Fifty people who protested racism and police brutality in Denver in the wake of George Floyd’s death last year are suing the city in federal court, alleging police officers used tear gas, projectiles and other weapons against them as they demonstrated or observed peacefully.
Denver police officers were neither adequately trained nor supervised during the protests, according to the pair of lawsuits filed Monday. Officers gassed and hit demonstrators wantonly, leaving many of the plaintiffs with a fear of protesting, the lawsuits states.
“The actions of the Denver Police Department during the George Floyd protests have consequences — this is one of those consequences,” attorney Birk Baumgartner said. “You can’t violate the Constitution as a police force and a city without repercussions anymore.”
The two lawsuits filed simultaneously in the U.S. District Court of Colorado on Monday by Baumgartner Law and the Beem & Isley law firm are some of the largest against the city in connection to the massive protests in May, June and July of 2020. After the murder of Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, thousands of people marched in downtown Denver demanding an end to police brutality and a fundamental shift in Denver’s public safety practices.
Neither Denver police officials nor the city attorney’s office could immediately be reached for comment Monday evening.
One of the lawsuits filed Monday represents eight people seriously injured by police and the other includes 42 others who were subject to tear gas and pepper spray during the protests or who were arrested — some spending days in jail — but had their charges dropped. Many of those injured suffered bruises or burning eyes.
While those injuries might not be catastrophic, it’s important to hold the city accountable for those harms and the broader impact it can have on people’s willingness to use their constitutional right to demonstrate, attorney Adam Yoast said. Many of the plaintiffs said that they are now fearful of protesting.
“This is about a chilling factor that the city can impose on people who choose to use their voice against them,” Yoast said.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuits filed Monday include:
- A girl under the age of 18 who on June 27, 2020, was protesting police brutality in downtown Denver with her father when officers arrested her, questioned her at a police station without her father and then released her without any charges
- A woman whom police shot in the ankle with a projectile while she walked away from them on May 31, 2020
- A woman whom police shot with projectiles on May 28, 2020, even as she held her hands up
- A woman who said she was shot in the back with a tear gas canister on May 31, 2020, as she ran away from officers and the cloud of gas they had deployed
- A man working as a volunteer medic during a July 1, 2020, demonstration whom an officer struck in the chest with a baton
- A man who did not join in the protests but observed them on May 30, 2020, whom an officer shot in the eye with a projectile while he walked home
- A man who was standing outside his Capitol Hill apartment talking to his mom on the phone on June 1, 2020, when a police officer shot him with a rubber bullet, knocking him to the ground and causing his tooth to fall out
Several of the plaintiffs suffered pain from tear gas or pepper spray for multiple days after the protests. Others said the trauma of how the police responded to the protests made them fearful to protest in the future.
Dozens of others injured by police have also filed separate lawsuits, including one class-action suit. The protesters’ injuries include being blinded in the eye and broken bones.
The Office of the Independent Monitor — the city’s police and sheriff oversight agency — found that Denver police used excessive force against protesters and failed to keep thorough records, making it difficult to track which officers were responsible. Officers used pepper spray and fired pepper balls at people who were simply “verbally objecting” to police and not posing any threat, the oversight agency found.
Of the hundreds of Denver officers who responded to the protests, only two have faced formal discipline for their actions while policing the crowds.
The lawsuits filed Monday demand not only money to compensate for the plaintiffs’ injuries, but also policy change. Baumgartner said he’d like to see the U.S. Department of Justice impose a consent decree on the Denver Police Department to oversee needed changes.
“Let’s not forget what this was about: This was about people in Denver and all around the country saying it’s not OK for police to inflict injuries on citizens,” Baumgartner said. “And the Denver Police Department’s reaction to protests was to do exactly that.”
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