One police brutality lawsuit down, 29 to go!
In 2020, millions organized across the U.S. to protest the police killings of innocent Black people like Breonna Taylor, only to become victims of police violence themselves. It only took four hours for a federal jury to determine that protesters at the George Floyd demonstrations deserve some money for their pain, suffering, and constitutional rights violated at the hands of cops in Denver.
According to CBS News, the verdict awarded $14 million to the group of 12 protesters in the lawsuit. Could this settlement set an example for the dozens of similar lawsuits filed for police brutality at protests in 2020?
Pepper spray, pepper balls, and lead pellet-filled Kevlar bags fired from shotguns were some of the “less lethal,” but still violent weapons used against peaceful protestors in recent years. Zach Packard was awarded $3 million, the largest amount for damages in the Denver settlement because police fired one of those shotgun bags at his head and put him in the intensive care unit.
It’s no surprise that several pro-treason Jan. 6 supporters have already criticized this verdict, conveniently demanding a double standard about when to protect free speech and when to back the blue or attack the blue. However, Denver spent more than $14 million on police misconduct settlements from 2017 to 2019.
“Hopefully, what police departments will take from this is a jury of regular citizens takes these rights very seriously,” said attorney Timothy Macdonald, who encouraged the jurors to send a message to Denver and other cities that they are responsible for protecting the safety and rights of protesters.
Lawyers in the case believe this was the first case about police misconduct during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests to go to trial, which is rare in federal civil rights lawsuits. In addition to convincing the judge and jury that police used excessive force against peaceful demonstrators, attorneys for victims successfully argued the city failed to properly train officers or require that they keep their body-worn cameras filming.
“We continue to evaluate our policies and training to ensure we are using best practices identified by law enforcement throughout the country to better protect peaceful protestors while addressing those who are only there to engage in violence,” said in a statement by Denver officials. “We recognize that there is more work to be done, and the Denver Police Department will continue collaboration with the communities we serve on that work.”
Lawyers for the city admitted that officers “made mistakes” because of the unprecedented size of the crowds, “But mistakes do not equal constitutional violations,” said attorney Lindsay Jordan. “Mistakes” still doesn’t explain away the five Denver officers disciplined by the department for misconduct during the protests. It also doesn’t explain the new officer who was fired for posting a picture of himself and fellow questionable cops in full tactical gear with the caption, “let’s start a riot.” Denver’s police leadership faced no punishment for the handling of the protest that left hundreds of people injured.
“There’s no doubt that the large jury verdict in Denver will influence the outcome of pending police misconduct cases brought by Black Lives Matter protesters across the country,” said Michael J. Steinberg, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School and director of the Civil Rights Litigation Initiative.
That momentum towards justice is exactly what the Louisiana Supreme Court tried to stop with a ruling that organizers can be held legally responsible for events that happen at a protest, even if they’re caused by corrupt cops eager to “start a riot.” As these cases make their way through courts across the country, keep an eye on how the law is (mis)used in response to the fight for justice.