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Juror in Derek Chauvin trial hopes verdict leads to reforms, change

Brandon Mitchell is the first juror who helped decide the verdict to go public, saying he wants his experience to influence young Black men like those he coaches.

MINNEAPOLIS — Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill announced late last week that it will be at least 180 days before the identities of jurors in the Derek Chauvin trial will be made public.

Brandon Mitchell couldn't wait that long. The 31-year-old Minneapolis resident and basketball coach was among 12 jurors who deliberated and found Chauvin guilty on all three criminal counts: second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. 

On Wednesday, Mitchell sat down with KARE 11's Lou Raguse following live interviews with TODAY and Good Morning America. He says going public is his attempt to talk about the case, the process of reaching a verdict, and how he feels George Floyd's life can be an agent for real change. Mitchell also hopes his experience as the only male Black juror in Chauvin's trial can be a positive influence on the young men he coaches on the Minneapolis North High School basketball team. 

RELATED: Derek Chauvin found guilty of murder, manslaughter in death of George Floyd

BELOW: The entire interview with Brandon Mitchell, a juror in the Derek Chauvin trial

Here is the full interview:

Raguse: It’s been a week now. I’m sure if the family of George Floyd is watching, there’s probably something you want to say to them. What would you say to the family of George Floyd?

Mitchell: First, I want to send my condolences to them and let them know that even though they lost a loved one, He’s become a martyr now, a legend. He’s become bigger than any individual person could ever be. What his name means is hopefully going to become synonymous with change and reform and all these things that have become very positive.

Raguse: It has been a week. How are you doing?

Mitchell: I’m good now. The first few days were rough. I had to take a few days to just do nothing. Just to recover and decompress and just get back to myself. Feels like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. And now I’m starting to feel good again.

Raguse: Had to be just mentally and emotionally draining?

Mitchell: It was extremely stressful. Extremely stressful. There were days that I didn’t know if I wanted to go back into the courtroom the next day. Where I was just sitting at home like, ‘Do I really want to do this?’ And I really had to talk myself into making it in.

Raguse: We haven’t heard the perspective yet of somebody who was in that deliberation room. Take us in there and set the scene. How did it begin?

Mitchell: When we first got there, that first day after closing arguments. We came into the room. We kind of voted on a foreperson. Then we went straight into manslaughter and voted on that, did a preliminary vote. One person was still kind of unknown at that part. They didn’t know which way they wanted to go. So we kind of went around the room, talked about how we all felt and why we felt that way. Then we re-voted and kind of came to terms on the manslaughter. Then we called it a day at that point. Came back in the next morning to go over third-degree murder and second-degree.

Raguse: When it comes to a foreperson, how do you select who that person is, and what do they do?

Mitchell: We just did a vote. Everybody that wanted to be a foreperson, we had them put their name in. And we just went around the room and did a roundabout vote. Whoever had the most votes, that’s who we went with.

BELOW: Brandon Mitchell, a juror in the Derek Chauvin trial, discusses the deliberation process

Raguse: And what is the job of a foreperson?

Mitchell: They just kind of led the discussions. They would keep tally of the votes. They were just kind of a captain of the jury team, if you will.

Raguse: At the end of the first day, you said you that you pretty much had decided on the manslaughter being guilty. Is that right?

Mitchell: Yes so manslaughter was decided Day 1 – in about an hour.

Raguse: So going into Day 2, which one do you go into first, second-degree or third-degree specifically?

Mitchell: We came right in, first in the in morning and went after third-degree. We had a few discussions on that. That probably took the longest. That probably took about three hours to discuss, just based on the language of how it’s read and make sure we all understand what it is exactly. And after that, second-degree murder, we got through that pretty quickly on our votes. We all kind of knew where we stood. We all went over the evidence. We didn’t need to go over much more, so we were able to knock that out.

Raguse: When you go over the evidence, were you able to watch any of the videos in the deliberation room? Or how did that all go?

Mitchell: We watched all the body cams. We watched a couple of cell phone videos. And we went over a couple of trainings that were given to us as exhibits. We went over quite a few things in high detail.

Raguse: Was there anything – since you were not allowed to talk about it during the case – but you watched those videos over and over and over, when you watched them with your jury peers, did they give you anything you didn’t notice before, or how did the group discussion about it go?

