Titus Peterson wanted to show his sons how to make change, so on May 30, he took them to the State Capitol to protest racist policing. But what his sons learned, he said, was that speaking up against injustice gets you hurt.
Peterson, an attorney, filed a claim with the Denver City Attorney’s Office on May 31 on behalf of himself, his 18-year-old son Diego and his other son, 12. The notice alleges excessive force by the Denver police officers, who Peterson said sprayed tear gas “violently and indiscriminately” around the family.
“This big wave came over all around us and everybody started choking,” Peterson said in an interview. “Eyes started watering, people were pouring milk in each other’s eyes, water in each other’s eyes. I just couldn’t believe it because we were at a protest to protest excessive force by the police. And as far as I was concerned, we were caught up in an excessive force action by the police.”
Peterson and his sons were physically injured and traumatized, he said. The claim, which is not a lawsuit but signals the potential of one, requests $3 million — but Peterson said that figure is somewhat arbitrary.
“I don’t really know that we’re seeking $3 million,” he said. “I just wanted to get somebody’s attention and say, you know, this is the United States of America. You can’t, just because you don’t like what people are protesting, drop a bunch of gas on them. We have the right to assemble and do this.”
The Denver Police Department is investigating the matter internally and would not comment on its specifics, citing an open investigation.
“Since the investigation is ongoing, it would be inappropriate for the Department to comment or provide additional information,” DPD spokesman Doug Schepman said in an email.
DPD and the Office of the Independent Monitor are examining hundreds of allegations from the protests against police misconduct and systemic racism that began May 28.
One case is that of Jax Feldman, 21, who said police shot him in the eye, which his attorney said he will lose. The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado on Thursday filed a lawsuit against the City and County of Denver claiming excessive force and a violation of First Amendment Rights.
A spokesperson for the City Attorney’s Office did not return requests for comment Thursday.