Protesters could be awarded $14M by the jury. This award could have a lasting impact in the United States

The $14 million federal jury award to Denver protesters for pepper balls and lead bags during the 2020 protests against police shooting of George Floyd in Minneapolis may resonate across the country, as more than two dozen similar lawsuits are being weighed by courts.

Protesters could be awarded $14M by the jury. This award could have a lasting impact in the United States

The jury found that police used excessive force on protesters, violating their constitutional right to due process, and ordered Denver to compensate 12 of the plaintiffs.

According to the University of Michigan Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse, there are at most 29 pending lawsuits that challenge law enforcement's use of force during 2020 protests.

According to Michael J. Steinberg (a professor at the University of Michigan Law School, and director of Civil Rights Litigation Initiative), the Denver verdict could encourage cities to settle similar cases, rather than risk losing a trial. This could encourage more protestors to sue the police for their treatment.

Steinberg said that there is no doubt that Denver's large jury verdict will have an impact on the outcome of the pending cases of police misconduct brought by Black Lives Matter protesters all across the country. Steinberg was one of the law students who worked on a similar lawsuit brought to the court by Detroit protesters.

The lawyers for the claimants claimed that police used indiscriminate force to disperse peaceful protestors, including those filming the demonstrations. This was because they were not happy with their criticism of law enforcement.

Timothy Macdonald, one of their attorneys, stated to jurors that they "reacted with brutality" to the protests of police violence.

In lawsuits across the country, similar claims have been made by people who participated in the protests.

Washington, DC activists and civil liberties organizations sued over the forcible expulsion of protesters. This happened before President Donald Trump went to a nearby church for a photo shoot. Although federal officials were not charged in the lawsuit, a judge allowed local police to continue their case.

New York City's police department has been the subject of several lawsuits. One brought by Letitia James alleges that officers used excessive force against protesters and unlawfully arrested them. People in Rochester, New York protested the murder of Daniel Prude (a Black man who died after being pinned to the ground by officers in a mental health emergency in 2020). A lawsuit was filed by New York Attorney General Letitia James that claims police used excessive force and wrongfully arrested the protestors.

Donald Thompson, one of their lawyers, stated that he will raise the Denver award during settlement negotiations with the city. He also noted that some of his clients sustained lasting injuries, including the loss or scarring of an eye, when they were hit with tear gas canisters. Thompson believes that the Denver verdict is a sign of how the public has changed in the age cell phone and body camera video.

"People now see how this policing actually works. He said, "You can't be foolish."

Barbara Pierce, Rochester's spokesperson, declined to comment. She said that the best way to discuss the city's legal position was through litigation. The city claimed that it had already changed the way it responds to protests when the case was brought.

The city of Austin, Texas, has offered $13 million to four people who were struck in the head by bean bag rounds fired from police officers over the past two months.

The Denver ruling of last week meant that the police department had to make some adjustments to address criticisms from protestors. They removed 40mm foam rounds to control crowds and changed the rules regarding pepper balls.

Denver's Department of Public Safety (which includes the police department) stated in a statement that it was not prepared for such violence and destruction. Witnesses and lawyers claimed that more than 80 officers sustained injuries during the trial as people hurled rocks and water bottles at them.

According to the department, it is continuing to review its policies in order to "better safeguard peaceful protestors and address those who are only there for violence."

The large award will not, however, change the way officers handle chaotic situations that experts call difficult to plan for.

Ed Obayashi is a consultant in the use of force to law enforcement agencies. He was also a deputy sheriff, and legal advisor in Plumas County.

He said, "It really turns south in an instant because it's so easy to create chaos."

Obayashi stated that there is very little police training for protests. Obayashi stated that it would be prohibitively costly to train officers in the use of tear gas canisters. He said that projectiles used in crowds, and which are considered less lethal by police, like pepper balls and rubber bullets, have lower velocity and less power to harm people. It is therefore harder to make sure they hit their target.

Lawyers representing those who also allege police misconduct or violation of their constitutional rights to protest may now use the Denver damages award as part their settlement negotiations, according to Mark Silverstein, legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union. He represented some of the Denver protesters.

Nearly two years had passed since Floyd's death. This was a quick outcome for the legal system. It also allowed others to file claims for misconduct by police officers. Silverstein stated that there is a two year statute of limitations in Colorado and other states for such lawsuits. This leaves only a few months for other people to sue.

Although the city attorney's office has not yet decided whether to appeal, appeals in large cases like this are quite common, Gloria Browne-Marshall of John Jay College of Criminal Justice said. To determine if the case is more likely to be repeated, outside lawyers will also examine it.

She believes the verdict sends a clear message to regular citizens that they respect the right to protest and demand change from government.

Browne-Marshall stated, "It should send both a message, but whether they listen or not is another issue."


 

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