Mitchell: I don’t think there was anything I didn’t notice, but everybody definitely pointed out different things from each person’s perspective. So we all thought different things were crucial periods of time for each of us. The one thing we all agreed on was the last breath – that Dr. Tobin said the last breath was at a specific time – we all agreed that was possibly the last breath. And that was kind of the perspective that, we’re all the same on that point. And what other points are we possibly similar on?

Raguse: Was it relevant to you how long this knee to the neck lasted after that last breath?

Mitchell: Yes. That was a major point within the deliberation room. Major, major point. I think all of us agreed that after that point, it was just unnecessary. Up until then, there were discussions on what was necessary and what wasn’t. But after that, we all concluded that it was unnecessary after that in general.

Raguse: Basically, it was debatable up to a certain point? I mean, some people I’m sure thought that – I mean you all bring different perspectives into the jury room. Did you think that it should have ended earlier, even, than that?

Mitchell: Yes, absolutely. I think it should have ended way earlier. But the one thing we all agreed on, was that at some point it became unlawful and unnecessary and excessive. And at that point going forward is when it became just extreme.

Raguse: Do jury discussions become heated?

Mitchell: Nah, I don’t think any of them were heated, just because we had so much time together and we weren’t far off from the same point. We were all kind of saying the same thing, but in different ways, from different perspectives. But we all had the same idea at the end of the day. It was just spoken differently from different people.

Raguse: How many people were kind of on the fence or weren’t quite there yet?

Mitchell: I would say, for sure at least one, maybe two, possibly three as we were going through it. But like I said, it wasn’t like they were necessarily on the fence. They just needed more clarification as to – they just wanted to be sure. They wanted to do their due diligence and be sure. Some people are faster, some are slower. I don’t knock them for wanting to take their time on a big decision like this.

Raguse: We talked a lot here about the “elements.” You listened to this entire trial – you maybe knew what the charges were, but you didn’t know all these little details that needed to be proven, right?

Mitchell: Absolutely, yeah.

Raguse: What’s it like to tackle that after everything you’ve listened to.

Mitchell: I thought that was kind of cool. They give you the instructions and it has all the elements listed for each charge. You just think back over the trial and well, ‘This checks this off. This checks that off.’ We literally just used it as a checklist. And just went through and we would present different evidence and exhibits and say, well, this is what satisfies this element. And then move on to the next.

Raguse: Where was your mind at right when deliberations started?

Mitchell: When it very first started, I thought we’d be in and out rather quickly. I thought it would take maybe an hour. I thought we were all pretty much on the same page. Even though we hadn’t discussed it, I just got the vibe that we pretty much were. I was pretty sure we’d be in and out. So it actually took longer than I expected.

Raguse: And for those that needed more time, what specifically were they saying? What did they need?

Mitchell: They just wanted to be sure on the elements. It was a specific element and they wanted to be sure they understood it correctly. And that they were applying it correctly how it was written, how it was applied.

Raguse: Do you remember which element that was?

Mitchell: It was part of the third-degree murder. Might have been the first part, not sure which element it was, but it was part of third-degree murder. Just the way it was written out, it was a little bit confusing.

Raguse: That’s known as being like the most confusing law.

Mitchell: Yeah, so that’s the one that hung us up for quite some time. We just had to break it down, and everybody went around

Raguse: You deliberated, not at the courthouse? You were at the hotel? What did that situation feel like? You know how big this was, and you probably know there’s a reason you’re not at the courthouse, for example. And in the courtroom, things were socially distanced. There’s a lot of things that were different about this. How did that whole situation feel to you?

Mitchell: It felt like you were being chauffeured around by the secret service. Felt top-secret or high, top-tier agent or something. You’re moved around everywhere by two or three deputies. Security is everywhere. But it made you feel safe though. It made you feel that they were taking the proper precautions to keep you safe. Therefore, let’s just do the right thing.

Raguse: What was the racial makeup of this jury?

Mitchell: Extremely diverse. There’s me, I’m African-American. There’s another African-American woman. Two men of African descent. Two mixed young ladies. I believe three or four older white women. The two mid-20s or 30s white men. And everybody was super nice people. So it was nice to see such a diverse cast or group, and all be able to come together to the same conclusion.

Raguse: The killing of George Floyd set off racial discussions, protests involving racial justice and so forth. And then in the courtroom, the defense attorney said, “this case is not about race.” When you think about the entire thing and how the trial was presented, how much was it about race?

