Denver paying $4.7 million in largest settlement from 2020 protests

The Denver City Council is expected to approve a $4.7 million settlement Monday to compensate protesters for the Denver Police Department’s response to the racial justice demonstrations in the summer of 2020.

The payment stems from a class-action claim over the arrests of protesters for curfew violations. It is poised to be the largest settlement to date in a series of cases related to law enforcement officers’ actions in Denver during protests motivated by the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

A resolution approving the proposed settlement is on the agenda for the council’s 3:30 p.m. meeting.

The class-action claim was lodged in a set of cases that separately led to a federal jury last year awarding $14 million to 12 protesters for excessive force. The jury found officers violated the civil rights of demonstrators who were hit by pepper balls and a bag filled with lead.

The verdict and portions of that lawsuit, which include now-state Rep. Elisabeth Epps as a plaintiff, are still pending a potential appeal by the city.

Monday’s proposed settlement would pay the “arrest class” portion of plaintiffs in the cases, according to the council filings. A 2021 U.S. District Court ruling characterized the arrest class as potentially numbering nearly 300 people who were arrested only for failing to abide by an emergency curfew or disobeying a lawful order, with the charges later dismissed.

During the discovery portion of the proceedings, attorneys found that the Denver Police Department was specifically targeting people engaging in protest activity when enforcing the emergency curfew, not every person who was on the streets after hours.

Earlier this year, in March, the council signed off on a combined $1.6 million in payments to settle suits filed by seven people injured by police during the Floyd protests.

The largest of those went to Gabriel Schlough, who had a portion of his chin severed when a Denver officer shot him in the face with a rubber bullet.

As of March 14, the city had paid a combined $3.83 million to settle cases related to 2020 demonstrations, City Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Melissa Sisneros said at the time. Other settlements have been approved by City Council since then, pushing the total above $4 million, not including the new settlement.

This is a developing story that will be updated.

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