George Floyd protests: Jury awards $14M to BLM protesters, rules cops used excessive force
The jury ordered to pay $14 million to 12 plaintiffs after concluding that police used excessive force against them during the George Floyd demonstrations in 2020
DENVER, COLORADO: A Colorado jury ordered the city and county of Denver on Friday, March 25, to pay $14 million in damages to 12 plaintiffs after concluding that police used excessive force against them during the George Floyd demonstrations in 2020.
The plaintiffs' lawyers noted how the civil case in the US District Court of Colorado was the first in the nation in which a lawsuit alleging police misconduct during the protests went to trial. They explained that the ruling could set a precedent for other pending cases of police misconduct across the country. The jury of eight civilians ruled that the city and county had failed to train its police force adequately, and therefore, officers violated the demonstrators' First and Fourth Amendment constitutional rights.
“The verdict is a message to the police department, to the highest echelons of the police department, but also a message to police departments all over the country,” Mark Silverstein, legal director with the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, said after the case was concluded. Silverstein was representing the plaintiffs in the case, which saw three weeks of presentations featuring expert testimony, bodycam, and cellphone footage, as well as first-hand accounts from the police and the protesters, The New York Times reported.
According to a complaint filed by the ACLU of Colorado, police shot the plaintiffs with projectiles at close ranges without warnings and struck some of them. The complaint also accused officers of using pepper spray and tear gas among other crowd control tactics. Zach Packard, one of the protesters, was knocked unconscious after being hit in the head by a projectile and rushed to the hospital. Packard was the recipient of the largest damage amount i.e., $3 million.
Meanwhile, another protester, dental student Stanford Smith, was allegedly sprayed in the face with pepper spray without warning. “I feared for my life because I couldn’t see, I couldn’t breathe,” Smith said in an interview Saturday. He said he was determined to bring the case to trial despite having been offered a settlement. “What the police did was wrong, and we wanted the facts to come out in court,” Smith alleged, adding, “This was never about a monetary settlement. To me, it was more so about trying to create a way and a system that police are actually held responsible for their actions.”
While the city and county of Denver acknowledged the police's shortcomings, they argued that the protests caused a “level of sustained violence and destruction” that was unprecedented in the city. “We were prepared for a worst-case scenario, but we weren’t fully prepared for what transpired," the Denver Department of Public Safety said in a statement.
"Unfortunately, Denver Police Department officers and other law enforcement officers responding to assist encountered extreme destructive behavior from some agitators among largely peaceful protesters. We recognize that some mistakes were made," the statement further read.
According to the department, Denver officials have already shelled out more than $1.3 million to injured protesters in a series of lawsuits. In 2021, the city of Columbus, Ohio, reached an agreement to pay $5.75 million to 32 plaintiffs who accused the police of violating their constitutional rights during the demonstrations.