May 25, 2022 - News

Two years later, Denver's response to George Floyd protests unsettled

Marchers walk by a mural of George Floyd painted on a wall along Colfax Avenue on June 7, 2020 in Denver. Photo: Helen H. Richardson/Denver Post via Getty Images
Marchers walk by a mural of George Floyd painted on a wall along Colfax Avenue on June 7, 2020 in Denver. Photo: Helen H. Richardson/Denver Post via Getty Images

Denver is expected to face new lawsuits this week for its violent response to the George Floyd protests in 2020.

Driving the news: The second anniversary of Floyd's death coincides with the two-year limit to file legal claims against the city and its police department regarding alleged violations of protesters' civil rights.

Context: Earlier this year, a federal jury awarded 12 racial justice protesters a collective $14 million, a precedent-setting verdict spurring more legal claims.

  • A dozen more protesters filed a similar civil rights lawsuit last week against Denver for its use of non-lethal projectiles, tear gas and other chemical weapons.
  • "It was pretty amazing for these claims to be litigated to a jury verdict so quickly … that the statute of limitations had not even expired," said Mark Silverstein, legal director for ACLU Colorado.

Why it matters: Additional lawsuits would only escalate the city's financial liability and renew concerns about its policing and the leadership of chief Paul Pazen.

  • Ongoing legal challenges could keep cases alive — and prevent protesters from receiving damages — for years to come.

What's new: Denver filed a motion earlier this month asking the federal judge who oversaw the case to void the jury's verdict and order a new trial. The city also wants the $14 million in damages reduced to under $1.6 million.

  • The city's attorneys argue the jury was prejudiced against them because they saw photos of Floyd and Minneapolis police office Derek Chauvin, who was convicted in his murder.
  • They also disputed testimony from Nick Mitchell, the former independent police monitor, and the memos he prepared, arguing they should not have been allowed at trial.

Between the lines: To reverse the verdict or get a new trial at this point, the city must meet a high legal standard that makes such a ruling unlikely.

  • The judge can reduce the damages only if they are so excessive "as to shock the judicial conscience."

What's next: Protesters have until mid-June to reply to the city's demands and then the judge will issue a ruling on how to proceed.

Two additional legal challenges from the first lawsuit are pending, one regarding the 300 people arrested under the city's curfew and another for claims against Aurora police. The trials are currently scheduled for April and June 2023.

  • Once decided, the city can file appeals — extending the case's timeline indefinitely.

What they are saying: Protesters "want to hold the city accountable and specifically see some institutional and policy changes take place at the city — and some real acknowledgement of wrongdoing and mistakes," said Elizabeth Wang, the Loevy & Loevy attorney who represented the initial 12 and filed the latest lawsuit.

  • "So far the city has not taken any responsibility for its actions even after it was hit with a tremendous jury verdict."
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