On Friday, March 25, a Colorado jury awarded $14 million in damages to 12 plaintiffs after concluding Denver police officers violated our plaintiffs' constitutional rights during the 2020 George Floyd protests. This was the first trial in the nation to challenge police officers' illegal use of force against people who protested in 2020 in response to the killing of George Floyd and could set an example for other cases across the country.
During the summer of 2020, people across the country took to the streets to protest police violence, call for racial justice and demand police reform. While exercising their right to peacefully protest, people in Denver were met with indiscriminate police violence through a dangerous deployment of projectiles, flash-bang grenades, and chemical weapons.
One of those people was Dr. Stanford Smith, a dental student who had never been to a protest prior to the summer of 2020. He was at the Colorado State Capitol when, without warning, an officer doused Dr. Smith's face with pepper spray. He fell to the ground and screamed in pain as he struggled to clean his face. "I feared for my life because I couldn't see, I couldn't breathe," he said.
After a three-week trial that included traumatic firsthand accounts from our plaintiffs, expert testimony, and a review of police body-cam footage, the jury concluded that in addition to failure to train, Denver's highest policymakers ratified the actions of the officers who violated our clients' rights, and also that Denver had a custom and practice, a standard operating procedure, of allowing officers to respond with unjustified aggression. This verdict sends a clear message to the Denver Police Department — and police departments across the country — that they will be held accountable for their actions.
"This verdict elevates the unfinished work of addressing the racial injustice at the heart of these protests, and is another step forward in social change dismantling police misconduct and brutality," said Deborah Richardson, ACLU of Colorado Executive Director.
This work would not be possible without the support of our members and our ACLU cooperating attorneys at Arnold & Porter, who, along with attorneys from Loevy & Loevy, dedicated countless hours to litigating this case. Join us as we continue to hold police accountable and fight for racial justice.
Thank you for being with us in this fight.