Group of 12 George Floyd protesters file civil rights lawsuit against Denver Police Department

A group of a dozen protesters filed a new civil rights lawsuit against the Denver Police Department on Tuesday, adding to a growing pile of lawsuits the city has faced over its excessive use of force during protests. following the 2020 murder of George Floyd.

The 67-page complaint alleges the department used “constitutionally illegal” tactics to control peaceful protesters. According to the lawsuit, officers indiscriminately threw tear gas, pepperballs and flashbang grenades at the crowd, violating their First Amendment rights.

Department leadership failed to issue dispersal orders prior to the use of force in many cases, the complaint states. Senior commanders also did not ask officers to complete use of force reports until weeks after the protests.

The claims echo those at the center of a three-week federal trial held in March, when a jury awarded a separate group of protesters $14 million in damages for DPD’s constitutional violations. A judge in this case is still weighing whether to issue permanent policy changes within the department.

“The $14 million verdict appears to have had no effect on the city’s policymakers,” said Elizabeth Wang, an attorney at Loevy & Loevy, the firm representing the protesters in the case filed Tuesday. Wang also represented several of the plaintiffs in the March trial.

“We expect the city to recognize its mistakes and it hasn’t,” Wang said.

The city argued that the officers’ actions were necessary due to the chaotic nature of the protests. Groups of demonstrators sometimes threw objects at the police. They also smashed windows and sprayed graffiti on downtown businesses and government buildings.

A spokeswoman for the city attorney’s office declined to comment on the ongoing litigation.

After the March verdict, the prosecutor’s office said it would continue to review how law enforcement is responding to the protests. The statement acknowledged that officers made mistakes in some incidents.

“We continue to evaluate our policies and training to ensure we are using best practices identified by law enforcement across the country to better protect peaceful protesters while reaching out to those who are just there. to engage in violence,” the statement said.

DPD has implemented changes to the way it responds to protests since before any litigation, according to a spokesperson for the department. These changes include the elimination of the use of less lethal 40mm equipment during demonstrations and improved training.

The latest case brought by protesters cites at least 12 incidents of alleged excessive force that occurred between May 30 and June 5, 2020.

In one, officers from several Denver Metro departments under DPD command ‘largely entrapped’ a group of protesters who marched down Colfax Avenue near the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. . Officers used separate skirmish lines to block off protesters on the east and west sides, according to the complaint.

Without warning or order, officers then fired tear gas, flash grenades and pepper balls into the crowd in both directions, the lawsuit says.

In an attempt to escape, Mariah Wood, a plaintiff, attempted to scale the basilica’s wrought iron fence. At the top, Wood’s shoelace got caught in one of the metal spikes in the fence. As she attempted to descend, DPD officers shot her “several times” with pepper balls.

“At no time did Wood throw anything, commit an act of violence or destruction of property, or commit an act that would have warranted the use of force,” the complaint states.

In another, Mark Rosenthal, a local property manager, was standing at the edge of Civic Center Park near Broadway when DPD officers pulled into a vehicle and began shooting at protesters without warning, the complaint said.

Rosenthal was shot several times in the chest and head, leaving a bloody gash on his forehead. He had to go to the hospital to get stitched up, the suit explains.

Other complainants suffered bruises, skin burns and concussions during their interactions with police. Many are still struggling with post-traumatic stress, according to the complaint.

Protesters are seeking damages for their injuries in the case. If the case goes to trial, which will take months, a judge could order a policy change in the department.

The case could also be settled before going to trial. In February, the Denver City Council unanimously approved settlements with two protesters without going to court. Denver has spent more than $1.3 million settling claims to date.

About Jessica J. Bass

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