Denver, CO

Denver set to pay $1.275 million to settle three police lawsuits

David Heitz

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Police and protestors clashed during the George Floyd protests, leading to lawsuits.Colin Lloyd/Unsplash

By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver

(Denver, Colo.) Denver City Council will vote Tuesday to settle $1.275 million in police lawsuits, bringing the total paid since 2004 to settle similar lawsuits to at least $31.5 million.

Most recent payouts stem from demonstrators clashing with police during the summer 2020 George Floyd protests.

More settlements are likely.

"There are currently 12 (Black Lives Matter)-protest-related lawsuits pending with the city, with several including numerous plaintiffs," Jacqlin Davis, public information officer for the City Attorney's Office, said in an email.

The latest settlements, if approved by the council, will:

  • Pay $575,000 to Megan Matthews, who sued after a police projectile struck her in the eye during the George Floyd protests. She had to have surgery.

Matthews told KDVR she was not being violent when she was wounded. "What I was doing was important and right, and I shouldn't have been literally hurt for it."

  • Pay $450,000 to Justin Lecheminant, who sued saying police followed him home, tased and beat him. Lecheminant sued after a confrontation at his home with police after failing to stop for a traffic violation on New Year's Eve 2019.

According to KUSA 9 News, Lecheminant suffered a broken nose, punctured eardrum, broken ribs and a concussion.

  • Pay $250,000 to Youssef Amghar. Details of the case were not immediately available.

The City Council meets Tuesday because Monday is President's Day, a city holiday.

Lawsuits pending from George Floyd protests

On Jan. 24, the council approved a $500,000 settlement with a Black college student injured by non-lethal police rounds during the George Floyd protests. Denverite quoted attorney Andy McNulty, who represented Michael Acker. "The Denver police department has not reckoned with the mass brutality it visited on the people who were protesting."

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Denver police interact with demonstrators in the summer of 2020.Colin Lloyd/Unsplash

McNulty also represents a man who says police blew his chin off during the protests, KDVR reported.

Doug Schepman, director of public affairs and communications for the Police Department, said police plan to learn from any mistakes made handling the protests.

"These circumstances were extraordinary, and extraordinary events can reveal potential gaps or opportunities for improvement in policies, practices, training, and procedures," Schepman said in an email.

"It is critical for officers to act to prevent mistakes or misconduct and promote the well-being of their fellow officers."

More than $31 million paid since 2004

Last October, the council approved a $1.2 million settlement with a man who said officers beat him with a baton and tased him in 2018, according to KUSA.

In September 2019, the Denver City Council approved a $500,000 settlement in an excessive force and malicious prosecution lawsuit filed against the Denver Police Department, according to KDVR.

According to a review of data provided by the City Attorney's Office to the Denver Post, Denver paid $28 million from 2004 to 2017. During the same period, 82 percent of settlements approved by the Denver City Council paid police and jail-related claims.

Councilman: Denver is a police reform leader

Council member Kevin Flynn said the Denver Police Department is a national leader in police reform.

White House officials contacted Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen recently when they needed an expert on police reform, Flynn said.

"When the Biden Administration earlier this year began drafting an executive order on police reform (which has not yet been issued), the White House contacted the Major Cities Chiefs Association to ask which city police chief the administration should contact for best practices," Flynn said in an email. "The association told them to call Denver. Chief Pazen then was interviewed by the White House to provide input to the executive order."

Flynn said Denver has been ahead of the curve on police reforms. "When the 8 Can't Wait campaign became more prominent in the wake of George Floyd's murder, Denver already had adopted those eight policies."

Reimagine Policing task force suggestions

Flynn said the department also has listened to recommendations from the Task Force to Reimagine Policing. The task force is a panel assembled by Dr. Robert Davis, a community advocate, not a city-sponsored group.

Of more than 100 recommendations made by the task force, 20 percent already were in place, Flynn said, including 15 in whole and seven in part. Police adopted three more after the report was issued and are implementing three others. City officials have approved four others, he said.

"Only three have been declined, two of them because we lack the legal authority to implement them."

The rest of the task force's ideas are still under review. "Policing is always in a state of reform, improvement and adaptation, and I favor that," Flynn said.

"I've been in and out of the Denver Police headquarters for 40 years as a journalist and now as a council member, and I can assure you that DPD is nothing like it was in 1981, 1991, 2001 or even more recently."

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career at local newspapers. Today, I report on Denver and Aurora city halls for NewsBreak. Prior to joining NewsBreak, I worked several years as a health reporter and branded content writer in the healthcare space. I also worked many years as a news editor and city editor. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver.

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