The trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis policeman accused in the May 2020 death of George Floyd began this week with jury selection and opening statements are expected toward the end of March. Six jurors have been picked so far. While the proceedings will be closely watched by activists, legislators and the media, Washington D.C. attorney Christopher E. Brown, principal at The Brown Firm PLLC has taken particular interest in the case because it is similar to one he was involved with .
One of his firm’s most recent settlements regarding police excessive force is that of the wrongful death case of Wayne Jones in Martinsburg, W.V. Jones, a 50-year-old Black man, and a diagnosed schizophrenic, was shot 22 times by officers of the Martinsburg Police Department in March 2013 after being stopped by officers while walking in the street. His family was awarded $3.5 million in a settlement.
Brown spoke with BET.com in a phone interview to talk about the upcoming trial, the difficulties the prosecution might come across and why the verdict should end in a conviction.
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BET.com: This case feels familiar to you, is that because of the Wayne Jones case you recently had settled in West Virginia? We understand that you have taken similar cases in the metro DC area and in Las Vegas.
Brown: Yes, it feels familiar because we all know what has happened in the past. We’ve seen excessive force against people of color. We’ve seen video evidence of the use of police excessive force. And yet, we’ve seen a failure to indict the officers involved.
While we have an indictment in the case, the concern over the third degree murder charge reflects the familiarity of this situation. So when opportunities arise, I’ll strongly consider taking on these types of cases throughout the country. I found a place where I can contribute. I can bring justice to a family, and hopefully change things for the better.
BET.com: Why are cases involving death by police and police excessive force continuing to come across your desk and the desks of Black attorneys all over the country? Why is this still happening?
Brown: These are deep-seated and ingrained issues that are going to take additional time to resolve. You’re talking about systemic efforts to ensure that people of color are marginalized. In taking steps to address systemic racism, we must be mindful of the need to root out surreptitious efforts to continue to discriminate or acutely disadvantage people of color.
BET.com: With the current jury selection process, what kind of jurors would prosecutors be looking for and what kind of jurors would the defense be looking for?
Brown: "Jury selection" is a bit of a misnomer -- it refers to the court selecting the petit jury -- the pool of persons from which the jury will be selected. And by "selecting" we mean the judge will "disqualify" certain persons based on health, job, child care, or other issues facing that juror (eg. reason why that person can't sit for a 3-4 week trial).
From there, the parties get to request certain persons be removed for cause, or they may use "strikes" (usually each side gets three). NOTE: juror selection (actually, strikes) may not be used to strike persons of a certain race; some other basis must be provided if a strike is challenged.
The defense will prefer (i.e. does not want them subject to strikes) elderly, conservative, not-of-color persons, and those with law enforcement in their history, background, family.
The prosecution is looking for (i.e. does not want them subject to strikes) persons marginalized by society (basically, anyone of color, low income, and even just younger persons. Looking for any indication that one is liberal or otherwise leans against "the state."
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BET.com: Defense attorneys are expected to use medical examiner findings, that said, Floyd was reported to have had drugs in his system, how might prosecutors counter those findings?
Brown: Prosecutors will first try to keep that evidence out - it is not relevant unless it serves to explain some behavior by Floyd or medical testimony can suggest it contributed to his death. If there is no behavior or act to explain via the medical evidence it should not come in. Even if it does come in, prosecutors will simply have to show that said drugs in no way contributed to the encounter, and did not contribute to his death (if the defense has any expert evidence, the prosecutors may need their own expert testimony to refute that).
BET.com: Beyond the fact that the Derek Chauvin trial is of national interest following the death of George Floyd and its connection with police violence, what else interests you about the case?
Brown: The blatant lack of any empathy and respect for [Floyd] by this officer Derek Chauvin. In 2020 for a police officer to put a knee on a man’s neck while eyewitnesses were screaming ‘you’re killing him’ is crazy. It was so blatant and brazen, it’s shocking that he had the audacity to not allow George Floyd common decency. It’s 2021 and you’d think things have come further than that.
BET.com: What are your expectations for the Chauvin trail? How do you see this trial playing out?
Brown: My expectations are, given the national attention of the case, Chauvin will be found guilty of third degree murder, at the minimum. With that video, if a murder conviction does not follow, then we as a country have a serious problem in terms of how we define crime and determine what heinous acts our communities simply cannot tolerate. Our police departments are charged to protect and serve, not mercilessly choke away the lives of fellow citizens like George Floyd.
I remain hopeful that the jury will find Chauvin guilty of second, if not first degree murder. But I can understand the prosecution’s strategy to include third degree murder, as a guard against the possibility that the jury will not find first or second degree murder.
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