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Racial Justice Advocates Prevail in Landmark Case Against Denver Police

March 29, 2022

In a momentous win on March 25, a federal jury held the city of Denver accountable for its response to 2020 protests following the death of George Floyd. The jury ordered that the city pay a total of $14 million to 12 protesters who were injured by police using tear gas, pepper spray, and other "less-lethal" weapons. This is the first trial in the US to challenge the use of force by police against protesters. It also marks the first time that a jury held a city liable for violating the civil rights of protesters.

"It was a great day for the cause of justice. Our brave clients protested peacefully against police brutality after the murder of George Floyd. While protesting peacefully on the streets of Denver, they were met with even more police violence," Arnold & Porter partner Timothy Macdonald, who heads the firm's Denver office and served as trial counsel said.

"A jury of 8 citizens said, 'not again' and found that Denver police violated the sacred constitutional rights of these peaceful protesters. We hope that this verdict sends a loud and clear message to police departments across the country that they can and must change," Macdonald said.

In June of 2020, the ACLU of Colorado and Arnold & Porter filed a lawsuit against the City and County of Denver on behalf of Black Lives Matter 5280 (BLM 5280) and individual plaintiffs who were injured by police while protesting police violence in late May and early June of 2020. The lawsuit challenged the use of tear gas and "less-lethal" weapons that police unleashed against nonviolent protesters who were demonstrating over the killings of Black men and women at the hands of law enforcement. The officers' unjustified attacks on protesters' First and Fourth Amendment rights caused both physical and emotional injuries.

The death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who was killed by white Minneapolis police officers, ignited a wave of protests across the country, including in Colorado. During the first several days of protests, Denver law enforcement officers, assisted by the Colorado State Patrol and almost a dozen additional law enforcement agencies, attacked peaceful demonstrators with tear gas, pepper ball guns, rubber and foam bullets and flash bang grenades, without provocation, often causing serious physical injuries. Even as protesters knelt and chanted, "Hands up, don't shoot," police released tear gas and pepper bullets. While the police refer to their weapons as "less-lethal," a 2017 study found that 3% of people hit by projectiles worldwide died and 15% of those studied were permanently injured.

The trial team was led by partners Timothy Macdonald, Matt Douglas, and senior counsel Ed Aro. The team also included partners Reeves Anderson and Diana Sterk; senior associates Patrick Reidy, Mike Sebba, and Leslie Bailey; and associates Brian Williams, Mindy Gorin, and Andreas Moffett.

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