During May and June of 2020, Colorado saw statewide protests in response to the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Unlike the Jan. 6, 2021 attempted coup d’etat in Washington, D.C., protesters were predominantly nonviolent, but the nature of their protest and the size of the protest led to law enforcement applying the same abusive overreach against Black Lives Matter protesters that led to the demonstrations in the first place.

At the end of March 2022, a federal grand jury awarded $14 million in compensatory and punitive damages to 12 people injured by Denver police during those protests. The city and county of Denver released a statement to CNN saying “Unfortunately, Denver Police Department officers and other law enforcement officers responding to assist encountered extreme destructive behavior from some agitators among largely peaceful protestors. We recognize that some mistakes were made.”

This is the first lawsuit to go to trial in the U.S. against law enforcement agencies for their conduct during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests

American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado legal director Mark Silverstein told The New York Times that “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.”

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One of the plaintiffs, Dr. Stanford Smith, explained that he was simply talking with other protesters when riot police walked up and sprayed them in the face with pepper spray. “I feared for my life, because I couldn’t see, I couldn’t breathe,” he said in an interview, but went on to say that receiving money from Denver was not why he signed on. Pointing to the fact that he and others rejected attempts to settle the lawsuit before a verdict was reached, Dr. Smith told the Times, “What the police did was wrong, and we wanted the facts to come out in court. 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.”

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One of the defendants in the lawsuit, police officer Jonathan Christian, was directed to pay $250,000 in damages to Elisabeth Epps. Epps claimed she was hit and injured by a pepper ball fired at her by Christian. Christian admitted he fired the pepper ball at her but, according to The Denver Gazette, “disputed whether the pepper ball fired by Christian actually hit Epps.” Epps had this to say about the verdict.

DENVER, CO - MAY 30: A firework explodes behind a line of police officers next to the Colorado State Capitol as protests against the death of George Floyd continue for a third night on May 30, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. The city of Denver enacted a curfew for Saturday and Sunday nights and Governor Jared Polis activated the Colorado National Guard in hopes of stopping protests that have wreaked havoc across the city. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)
If you pit yourself against citizens you create a self-fulfilling prophecy

“So to have jurors who don’t know me … to have them see the same things that we saw, it’s incredibly validating.

“It feels incredibly warm. I don’t know that I’ll ever see those eight people. But it feels really, really warm.”

The jury was deciding on whether or not the 12 people named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit had their constitutional rights violated. They did. As a result, each plaintiff will receive no less than $750,000. The 12 plaintiffs’ injuries ranged from skull fractures and bleeding in the brain to chemical burns.

The Gazette listed out the compensations:

  • Claire Sannier: $1 million
  • Stanford Smith: $1 million
  • Zachary Packard: $3 million
  • Sara Fitouri: $1 million
  • Maya Rothlein: $1 million
  • Amanda Blasingame: $1 million
  • Joe Deras: $1 million
  • Elle Taylor: $1 million
  • Ashlee Wedgeworth, $750,00
  • Jackie Parkins: $1 million
  • Elisabeth Epps: 1 million in compensatory damages, $250,000 in punitive damages
  • Hollis Lyman: $1 million

This jury award comes after other settlements have been reached in similar cases against municipalities whose law enforcement agencies abused the rights of citizens. The city of Austin, Texas, agreed in February to pay out $10 million to two demonstrators severely injured by the “less lethal” ammunition used during BLM protests at the same time. Columbus, Ohio, officials agreed to pay out $5.75 million to 32 protesters injured by law enforcement during the same time.

Law enforcement sucks up far too many financial resources to do their job as poorly as they do. Police departments across the country cost taxpayers a lot more than the salaries and equipment they use and abuse. They cost municipalities hundreds of millions of dollars in lawsuits.

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This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.


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