Mitchell: I can’t say that it necessarily was about race, because, I mean, the facts have nothing to do with race. The facts are the facts. But looking at it as a Black man, from my perspective, I see myself within George Floyd. I see my family, my brothers within George Floyd. And from that aspect, it has a lot (about race.) But in terms of the case, it’s just the facts.

Raguse: That perspective is important. And a lot of different perspectives are important to bring into a jury room. Did any discussions stem from experiences that different people had, based on their race and their background?

Mitchell: No, I think we steered clear of that and wanted to stay just to the facts of what was being presented. Just because, like you said, once you step outside of the facts, it’s up to perspective and up to your own life experiences, and if there are things you have not experienced, you might not even understand. So it’s best, in my opinion, to steer clear of that when dealing with something so delicate. You can base it off the facts and don’t have to take it that route.

Raguse: Did you feel any sort of weight because you were the only African-American male juror?

Mitchell: Yeah, definitely, that was stressful alone. But because of that, I felt like it was my duty to be there, not only to do the right thing, but as a representative for my community and as a guy who deals with young black men. I felt like it was important for me to be there and be that model, that visual representation of what should be right.

Raguse: You’re a basketball coach at Minneapolis North, which has a long tradition of great basketball teams. You’re influencing young men. What kind of discussions are you going to have once – I mean, they’re all finding out now – that you were a juror.

Mitchell: For me, the discussions I’m going to have with them is just staying positive and being able to be themselves and be themselves unapologetically. As Black men, a lot of times we are told that we have to act a certain way or be a certain way in order to fit whatever the norms should be. Or to interact with police a certain way. I want to be able to tell them that you can be yourself, and it’s OK. You can wear your hat however you want to wear your hat. You can be you. And that shouldn’t be a death wish. I shouldn’t have to tell them to be careful, because depending on how you walk, it could be a death wish. So I want to be able to tell them that they can be free to do whatever they please, in terms of who they are.

Raguse: During this trial there were a few things that came up, and we had no idea whether you knew anything about them or not. First was the $27 million settlement from the City of Minneapolis to George Floyd’s family. Was that something you heard about at all?

Mitchell: No, not at all. I still don’t know any of the details on that. Just because, I have no idea.

Raguse: Then there was the death of Daunte Wright. He was shot by a police officer in Brooklyn Center. Really can’t avoid knowing about that, could you?

Mitchell: You couldn’t avoid knowing, but the details of that I didn’t really know. As I’m finding more and more (now.) But we did know that a shooting happened. I knew it was a young Black man and was a police shooting, but I didn’t know the details or exactly how the community was reacting. I assumed there’d be protests. But I didn’t know to what magnitude.

Raguse: Did it have any effect on you or other jurors that you know of?

Mitchell: No, I don’t think it did at all. Not that I know of. We were so focused on the case, the stress of the trial alone was so much. I mean you don’t want get engulfed in more negative news. Because every day you’re coming in and watching somebody die, every day, over and over again, on instant replay. That alone is stressful enough for any human being that you don’t want to see the details. You’re drained at the end of the day. You just want to go home and possibly go to sleep or whatever you do. It’s too much to even worry about the news or what’s going on or want to hear anything more negative.

Raguse: Speaking of those videos, how much of an impact did that have on you to watch George Floyd die so many different times from so many different angles?

Mitchell: It was tough on me. Extremely tough. There was a weekend, maybe after the second week of trial, where I just broke down. And it was like, 'I don’t know if I can do this anymore.' It 100% had a strain on me emotionally. Just constantly seeing that, and constantly hearing from different testimonies. It was rough.

Raguse: When I interviewed the prosecutors the other day, Jerry Blackwell said that as a prosecutor he wanted to win the hearts and the minds of the jurors. Which witnesses would you say won your heart, meaning, you made a connection – and it was a connection that was important to the case, perhaps on an emotional level, but also having an impact toward the verdict.

Mitchell: I actually connected emotionally most with George Floyd’s brother. Just the stories he was telling, along with the pictures of them as kids and stuff like that. It reminded me of me and my siblings 100%. And I thought, this could be us – 100% in my mind – I connected so much with them on that. It was unreal. And that day that he spoke, I even shed a few tears and had to hide from the media (that was in the courtroom) because that was a rough time at that point.

Raguse: Any other earlier witnesses have a similar emotional impact on you? And when I say emotional, it isn’t just – emotional doesn’t win cases, but it was emotion, along with facts of the case as well.

