Should Minneapolis have settled with George Floyd's family?

This week, the City Council of Minneapolis reached a settlement in the lawsuit brought by the family of George Floyd. The price tag is reportedly $27 million, including a $500,000 donation to the community surrounding the public square where Floyd died. The family’s attorneys were praising the deal this week, while some observers questioned the timing of the announcement. It’s curious to be sure, and it seems to stretch the limits of coincidence. The settlement also does nothing to delay the trials of Derek Chauvin and the other officers who were involved in Floyd’s death. (NBC News)

The city of Minneapolis has reached a $27 million settlement with George Floyd’s family just weeks before the trial is scheduled to begin for the former officer charged with murder in his death.

The City Council unanimously approved the settlement Friday after adding the matter to its agenda for a closed session. The settlement includes a $500,000 contribution from Floyd’s family to the community at the intersection of 38th and Chicago Avenue — now widely known as George Floyd Square.

Floyd’s family filed a federal lawsuit in July against the city and the four officers involved in the arrest that led to his death. The lawsuit took issue with neck restraints and police policies and training, among other things. It sought compensatory and special damages in an amount to be determined by a jury.

Whether the amount of the settlement is justified or if the city should have settled at all is up to the observer. It’s not unusual for a municipal government to settle out of court, particularly if officials have reason to believe that they would eventually lose the case anyway and wind up getting hit with a judgment for an even larger amount. And while $27 million is an eye-popping number for most average Americans, it’s really not that astronomical when compared to similar lawsuits that are settled on a regular basis.

As I mentioned above, however, it’s the timing of this announcement that seems a bit off. This lawsuit has been in negotiations for eight months. It certainly could have dragged on a bit longer. Instead, the deal was announced just as voir dire was starting in Derek Chauvin’s trial. Particularly in the local Minneapolis news market, this was obviously a huge story that’s been on the front pages of every newspaper and playing in a loop on television. How could the prospective jury pool possibly miss seeing this news?

While such a settlement doesn’t carry any sort of official admission of anything, it’s very easy for the public to interpret the deal as some sort of acknowledgment of wrongdoing on the part of the police. And if the city is willing to “admit” that the officers are guilty, why should the jury find any differently? This news just conveys a sense that the City Council is trying to tip the scales in the prosecutors’ favor.

That probably wouldn’t be out of character for the council based on recent history. After the news of George Floyd’s broke, the officers involved were fired the following day, long before an internal investigation could even get off the ground. What the Minneapolis City Council was doing seemed obvious. They wrongly believed that if they took swift, harsh action, they might appease the masses and prevent the widespread protest, riots and looting that have plagued other cities. And as the “summer of love” showed us, their efforts in that regard failed miserably.

I still don’t have a sense of how the jury will decide Derek Chauvin’s fate. Now that a third-degree murder charge has been returned to the list, the jurors will have another, less-serious option to choose if they are uncomfortable with the most serious charges Chauvin is facing. Proving intent will be virtually impossible in my opinion, but given the amount of time the officers had Floyd pinned down by the neck, some form of reckless endangerment can probably be established. Voir dire is expected to last for several weeks and the actual trial should begin near the end of the month, so we’ll have our answer before too long.