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Photo of Chauvin juror wearing BLM T-shirt at march raises questions of impartiality, experts say

Brandon Mitchell, a juror in the trial of Derek Chauvin for the killing of George Floyd, on Monday defended his participation in a protest in Washington last summer. (Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Star Tribune/AP)
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A photo that has surfaced in recent days of a juror in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has prompted questions about the juror’s impartiality, legal experts say.

The photo, shared by several news sites, shows Brandon Mitchell, a 31-year-old high school basketball coach in Minneapolis, standing next to two relatives wearing a black T-shirt with a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. with the words “Get your knee off our necks,” as well as a black baseball cap with the letters “BLM” (for Black Lives Matter).

On Monday, Mitchell told the Star Tribune that the photo was posted on social media by his uncle in D.C. last August, during the commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech from 1963.

He defended his attendance, saying it was not a march for George Floyd, according to the Star Tribune.

People in Washington, D.C., and Minneapolis became overcome with emotion after former police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty in the death of George Floyd (Video: Amber Ferguson/The Washington Post)

Mitchell, who is Black, is one of the 12 jurors who convicted Chauvin of murder and manslaughter in the death of Floyd on April 20, nearly a year after a viral video of the Black man pinned beneath the White officer’s knee sparked protests across the country and forced a national reckoning on race and policing.

Efforts to reach Mitchell for comment were unsuccessful. When questioned about his attendance at the demonstration in Washington last year, Mitchell told the Star Tribune that it was an “opportunity to be around thousands and thousands of Black people” and “to be a part of something.”

Some users took to social media and interpreted the photograph — and Mitchell’s confirmation of his attendance — as sign of activism that tainted the juror’s ability to be “impartial” during Chauvin’s conviction process.

As part of the jury selection, the candidates were required to fill out a 14-page questionnaire asking about a wide range of topics including race and policing, as well as education levels, professional experience, and hobbies, in order to gather in-depth knowledge about the candidates.

It also asked prospective jurors about information they had on Floyd, their opinions on the Black Lives Matter movement, and, more specifically, if they had attended protests or demonstrations against police brutality.

According to the Star Tribune, Mitchell said he responded “no” to a question asking if he, or anyone close to him, had ever participated in protests over police use of force or police brutality.

Jury consultant Alan Tuerkheimer said it is likely that Chauvin’s defense attorney Eric J. Nelson will use this information to push for an appeal but argued that the photo itself would not be enough to dismiss the conviction.

Tuerkheimer added, however, that Mitchell’s alleged denial that he was involved in any protests could prompt Judge Peter A. Cahill to bring Mitchell in for further questioning to assess whether he was untruthful, or worse, if he had an agenda or a predetermined verdict in mind.

“That could change the outcome of things; if there is anything that makes him seem that he was not forthcoming, it could be an avenue for the judge to reconsider the case,” Tuerkheimer said, adding it is a “high standard” that Cahill would consider since he is probably not inclined to toss the entire trial and start from square one.

Tuerkheimer also underlined the complexity of the jury selection process and assessment of objective neutrality, adding it is possible the juror did not see a connection between the march and the case.

Mitchell told the Star Tribune he was “extremely honest” during the selection process and when asked about his views on the case and his favorable opinion of the Black Lives Matter movement. He added that he told Nelson, Chauvin’s attorney, that when he saw the video of the Minneapolis officer pinning Floyd under his knee during his arrest, he wondered why the other three officers at the scene did not intervene.

Civil rights attorney Brian Dunn argued that while the photo is “undeniably suggestive of a possible bias in this juror,” the critical inquiry will be to determine whether the juror “lied about, or failed to provide complete answers on whether he has engaged in public activism, or whether he has any affiliations with BLM that go beyond the mere wearing of the shirt.”

Dunn said this will involve a careful review of this juror’s questionnaire, as well as the statements made in open court.

“If it is determined that the juror did not provide full disclosure to the defense, the question then becomes whether this lack of candor violated Mr. Chauvin’s right to a fair trial,” Dunn said, adding that this would require a much more detailed inquiry, typically addressed by an extensive evidentiary hearing.

Last week, Mitchell was the first juror to publicly speak about the historic trial that earned world attention. In interviews with several media outlets, Mitchell shared details about the experience of being a juror, the factors that proved to be decisive in Chauvin’s conviction and the impact that the trial had on him.

“It wasn’t pressure to come to a guilty verdict,” Mitchell told Gayle King on “CBS This Morning.” “We stressed about the simple fact that every day we had to come in and watch a Black man die. That alone was stressful enough.”

Read more:

The jurors who decided Derek Chauvin’s fate

Derek Chauvin guilty of murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd

Derek Chauvin trial judge to question jurors Wednesday about George Floyd family settlement

First Chauvin juror to speak publicly recounts stress of coming to court to ‘watch a Black man die’