Trial starts for lawsuit over Denver police use of force

Posted at 5:05 PM, March 7, 2022 and last updated 6:37 PM, June 8, 2023

By COLLEEN SLEVIN Associated Press

DENVER (AP) — The trial for a lawsuit accusing Denver police of using indiscriminate force two years ago against people protesting the killing of George Floyd started Monday in federal court.

Opening statements will come after a jury is seated for what lawyers involved in the case believe is the first trial of a lawsuit challenging police tactics during the protests that erupted across the United States.

File — Denver Police Department officers clear a man who fell to the street after they used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse a protest outside the State Capitol over the death of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis, in this file photograph taken Thursday, May 28, 2020, in Denver. A civil lawsuit accusing Denver Police of using indiscriminate force against people protesting the killing of Floyd is set to go on trial in federal court Monday, March 7, 2022. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

About a dozen lawsuits have been filed on behalf of over 60 people injured or arrested in Denver’s protests, including several from people who were shot in the eye with less-lethal ammunition amid the demonstrations in the city over several days starting May 28, 2020, according to The Denver Post.

The Denver lawsuit heading to trial first was brought by 12 protesters who say they suffered injuries like skull and jaw fractures, a brain bleed and burning eyes, throats and face after police attacked them.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified financial damages and asks for a declaration that Denver officials that police violated protesters’ constitutional rights, including their First Amendment right to protest. It also seeks an order for the city to change how officers deals with protesters.

In court filings, lawyers for the city of Denver said officers used force like pepper balls and chemical agents when people acted aggressively, including instances when they threw objects at police, and that peaceful protesters may have been inadvertently hit by police.

There is no evidence that the demonstrators were targeted by officers to try to discourage them from protesting, the lawyers for Denver said.

A court filing by the lawyers last month said that officers perceived a “riotous mob condition” at times during the protests and that 80 officers were injured, most of them by projectiles thrown by protesters including chunks of concrete, bottles and landscaping rocks launched with lacrosse sticks.

FILE – A Denver police officer shoots a pepper ball toward a man as he retreats during a protest outside the State Capitol over the death of George Floyd in Denver, May 30, 2020. A civil lawsuit accusing the Denver Police Department of using indiscriminate force against people protesting the killing of George Floyd is set to go on trial Monday, March 7, 2022, in federal court. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

The lawyers also said that the state Capitol, the hub of the protests, suffered $1.1 million in damage during the demonstrations.

Police’s aggressive response to people protesting police brutality nationally have led to financial settlements, the departures of police chiefs and criminal charges.

In Austin, Texas, officials have agreed to pay over $13 million to people injured in protests in May 2020 and 19 officers have been indicted for their actions against protesters. Last month, two police officers in Dallas accused of injuring protesters after firing less lethal munitions were charged.

However, in 2021, a federal judge dismissed most of the claims filed by activists and civil liberties groups over the forcible removal of protesters by police before then-President Donald Trump walked to a church near the White House for a photo op.