Mar 15, 2022 - News

Denver police and protesters portray different realities in federal trial

Police officers pepper spray people next to the Colorado State Capitol as protests against the death of George Floyd continued on May 30, 2020. Photo: Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

The police officers and protesters involved in the 2020 racial justice demonstrations at the state Capitol are painting starkly different pictures about what it looked like on the ground.

Why it matters: It's up to jurors to decide whose version to believe — and the view they adopt will underpin the rest of the trial.

Driving the news: On Monday, former Denver police officer Keith Valentine and current Lt. Michael O'Donnell took the stand.

  • Their eye-witness accounts clashed with those from the plaintiffs who preceded.

What protesters are saying: Police officers' actions "blew my mind" and reflected a "use of force I've never dreamed I would experience," said Sara Fitouri, a union organizer and resident of Denver, who is one of the 12 injured protesters suing the city.

  • She recalled a nearby protester who was trapped in an alley, teargassed and screaming, "We're going to die — they're going to kill us!"

What police are saying: "I saw nothing that alarmed me or concerned me or that I felt was outside" the Denver Police Department's use-of-force policies, said Valentine, who now works for a manufacturer of body cameras for police.

  • We were "taking rocks and bottles and canned goods … from all angles," he added.

The big picture: This split-screen view is defining the first-of-its-kind trial, now entering its second week.

What to watch: The days to come will include more testimony from plaintiffs, police commanders and third-party experts. The trial is expected to last three weeks.

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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