Racial Justice Protests Lawsuits

FILE -Denver Police move during a protest outside the State Capitol over the death of George Floyd Saturday, May 30, 2020, in Denver. A federal jury’s $14 million award to Denver protesters injured during 2020 demonstrations over the killing of George Floyd could resonate nationwide as courts weigh more than two dozen similar lawsuits.(AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

The group of protesters awarded nearly $14 million over the way police reacted to the protests that erupted in Denver in 2020 following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis opposes the city’s request for the trial judge to re-scrutinize certain legal issues in the case, according to court filings.

The city requested three potential remedies from the judge in a motion filed May 13: Grant a new trial, issue his own judgment based on matters of law, or reduce the awards from the jury.

A dozen protesters took an excessive force case to federal court against Denver in March, claiming that misuse of less-lethal weapons – from chemical irritants to lead pellet-filled Kevlar bags – by police during the 2020 demonstrations violated their constitutional rights, including to free speech and peaceful assembly.

The jury found Denver responsible for officers' use of excessive force by failing to train them adequately. Other policies and practices of the city and approval of the officers' conduct by policymakers also led to the constitutional violations, the jury decided.

Protesting the murder of George Floyd, protesters march west along the 16th Street Mall. 

The eight-member jury awarded the protesters $14 million total, with $250,000 of that judgment against former Denver officer Jonathan Christian in his individual capacity.

Denver has said the police department did the best it could to adapt to the protests that erupted quickly and included people who harmed officers and destroyed property alongside peaceful protesters.

Among other arguments, Denver claimed the group of protesters did not successfully link any specific city policy to the harm they suffered. The city also argued the damages awarded by the jury are too high – suggesting R. Brook Jackson reduce the damages by as much as nearly 90% – because the protesters claim emotional distress and non-permanent injuries make up the majority of the harm they suffered. Violation of constitutional rights by itself doesn’t entitle someone to general damages, the city insisted.

“Plaintiffs failed to present evidence of anything more than a garden variety emotional distress claim,” Denver’s motion read.

The protesters’ attorneys contest Denver’s arguments, characterizing them as an effort to avoid taking responsibility for shortcomings of the police response. They say the city’s request to reduce the amount of damages awarded minimizes the severe injuries some of the protesters received, which ranged from pain of being gassed to one man suffering a fractured skull and brain bleeding.

“Denver’s lack of remorse for its institutional failures is palpable. The jury saw things differently, and Denver must take responsibility for the damages it caused,” wrote the attorneys in their response filed last Friday.

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