Mitchell: Another person, I thought he set the tone. I wouldn’t say he invoked any emotion in me, but when Donald Williams spoke, I felt like he set a good tone to start the trial out. I thought that was a great way to begin the trial, and it just kind of carried on throughout. The other witnesses, they followed his suit.

Raguse: Did he give you a different way to look at that video?

Mitchell: Absolutely. He gave a perspective that none of us had looked at yet. He just flipped the script and set a different tone. He made us feel it, so we felt it.

Raguse: Then, Jerry Blackwell talked about winning the minds of the jurors. I think what he means by that is witnesses who proved the case. This is why he’s guilty. Which witnesses won your mind?

Mitchell: There’s no question it was Dr. Tobin. When he got on the stand, and his entire testimony, to me it was phenomenal because he broke everything down scientifically, but in a way that was easy to understand and easy to follow. And easy to take notes on to refer back to. To me, it was like that was the period at the end of the sentence. Where he was like, 'Wow, I don’t know how the defense would be able to come back from that.' Because that was really good.

Raguse: Then, to make it a little more broad, what struck you the most during this trial?

Mitchell: I would say the fact the defense never had an ah-ha moment. That was something I was waiting on, like, it’s got to be coming soon. Like, at some point they’re going to say, ‘Boom,’ and it’s going to be, 'Oh wow, now which way are going to go now that they have this damning evidence or something.' Then it just never happened. I’m pretty sure the other jurors were probably waiting on the same thing.

Raguse: Well that shows you had an open mind, right?

Mitchell: Yeah, absolutely.

Raguse: Was there anything that tilted toward the defense?

Mitchell: The opening statement was really strong from them. I thought they sounded very prepared and ready. That moment – that peak moment – just never happened.

Raguse: Derek Chauvin sat pretty close to you in the courtroom, across from you. What was that like?

Mitchell: Where he was, I could just see his face with his mask on. And there was the attorney kind of blocking him, but when I could, it seemed like he was pretty confident those first few weeks. But then his stance, and just his eyes seemed pretty confident then began to deteriorate as the case went on. And as things started to shift – as his case got weaker – I could read it on his face.

Raguse: Could you pinpoint the moment that happened or the witness that it was?

Mitchell: I think it was a gradual thing. It was definitely a gradual thing. I would say by the last week, it was pretty obvious that they were a little nervous over there.

Raguse: You saw him and his actions in all these videos of course. What’s your impression of Derek Chauvin based on what you learned through these videos and through these witnesses who testified.

Mitchell: I don’t know if I have a direct impression of him, because I never heard him say a word, besides what he said in the video. So I can’t give an impression of him. No way that I could.

Raguse: If he had testified, what could he have said that would have made a difference?

Mitchell: That, I don’t know. I don’t know if there’s anything he could have said. They would have had to come with a little bit stronger of a defense in general. I don’t think there’s anything he could have said, in my mind, that would have changed it. But it would have been nice to hear for the impression aspect of who he is. But I don’t anything would have changed.

Raguse: Did it make a difference to you and other jurors that he didn’t testify?

Mitchell: I don’t think it made a difference. I don’t know if it would have changed the verdict or not. But I think it’s human nature to be curious, to ask the question, what were you thinking? What was your thought process? The curiosity is human nature, but I don’t think it would have changed the verdict at all.

Raguse: During jury selection, you shared with the attorneys your basic impression of what you knew about what happened. How did that change as the trial played out and you learned all the facts?

Mitchell: I knew so little at the beginning. So my first time watching the entire video was during the trial. And upon watching it, and watching it from a lot of different angles, my impression was just, I don’t know what the defense is going to do. That’s just what it was. I don’t know. If they have something outside of this that’s going to prove this was not a murder, then, 'Wow.' Because, yeah. I thought the evidence was damning against him once I saw everything. And it just is what it is.

Raguse: The videos were obviously the big evidence?

Mitchell: Yeah, of course. That’s the marquee evidence. So that, along with the testimonies of Dr. Tobin, the force experts. Those things coupled together, I didn’t see an avenue for them to go on.

Raguse: What had a bigger impact on you, the national use of force experts, or the Minneapolis Police Officers who testified against Chauvin?

Mitchell: I think a mixture of both. The officers for sure, with their specific trainings. But also, the national force expert going over, giving their perspective over a broader point of view, where some of this stuff is just, 'No, it’s not OK.' With all that coupled together. It just didn’t look good.

