Denver BLM protesters win $1M settlement over 2020 police action

DENVER — Protesters who filed a lawsuit over Denver police action during the George Floyd demonstrations in 2020 have won a $1 million settlement.

On Monday, Denver City Council approved the $1,005,000 settlement, which involved four plaintiffs who were attacked by police while peacefully protesting Floyd’s death on May 25, 2020 in Minneapolis. The civil rights law firm Loevy & Loevy represented three of the four plaintiffs.

The suit, Abay, et al. v. City and County of Denver, was filed on June 23, 2022. It named the defendants as the City and County of Denver and Patrick Phelan, a former Denver Police Department (DPD) commander.

Protests began in late May 2020 in Denver and continued into June. During the daytime hours, the protests were generally calm, but tensions escalated more between the protesters and police after dark. Former Denver Mayor Michael Hancock issued an emergency curfew on May 30, which read: “In the aftermath of Mr. Floyd’s death, a civil disturbance has occurred within the downtown and surrounding areas of the City and County of Denver, with resulting significant and extensive damage to people and/or property, including several public and private businesses and buildings that have been damaged, looted or burned.”

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According to the lawsuit, police used “violent crowd control tactics to corral, intimidate, and suppress the speech of protesters” and used less-lethal weapons, such as tear gas, flashbang grenades, PepperBalls, rubber bullets, and other projectiles.

“DPD and its mutual-aid officers used these tactics on protesters who were demonstrating peacefully, without first issuing adequate (or any) warnings, lawful (or any) orders, or giving protesters adequate time to disperse,” the suit reads.

At at least one point in time, police used these weapons when crowds were “chanting, kneeling, or standing with their hands up,” the lawsuit reads. It also claims that police chased protesters into alleys and then shot chemical weapons in their direction.

The defendants approved officers’ use of more dangerous weapons that DPD does not typically use, such as — but not limited to — shotguns that fired beanbag rounds, the lawsuit reads.

The plaintiffs sued on allegations of unconstitutional use of force and suppression of their right to free speech and assembly. They also claimed that Denver did not properly train its officers or discipline their excessive use of force.

Elizabeth Wang, with Loevy & Loevy, is the lead trial attorney for this case, as well as other ones related to the protests in Denver.

“The plaintiffs brought this lawsuit to effect change in Denver’s use of force against protesters,” she said. “They achieved that goal when the court enjoined the DPD’s use of force against protesters and the legislature codified those restrictions into law in 2020. This settlement finally provides plaintiffs compensation for their injuries. This lawsuit — and the many others that have been resolved in favor of protesters — sends a message that cities face serious consequences if their police inflict violence on peaceful protesters.”

She also was the lead attorney for 12 protesters who were awarded $14 million in damages in the first excessive force and civil rights trial to come out of the 2020 demonstrations, and also led a plaintiff class to win a $4.72 million settlement with the City and County of Denver in late August.

The four plaintiffs include Amy Schneider, Gabriel Thorn, and Agazi Abay — who were all represented by Wang — and Michael McDaniel, who was represented by other counsel. They will receive $350,000, $320,000, $235,000 and $100,000, respectively.

A detailed account of the plaintiffs’ experiences is available in the lawsuit here. Some may find the content disturbing.

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