Murals and memorials have popped up in honor of George Floyd like this one in the Third Ward area of Houston, his hometown and old neighborhood (Photo Credit: Regal Media Group/Todd A. Smith).

A jury determined that Denver police officers violated George Floyd protestors’ constitutional rights in 2020 by using excessive force during rallies against police brutality and systemic racism.

The 12 people who sued will now receive $14 million in damages, according to the Associated Press (A.P.).

“Hopefully, what police departments will take from this is a jury of regular citizens takes these rights very seriously,” said Timothy Macdonald, an attorney for one of the protestors.

The A.P. reported, “The protestors said the actions of the police violated their free speech rights and rights to be protected from unreasonable force. Jurors found violations of both rights for 11 of the protestors and only free speech violations for the other. The protestors claimed Denver was liable for the police’s actions through its polices, including giving officers wide discretion in using what police call ‘less lethal’ devices, failing to train officers on them, and not requiring them to use their body-worn cameras during the protests to deter indiscriminate use of force.

“During the trial, Denver admitted that mistakes were made at the protests, which it says were unprecedented in their size, duration and amount of violence and destruction. Over 80 officers were injured as protestors hurled rocks, water bottles and canned food at them, and state Capitol, the hub of the protests, incurred $1.1 million in damage, according to the city. Lawyers for the protestors who sued stressed they were not accused of being violent themselves.”

It took the jury four hours of deliberation after three weeks of testimony and video to render judgement.

The jury consisted of mostly White Americans, two men and six women.

The largest amount went to Zach Packard who received $3 million in damages after getting hit in the head by a shotgun blast that placed him in the intensive care unit of the hospital.

This case in Denver is just one of a slew of cases dealing with police excessive force cases set to head to a judge or jury.

“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,” said Mark Silvermann, director with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Colorado.

The ACLU of Colorado represented the plaintiffs in the Denver case.

The New York Times reported, “The police shot at the plaintiffs with projectiles at close ranges without warnings, striking some of them, according to the complaint, which was filed by the A.C.L.U. of Colorado and attorneys with the firm Arnold & Porter. Officers also used pepper spray and tear gas, among other tactics, on the plaintiffs, the complaint said.”

Dr. Stanford Smith, one of the protestors, said while talking to protestors, an officer pepper sprayed him in the eyes without warning.

Smith said, “I feared for my life because I couldn’t see, I couldn’t breathe. 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 about trying to create a way and a system that police are actually held responsible for their actions.”

ABC News reported, “Elisabeth Epps, a lawyer and activist who was one of the protestors who sued, said the attorneys for the city she loves gaslighted the protestors during the trial, questioning their account of what happened. At one point, a lawyer for Denver called her a ‘professional protestor’ after she testified that she had attended protests since she was a child and had received training about how to respond to be tear-gassed. She grew emotional talking about what it meant to have the jury side with the protests.”

In response to the verdict, Epps said, “It feels like being seen.”

ABC News reported, “One of Denver’s lawyers, Lindsay Jordan, told the jurors that the city had planned a large training in crowd control in the spring of 2020 because of the upcoming presidential election, but it was canceled because of COVID-19. She stressed that mistakes made by officers during the protests do not automatically equate to constitutional violations, noting thousands of people returned to exercise their free speech rights despite the force police used over the five days of demonstrations.”

Jordan said, “The violence and destruction that occurred around the community required intervention.”

In a statement, the Denver Department of Public Safety said, “We were prepared for a worst-case scenario, but we weren’t fully prepared for what transpired. Unfortunately, the Denver Police Department officers and other law enforcement officers responding to assist encountered extreme destructive behavior from some agitators among largely peaceful protests.”

Five Denver police officers faced discipline for their behavior during the protests.

One officer still on probation was terminated for posting a photograph of himself on social media wearing tactical gear with the statement, “Let’s start a riot.”

ABC News reported, “Aggressive responses from officers 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 protests in May 2020, and 19 officers have been indicted for their actions against protestors. Last month, two police officers in Dallas accused of injuring protestors after firing less lethal munitions were charged.

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

Todd A. Smith
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