The city and county of Denver is being sued for violence committed by the Denver Police Department against demonstrators who joined local protests spurred by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
On behalf of Black Lives Matter 5280 and several individuals who claim they were injured by police, the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado and Arnold & Porter LLP filed the lawsuit Thursday morning.
The lawsuit takes aim at officers’ use of tear gas and “less-lethal” weapons, which the ACLU stated caused physical and emotional trauma. It also claims that Denver police violated its use-of-force policies by “recklessly” firing projectiles “indiscriminately” into crowds.
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Several of the plaintiffs — who include Dr. Apryl Alexander, a clinical and forensic psychologist at the University of Denver, and Elisabeth Epps, a prominent activist and founder of the Colorado Freedom Fund — were hit in the head and face with projectiles, which is prohibited by DPD’s internal use-of-force policies.
Zach Packard, one of the plaintiffs in the case, was hit in the head with a projectile, which fractured his skull and caused bleeding in his brain. His jaw and two spinal discs were also fractured. He was hospitalized for a week and has since been prescribed a neck brace, anti-seizure medication and heavy pain killers, the lawsuit stated.
“The City’s actions, while unconstitutional in any context, are even more pernicious here because the use of this dangerously excessive force specifically targeted peaceful demonstrators who assembled to protest police brutality, particularly law enforcement violence that disproportionality targets Black and Brown people,” Mark Silverstein, ACLU of Colorado’s legal director, said in a statement.
“The police had no legitimate basis to assault peaceful protesters. We intend to hold law enforcement fully accountable, not only the front-line officers but also the higher-ups who were responsible for ordering or allowing law enforcement to carry out these flagrant and pervasive violations of constitutional rights,” he stated.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court of Colorado, is the second federal legal challenge of Denver law enforcement's use of force against protesters.
On June 5, four Denver residents filed a class-action lawsuit against the city, claiming their federal civil rights were violated by police. Federal Judge R. Brooke Jackson partially granted the plaintiffs' request for a temporary restraining order on the Denver Police Department's use of less-lethal weapons.
The Denver City Attorney’s Office said in a statement that the latest legal challenge "appears to be a reiteration of the lawsuit that was already filed a few weeks ago." The office is "confident" that DPD is in compliance with the recently passed police accountability and reform bill, which on June 19 made components of the temporary restraining order new state law.
For example, law enforcement no longer deploy chemical weapons, such as tear gas or pepper spray, into a crowd without giving an audibly clear order, and repeating it if necessary, for people to disperse. Law enforcement also cannot fire less-lethal projectiles that target the head, pelvis or back.
"All complaints received regarding any force used by Denver police officers during the protest activities are currently in the process of being investigated by internal affairs and are also being separately reviewed by the Office of the Independent Monitor," the City Attorney's Office stated in an email. "Finally, the City is in full compliance with the federal district court judge’s temporary restraining order."
A spokesman for the Denver Police Department said the agency is "committed to addressing any community concerns following the outcome of the legal process regarding this matter."
Because federal court rules don't require the amount of damages be specified in the lawsuit, the ACLU did not provide one, ACLU of Colorado spokesperson Deanna Hirsch told Colorado Politics in an email.
"The amount will be what the jury decides is appropriate based on the evidence," she said.