The payout, one of the largest of its kind involving police misconduct, was approved Friday in an unanimous vote by the Minneapolis City Council in a last-minute addition to the agenda of the panel’s regular meeting. The settlement is the highest ever paid by the city, eclipsing the $20 million paid in 2019 to the family of Justine Damond, who was shot and killed by a Minneapolis police officer in 2017.
Floyd’s family and their legal team welcomed the settlement, saying the record amount was vindication for Floyd and the Black Americans who took to the nation’s streets demanding social justice in the aftermath of the 46-year-old’s death after he was pinned beneath the knee of a White police officer.
“This historic agreement — the largest pretrial settlement in a police civil rights wrongful death case in U.S. history — makes a statement that George Floyd deserved better than what we witnessed on May 25, 2020,” attorney Ben Crump said at a news conference with members of Floyd’s family and city officials. “That George Floyd’s life matters, and by extension, Black lives matter.”
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey (D), standing with Floyd’s family and legal team during the news conference, said the city would go beyond the monetary settlement to implement major policy changes in the pursuit of racial justice.
“Our Black community has endured deep and compounding trauma over this last year, none perhaps more acutely than George Floyd’s family standing with me right now,” he said, adding: “Amid unprecedented pain, we now have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to truly effectuate change.”
Floyd’s family said that while they appreciated the city for agreeing to the settlement, the money could not make up for the loss of their loved one.
“If I could get him back, I will give all of this back,” said his brother, Philonise Floyd.
“Today is a huge step in the healing process,” Floyd’s nephew Brandon Williams said. “Hopefully it’s a healing in the way that policing is carried on.”
Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Bender offered her condolences to Floyd’s family after the vote.
“No amount of money can ever address the intense pain or trauma caused by this death to George Floyd’s family or to the people of our city,” she said. “Minneapolis has been fundamentally changed by this time of racial reckoning and this city council is united in working together with our community, and the Floyd family to equitably reshape our city of Minneapolis.”
But the settlement could have implications for the criminal trial of Chauvin, who is charged with second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter after holding his knee on Floyd’s neck on May 25. The incident, captured on video that went viral, led to months of nationwide protests.
Three other former officers also charged in Floyd’s death and named in the Floyd family lawsuit — J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas K. Lane and Tou Thao — are scheduled to be tried separately in August.
As jury selection for Chauvin’s trial began this week, Eric Nelson, Chauvin’s attorney, sought to block mention of any possible payout by the city to the Floyd’s family, arguing it would be prejudicial.
Some legal observers said publicity over the settlement, which came on day four of jury selection, could result in a possible mistrial.
“I think it’s a potential disaster for Chauvin,” said Mary Moriarty, the former chief public defender for Hennepin County. She said if she were Chauvin’s attorney, she would request a mistrial.
“The concern is that jurors will be aware that the city gave George Floyd’s family a great deal of money,” Moriarty said. “And I suspect the jurors will have a hard time avoiding the news, even if they try.”
Nelson did not respond to a request for comment. News of the settlement broke during a lunch break during jury selection, and proceedings ended Friday without any mention of the development.
A Minneapolis official said the city had been concerned that the announcement could affect the trial.
The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said the city consulted with Hennepin County Chief District Judge Toddrick S. Barnette, who told the city it could proceed. Barnette did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
While Floyd’s family and the city’s leaders largely avoided commenting on the trial during the new conference — in part because the judge has warned against public comment on the case — the family’s lawyers said their concern was justice, in whatever form. Crump said he had less faith in the “discriminatory criminal justice system.” He said history shows there is “no guarantee” that a White officer will be convicted of killing a Black man.
Seven members of the jury have been impaneled so far — three White men, a Hispanic man, a multiracial woman, a White woman and a Black man — in a pace that has been faster than expected. According to the court, three jurors are in their 20s, three are in their 30s and one is in their 50s. Jury selection is scheduled to continue Monday with opening arguments in the case expected to begin no earlier than March 29.
Robert Bennett, a lawyer who has represented several plaintiffs in wrongful death lawsuits, said it was not yet clear how the settlement might impact the criminal case against Chauvin.
“It’s a separate proceeding, and the judge in the criminal case can say, ‘That’s the city of Minneapolis dealing with its problems. You don’t have to concern yourself with it,’ ” Bennett said. “Although it’s hard to ignore it if you’re a juror.”
Bennett represented Damond’s family in its wrongful death case against the city. The $20 million settlement was announced just three days after a jury convicted the police officer who shot and killed Damond of charges of second- and third-degree murder.
Floyd’s family sued the city in July.
Settlement amounts in fatal police shootings vary widely. In a 2015 Washington Post account of awards in civil lawsuits, payouts ranged from $7,500 to $8.5 million.
In 2018, a Maryland jury awarded a record $38 million to the family of Korryn Gaines, who was fatally shot by a Baltimore County police officer. Gaines’s 5-year-old son was shot in the face during the incident, but survived. However, the settlement has been the subject of appeals and has not been paid out.
In September, the city of Louisville announced a $12 million settlement with the family of Breonna Taylor, who was killed by police executing a no-knock search warrant at her apartment in March 2020. While Louisville implemented a series of policy changes to overhaul police tactics, the officers responsible for Taylor’s death were ultimately not prosecuted.
The Floyd family settlement includes $500,000 to benefit the area in Minneapolis near where Floyd died — now widely known as George Floyd Square — and to execute necessary documents to process the agreement.
The city’s closed-door session to discuss the lawsuit came shortly after council members voted overwhelmingly to move forward with a charter amendment to eliminate its police department and install a new department of public safety. Voters could ultimately decide on the measure this November.
In celebrating the settlement, lawyers representing Floyd’s family hailed the changes Minneapolis has pledged to make to its policing tactics.
“The settlement is not just historic because of the $27 million paid out, but for the impact on social justice policy reforms and police reforms,” Crump said.
Minneapolis officials say the settlement will be paid out of a self-insurance fund that has been pushed to the brink in recent years after the city has been forced to pay tens of millions of dollars to settle police-related lawsuits including in the Damond case.
On Friday, Frey and other city officials pointed to police reforms that have been undertaken since Floyd’s death, but observers were quick to note the city had promised change before.
“This is the same police department. They don’t learn, so the settlements are ratcheting up,” said Barnett, the lawyer in the Damond case. “If something else happens, the next settlement will be $30 million.”
Jared Goyette in Minneapolis and Kimberly Kindy in Washington contributed to this report.