Sep 20, 2022 - News

Federal judge rejects Denver's challenge to $14M verdict in George Floyd protest case

Police officers pepper spray a woman next to the Colorado State Capitol as protests against the death of George Floyd continue for a third night on May 30, 2020 in Denver.
Police officers pepper spray a woman next to the Colorado State Capitol as protests against the death of George Floyd continue for a third night on May 30, 2020 in Denver. Photo: Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

A federal judge rejected the city of Denver's appeal of a $14 million landmark verdict in favor of protesters who were injured in 2020 by police officers during the George Floyd protests.

Driving the news: In a 24-page order issued Monday, U.S. District Court Judge R. Brooke Jackson, dismissed the city's request for a new trial and refused to reduce the damages awarded to 12 protesters who were shot with rubber projectiles and chemical weapons.

  • "The police no doubt faced a very difficult situation, as there were individuals in the crowds who threw rocks, full water bottles, and other objects at officers throughout the protests," the judge wrote.
  • "However, Denver's stubborn [insistence] that the police did nothing wrong in the face of overwhelming video evidence to the contrary, coupled with evidence that each plaintiff was peaceful but sustained injuries as a result of the misconduct, was sufficient to support the jurors' verdict," Jackson added.

Catch up quick: In March, the federal jury heard three weeks of testimony and deliberated for five hours before finding the city violated the civil rights of 12 protesters named in the lawsuit.

  • It became the first jury verdict in the nation to hold law enforcement officers liable for use of force against protesters in 2020 following Floyd's death in Minneapolis.

Denver's attorneys acknowledged that police officers made mistakes in the response, but they argued the actions were appropriate because of the large crowds, evidence of property destruction and violent behavior of some in the streets.

  • Nine protesters received $1 million each in damages against the city, and another received $3 million because of the extent of his injuries.
  • Elisabeth Epps, the lead plaintiff, received $1.25 million.

Yes, but: Jackson agreed to reduce $250,000 in damages issued against former officer Jonathan Christian, ruling the fine was excessive for firing one pepper ball at Epps.

  • The judge put the damages at $50,000.

What they're saying: "We are thrilled with the court’s careful and thoughtful ruling upholding the jury's verdict and rejecting the city's effort to toss it out," Timothy Macdonald, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a statement.

The other side: The city attorney's office could not immediately be reached for comment, but Mayor Michael Hancock previously expressed criticism of the jury's ruling.

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