Denver, CO

Denver to settle police lawsuit for $160,000, pays $3.6 million in settlements in 2022

David Heitz
Photo byColin Lloyd/Unsplash

By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver

(Denver, Colo.) The city of Denver is set to pay yet another settlement stemming from the George Floyd protests of 2020.

Sammie Leon Lawrence IV will receive $160,000 if Denver approves the settlement, which is up for a vote at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. Lawrence filed a civil suit against the city in U.S. District Court. The defendants are the City and County of Denver and Denver Police Department Officers Shawn Saunders, Kenneth Bridges, and Jackson Burkin.

Details surrounding the settlement were not immediately available. Westword included the case in a roundup story about legal claims stemming from the George Floyd protests but did not provide additional details.

Denver has paid out millions in settlements related to the George Floyd protests. At a recent City Council committee meeting, Councilmember Paul Kashmann introduced legislation that would lessen the council’s involvement with settlements. The council currently must approve all settlements $5,000 and above, regardless of type or from which city department. Kashmann’s proposed legislation would increase the minimum required for council approval to $100,000.

Several residents spoke during the meeting. Some said Kashmann's proposed policy would lessen transparency. Currently, every settlement $5,000 and above shows up on City Council agendas. Additional information about the settlements can be found in the backup materials online.

Since 2010, $28 million paid

Since 2010, Denver has paid out about $28 million in settlements, according to a city staff report. Kashmann believes the City Attorneys’ Office could better spend their time than preparing for briefings to give council members. The council rubber-stamps the approvals. Never in Kashmann's many years on council can he remember the council not approving a settlement, he said. He said he has confidence in the recommendations the City Attorney’s Office makes regarding settlements.

Councilmember Candi CdeBaca said she believes the process for handling settlements is flawed. She said the council should have a stronger role in the settlements “and not just a signature on paper.” She said it’s important to remember “the taxpayer money we’re wasting on bad behavior or big mistakes.”

Some of the most recent settlements stem from the George Floyd protests of 2020 and involve the police department. But settlements can be for everything from slipping on the sidewalk to being bitten by an animal at the zoo.

Quarterly reports still given

Under Kashmann’s proposal, the City Attorney’s Office still would give quarterly reports to the council on the settlements. But a couple of council members said they appreciate the briefings that come with each settlement.

As it stands, members of the public can request to see settlements under a Colorado Open Records Act request, or CORA. But municipalities can charge individuals seeking records requests for the time it takes to retrieve the records.

Katie Blakey, a Denver resident who spoke during a public hearing on the matter, said CORA requests aren’t available for settlements under $5,000. Blakey said under Kashmann’s proposal, 27 percent of settlements would “go under the radar.”

Annual breakdown for settlements

Total amounts Denver paid out in settlements each year since 2010 include:

2010: $1.1 million.

2011: $2.3 million.

2012: $1.2 million.

2013: $606,000.

2014: $4.1 million.

2015: $1.7 million.

2016: $779,000.

2017: $7.9 million.

2018: $762,000.

2019: $1.5 million.

2020: $400,860.

2021: $1.8 million.

2022: $3.6 million.

After the protests

Although it is not a city-sponsored group, the aftermath of the George Floyd protests gave rise to the Task Force for Reimagining Policing and Public Safety. The task force recommended Denver Police make 112 changes to how they do business.

The task force claims it is the largest and most diverse public safety initiative in the U.S. Members include representatives of civil rights organizations, community activists, direct service providers, faith-based organizations, policy advocacy organizations, and youth-serving organizations.

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career in editing roles at local newspapers in Los Angeles, Detroit, and the Quad-Cities of Illinois and Iowa. Upon moving to Denver in 2018, I began experiencing severe mental illness due to several traumatic experiences. I became homeless on the street for about a year before spending time in the state mental hospital. I am living proof that people can rebound from mental illness with proper treatment, even after experiencing homelessness. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver. I hope my writing reflects the passion I have for living here.

Denver, CO

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