by Brooke Kaufman
According to court documents published by Techdirt, a federal jury in Denver, Colorado, awarded $14 million in compensatory and punitive damages to 12 protestors injured by Denver police in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in May 2020. After five hours of deliberation, the jury determined that the police response to protests in May and June 2020 violated the protestors’ First and Fourth Amendment rights. The defendants in the lawsuit were Jonathan Christian, a police officer during the 2020 protests, and the City and County of Denver.
Though the city could shield Officer Christian from any liability, the message the jury is sending is clear: police violence against people protesting police violence will not be tolerated. People expect more from their public servants.
The jury held the city and the Denver Police Department responsible for the violence alleged by the plaintiffs. Allegations in the lawsuit charged that police officers had the “blessing” of the city to violently suppress protests. The only issue debated by the jury was monetary compensation for each protestor.
“After three weeks of trial, all eight jurors who awarded $14 million to protesters injured during the 2020 George Floyd protests in Denver agreed without debate that the city was at fault for its police officers’ actions, according to one of the jurors in the room,” per court documents. “‘There was no disagreement that what Denver did was awful,’ said the juror, who described the deliberations to The Denver Post on condition of anonymity because she feared being harassed by people unhappy about the verdict.”
According to the jury decision, protestors were awarded anywhere from $750,000 to $3 million each.
The city and Officer Christian are expected to appeal the decision. Some of the awarded damages will likely be reduced or reversed. Nonetheless, the jury’s decision offers a strong rebuke of police departments that “greet mass criticism with violence, intimidation, and a refusal to accept the statement being made by protestors,” writes Tim Cushing for Techdirt. Police violence — especially that which targets and suppresses marginalized populations — will not be tolerated.
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