Jun 1, 2022 - News

Scoop: Richmond paid protesters nearly $700k to settle police lawsuits

A man with raised fist marches in the street.
Protesters march on Monument Ave in June 2020. Photo: Eze Amos/Getty Images

The city has paid out nearly $700,000 on behalf of the Richmond Police Department to settle legal claims stemming from the 2020 racial justice protests.

Why it matters: Police officers' use of tear gas on peaceful protesters at a June 1, 2020, rally around the Robert E. Lee Monument drew widespread outrage and an official apology.

Flashback: Hundreds of people were standing around the now-removed monument when police moved in with tear gas and pepper spray.

  • In video footage, some officers appeared enthusiastic as they chased protesters down.
  • Lawsuits from protesters followed almost immediately, as did a formal apology by then-police chief William Smith.

The latest: The Richmond City Attorney's Office tells Axios it has entered into 35 settlement agreements in connection to the 2020 protests, paying out a total of $675,000.

  • The city refused to provide any additional details about the incidents that led to the settlements, calling the agreements confidential.

What they're saying: Not much.

  • Mayor Levar Stoney's office referred questions to the city attorney.
  • Thomas Roberts, a lawyer who represents a group of protesters who filed a suit in federal court, also declined to discuss the settlements.
  • Court records show a gag order is in place until July 1.

Between the lines: There's a two-year statute of limitations on most civil claims in Virginia, which might explain why the city doesn't want people discussing any settlements until after the deadline to file new claims.

What's next: Court records show some lawsuits stemming from the protest are still pending, including a case against a group of officers who were filmed firing pepper spray at a man shouting obscenities at them from his second-floor window.

  • Officers state in court filings that they're protected from the lawsuit by qualified immunity. They also argued that they couldn't have infringed on the man's First Amendment rights because he was able to continue cursing at them after he was sprayed.
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