Raguse: What were your impression of the key attorneys in the room and the judge?

Mitchell: The judge was great. I think he did a great job. I thought he was phenomenal. I liked the fact that he definitely took the time to protect us as jurors. Whatever we needed, he was willing to do, and still is to this day. Keeping everyone’s names anonymous and leaving it up to individual jurors to come forward as I am, and you can. But whoever doesn’t, he’ll keep it anonymous for as long as he can. I think that’s phenomenal. And then on both sides, I thought all the attorneys did a really good job in general. I thought they did exceptionally well throughout the whole trial.

Raguse: There’s some people who say, 'Yeah, of course they voted guilty. They were afraid of what was going to happen if they acquitted. And they were afraid of protesters coming to their house.' Did outside forces have any impact on your decision?

Mitchell: Not even kind of. Not even a little bit. Not at all. I think that is the most ridiculous thing ever when people say that, just because, one, we’re all just citizens called to jury duty. Time out of our everyday lives to do the right thing. And then on top of that, we’re sitting in a courtroom every day dealing with such negative energy by watching this video over and over again. We don’t have time to even worry what outside might do. That’s not our concern as we watch a human being die every day. We would have to be pretty off to be able to just dismiss that we just watched this all day and think about something like that. To me, that’s just not human nature.

Raguse: Do you get the impression the other jurors were on the same page as you as far as that?

Mitchell: Absolutely. Absolutely. I know we were all drained every day. For sure.

Raguse: Are you aware the other three officers are standing trial in August, they’re scheduled to right now, anyway?

Mitchell: Yes, yes.

Raguse: Based on what you saw in this trial, do you think they’re guilty too?

Mitchell: It’s a tough call. It’s a much tougher case for everybody else, and I’m very unsure on all the officers. I’m very unsure. It’s a way tougher call for them, I believe. I don’t know. I would have to… I think it’s going to come down to the way the law is written and how the jurors perceive it. I think that’s what it’s going to come down to.

KARE 11 photojournalist Reid Bolton: Was there a (specific) moment in that video where you were like, 'It just crossed the line?'

Mitchell: There’s a moment where one of the officers asked Chauvin if they should roll him over. Asked about excited delirium. At that point they are trained to roll them onto the side recovery position. Chauvin denies that. Says no or whatever. Then he asked him again. Should we roll him over? And it’s at that point where it’s like, umm, why not roll him on his side? At that point, it’s behind excessive. Even furthermore, a few seconds later, when George Floyd is unconscious and he’s still sitting there, I think at that point, that’s where it’s known for everyone that this is completely 100% uncalled for. But for me personally it was a little bit before then, when one of the other officers verbally said should we roll him over. Anything after that point, it’s too much. 

Raguse: I paid close attention to your jury selection, and you said something to the effect of that you thought this was the most historic case of your lifetime. Now that you’ve had a part in it and you also got to help determine the outcome, how do you look at that?

Mitchell: I still think it’s a historic moment. Is it the most historic in my lifetime? I don’t know anymore, only because there’s still a lot of police violence. I couldn’t’ have predicted the other things that have happened in the past month or so. I couldn’t have predicted that would happen. So, I don’t know if it’s the most historic, however, it is an extremely historic moment. Hopefully it pushes forth a lot of change.

Bolton:  Will there ever be change?

Mitchell: It’s tough. Will this spark change or will that spark change? We just have to keep thinking positive and hope for the best. I do think change is coming. And I do think through avenues like conversations like this that we are having, those are the things that create change. And that’s part of the reason why I decided to not be anonymous. To have these kinds of conversations. Because they’re important.

Raguse: What made you want to do this interview?

Mitchell: It’s just as simple as I wanted to be able to give people of color, other black people like me, just a positive image that change going to come. And I think it starts with this last trial, this last case. And it starts with having these conversations publicly and being visible.

Raguse: What was the last thing you said to the other jurors at the end of deliberation?

Mitchell: Probably said something like, 'Let’s get a beer or something!' Just glad to be done. We were all very relieved when we were finished.

Derek Chauvin is scheduled to be sentenced in the death of George Floyd on June 25. When asked what kind of sentence he thinks the convicted murderer should receive, Mitchell wouldn't comment. He said he did his job, and is confident Judge Cahill will do his. 


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