it worked some of the time; the rest provided unclear or blank answers.
Nearly 77% said police made them feel safe even as about 55% said they believe Minneapolis police were more likely to use force against Black suspects than white suspects. Black Lives Matter had a higher approval rating, 59%, than Blue Lives Matter, which received favorable marks from 36% of the pool.
"It's important that we give [Black Lives Matter] the opportunity to speak and listen when they do so," wrote a 32-year-old female teacher from Bloomington. "The police have a job that I would never want and I respect them for that. I think the police training and police brotherhood is built on systematic racism."
The number of people who had unfavorable views of the two groups was nearly equal — about 26% for Black Lives Matter and about 27% for Blue Lives Matter. More people felt neutral about the police group, 37%, than they did about Black Lives Matter, 15%.
Three times as many respondents thought the protests that followed Floyd's death negatively impacted their communities than those who said they had a positive impact. While many protesters demonstrated peacefully, others burned and looted businesses in Minneapolis, St. Paul and the metro, causing millions of dollars in damage.
"I don't believe anything positive came out of any of this — the protests have taken away the true energy to drive change from many due to the damage and destruction caused," wrote a 36-year-old man from Minnetonka who is a vice president at Wells Fargo.
About 92% of the group did not participate in any of the demonstrations; 8% (9 individuals) said they did. A 22-year-old woman from Maple Grove who works as a nursing assistant said she attended "a couple of marches" and carried a sign depicting a raised fist.
"I believe that Black people are discriminated against and I want equality for everyone," she wrote. "I feel like one of [the officers] could have tried to de-escalate the situation."
612-270-4708 • Twitter: @ChaoStrib
612-673-1747• Twitter: @rochelleolson