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Verdict Returned In ACLU Lawsuit Over Damages, Denver Police Action In George Floyd Protests

DENVER (CBS4)- After a nearly three-week trial, a jury returned a verdict Friday afternoon in a landmark case involving the American Civil Liberties Union and the City and County of Denver stemming from protests that happened in May 2020. The final amount awarded to the plaintiffs involved was $14 million.

Day 3 Of George Floyd Protests In Denver: Saturday, May 30
DENVER, CO - MAY 30: Police officers walk through a cloud of tear gas as they try to disperse people protesting against the death of George Floyd in front of the Colorado State Capitol on May 30, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. The city of Denver enacted a curfew for Saturday and Sunday nights and Governor Jared Polis activated the Colorado National Guard in hopes of stopping protests that have wreaked havoc across the city. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)

The ACLU represented 12 people who were injured while protesting the death of George Floyd. They were asking for a combined $17.5 million and an order banning Denver police from using tear gas and what is often referred to as "less than lethal" weapons during peaceful protests. That order is in the judge's hands and will be the next part of the case to be decided.

"They were out there to raise their voices and to protest against police brutality. They were expressing their First Amendment rights. They were exercising their First Amendment rights in this case and were responded to with violence from the Denver Police officers," Sara Neel said.

Neel is one of the attorneys representing the protesters, who claim the response by law enforcement not only violated their constitutional rights but left them emotionally and physically injured.

Of the 12 plaintiffs, Zachary Packard asked for the largest compensation of $4.5 million. He received $3 million, the largest damage amount in the lawsuit. According to the complaint, Packard was hit in the head with a projectile that knocked him unconscious. It says he suffered a fractured skull and jaw, as well two fractured discs and bleeding in the brain.

Day 3 Of George Floyd Protests In Denver: Saturday, May 30
Police officers use tear gas next to the Colorado State Capitol as protests against the death of George Floyd continue for a third night on May 30, 2020 in Denver. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)

The ACLU argues police violated their own use of force policies and have built a large part of their case using video from the body cameras worn by responding police officers.

The City & County of Denver, however, paint a much different picture of the protests, saying the crowds were more violent and destructive than they had expected.

"We are taking rocks, get out of here," you can hear one officer say in the body camera video entered as evidence in the case

According to the ACLU, the case is the first in the country to challenge the use of force by police on those protesting the death of George Floyd.

Protests Continue At Capitol In Denver In Aftermath To Death Of George Floyd
DENVER, CO - MAY 29: Police officers fire tear gas at protesters near the Colorado state capitol during a protest on May 29, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. This was the second day of protests in Denver, with more demonstrations planned for the weekend. Demonstrations are being held across the US after George Floyd died in police custody on May 25th in Minneapolis, Minnesota.(Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)

This response to the verdict is from the Executive Director of the Department of Public Safety:

The Denver protests in the aftermath of George Floyd's murder were unprecedented – the city had never seen that level of sustained violence and destruction before. We were prepared for a worst-case scenario, but we weren't fully prepared for what transpired. Unfortunately, Denver Police Department officers and other law enforcement officers responding to assist encountered extreme destructive behavior from some agitators among largely peaceful protestors. We recognize that some mistakes were made.

Well before the trial and beginning in 2021, the Department of Safety and the DPD reflected on how we fell short, where we could improve, and how we can better support our community moving forward. Based upon what we have learned, we have made specific changes to how the Police Department will respond if protests erupt in violence in the future, and those changes were being implemented prior to any litigation. Those changes include:

We eliminated the use of 40 mm less lethal equipment for purposes of crowd control.
• We have changed the way officers are permitted to use pepper balls for purposes of crowd management.
• Less lethal equipment training enhanced to help ensure appropriate use in crowd control settings and understanding of commands.
• All officers have received additional training on crowd control response and rapid deployment vehicle tactics.

We continue to evaluate our policies and training to ensure we are using best practices identified by law enforcement throughout the country to better protect peaceful protestors while addressing those who are only there to engage in violence. We recognize that there is more work to be done, and the Denver Police Department will continue collaboration with the communities we serve on that work.

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