Apr 18, 2022 - News

George Floyd protest lawsuits drag on in Philly

 Protesters demonstrating on I-676 run up a hill after being shot by tear gas by police on June 1, 2020.
Protesters demonstrating on I-676 run up a hill after being shot by tear gas by police on June 1, 2020. Photo: Mark Makela/Getty

A federal jury last month found the city of Denver liable for its heavy-handed response to 2020 demonstrations over the murder of George Floyd, awarding $14 million to protesters injured by police.

Why it matters: The verdict, which Denver will appeal, could influence the outcomes of dozens of cases challenging police use of force during the racial justice protests that erupted nationwide two years ago. That includes cases in Philadelphia, where there are a handful of federal lawsuits still pending.

Zoom in: Philadelphia is facing four separate federal lawsuits involving hundreds of plaintiffs over law enforcement's response to the Floyd protests.

  • Police used military-style armored vehicles, rubber bullets, pepper spray and tear gas on demonstrators marching on I-676, as well as on protesters and residents around 52nd Street.

What they're saying: Plaintiff groups involved in the lawsuits against Philadelphia are working together to push police reforms and seek monetary damages, said Paul Hetznecker, a lawyer representing approximately 250 people in one of those suits.

  • "We are in the process of negotiating with the city in the hope that we can reach a settlement," he said.

The other side: Kevin Lessard, a Kenney administration spokesperson, said that Philly "is motivated to reach resolutions that holistically address the parties' concerns and allow the parties to achieve closure."

  • To date, Philadelphia has settled several related cases with a total of 11 plaintiffs for $107,500, he said.

Between the lines: The Denver decision is unlikely to have any implications for the outcomes of similar lawsuits in Philadelphia, said John Hollway, executive director of the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice at Penn Law.

  • "What happened in Denver kind of stays in Denver," he said.

Hollway said litigation is a "necessary part of moving forward" for those injured by police.

  • But he noted the lawsuits only address "what has come before" and don't provide good guidelines for how cities "can do better next time."
  • Hollway recommended that law enforcement officials work with community activists in their cities to make changes to departmental policy to ensure similar use-of-force responses aren't repeated.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to show a federal jury found that Denver violated George Floyd protesters' rights in 2020, not a federal grand jury. The decision was also announced in late March, not April.

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