Mar 10, 2022 - News

Denver paints injured protesters as collateral damage in federal trial

A woman reacts after receiving pepper spray to the face during a 2020 protest. Photo: Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

In a first-of-its-kind jury trial, attorneys for the city of Denver are casting the 12 plaintiffs injured by police in 2020 as collateral damage — and not part of a strategy to quell the racial justice protests.

Why it matters: The legal argument is evident and permeates the first days of testimony in the federal case against the city for its response to the George Floyd protests near the state Capitol.

  • And it is core to whether the jury will find fault with Denver's policies and practices.

What to watch: In court Wednesday, attorneys for the protesters played video clips and presented expert testimony in an effort to show that police intentionally targeted demonstrators with flash bang grenades, pepper balls and other "less-lethal" projectiles.

  • Norman Stamper, a former Seattle police chief who reviewed the Denver case and testified for the plaintiffs, said he would describe the training of officers as "woefully inadequate" and their actions as "indiscriminate."
  • The issue drew the attention of jurors, who posed a question to a Denver police supervisor about what actions justified using the weapons against protesters.

What they're saying: Denver police used techniques during 2020 protests that, "I know of no other police department would permit," Stamper said Wednesday, emphasizing that the majority of officers have yet to be disciplined.

The other side: Attorneys for the city contend that officers could not arrest the "agitators" in the crowd because of the volatile situation, and needed to use tear gas and other weapons to protect themselves.

  • In cross-examining the plaintiffs, the attorneys focused on the criminal activity taking place and the vandalism, suggesting it needed an aggressive response.

What's next: The trial is expected to continue for three weeks.

  • Denver police command is expected to take the stand and describe a different picture of the events the protesters told the jury at the start of the trial.

This story first appeared in the Axios Denver newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard. Subscribe here.


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