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Santa Rosa Reaches $1.9 Million Settlement With Injured George Floyd Protesters

SANTA ROSA (CBS SF/BCN/AP) -- City officials have announced a $1.9 million settlement, ending a lawsuit brought by five people who said they were injured by tear gas and projectiles used to break up last summer's George Floyd protests.

Marqus Martinez and Michaela Staggs, who were seriously injured, originally asked the court to make their lawsuit a class action. The settlement, which the city announced on Friday, involves Martinez, Staggs and three other plaintiffs.

U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chabria found in August that police may have violated the protesters' rights to free speech and to be free from unreasonable searches and seizure, as provided by the First and Fourth Amendments.

In a November ruling that allowed the case to continue, however, Chabria dismissed the plaintiffs' free-speech claims.

He distinguished the case from more common ones alleging "misconduct against one or two citizens" and said the city was more likely to be liable in this case because the claims stemmed from police activities during three days of protests.

Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Rogers told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat that the City Council approved the settlement in closed session after a legal briefing and watching related body-worn camera footage.

"I think (the community) will see that the city is trying to own up to what they didn't do well," Rogers told the paper of the settlement. "Now it's time to have a conversation about policy reforms."

The settlement was approved in closed session on April 20

The injuries occurred in the first few days after Floyd was killed last May by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was convicted last month of murder and manslaughter charges.

Martinez and Staggs said in the lawsuit that they were protesting peacefully and filming police when officers fired non-lethal projectiles at them. Staggs was struck just over her left eye, leaving a wound that required several stitches to close. Martinez underwent several facial surgeries as a result of his injuries.

Three other plaintiffs later joined the lawsuit.

A report reviewing how the city's police department responded to the first wave of protests criticized officers' use of non-lethal projectiles, one of which struck a protester in the groin, severely injuring him. That protester settled a different lawsuit with the city for $200,000.

"There were no defined rules of engagement; officers were left to their own individual subjective determinations of when to engage civilians with force, which is wildly unconstitutional," said Izaak Schwaiger, an attorney representing the five people who sued.

Police Chief Rainer Navarro declined to comment about the settlement. He acknowledged his department made mistakes in its response to the protests.

"Did we make errors? Yes, we did," Navarro said. "But we have committed to correcting everything we can to ensure that those don't happen again. We are committed to this process."

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