A lawsuit was filed Wednesday in federal court against the City of Denver over the police department’s handling of recent protests against racism and police brutality.
The seven plaintiffs named in the suit all allege that they were subjected to pepper spray, flashbang grenades and pepper balls despite protesting peacefully.
If a judge agrees, the lawsuit could seek damages for every individual that had a similar experience at the protests.
Protests in Denver began on May 28, three days after George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis.
The protests began peacefully, but police say they escalated their force tactics when protesters began throwing water bottles and rocks. Officers dressed in riot gear used pepper spray, flashbang grenades, foam bullets and pepper balls to move crowds in front of the State Capitol over the next few days and nights.
The plaintiffs, some of whom know each other, all allege they were subjected to tear gas.
“Some of them are friends, but they all individually and separately had very similar experiences,” said their attorney, Elizabeth Wang.
Plaintiff Ambrose Cruz said he was shot in the eye with a pepper bullet three times as he tried to exit a block that had been blocked off by armored vehicles.
According to Cruz, the officer who shot him said something to the effect of, “If you don’t f-cking get on the ground, I’m going to f-cking kill you.”
Even though Cruz stopped and was on the ground, another officer fired pepper balls at him, including the back of his head, Cruz said. Cruz was placed in handcuffs, while one of the officers who shot him said, “What happened to you? It looks like your wife beat you. I’d say that was two days old, this must have happened the other night.”
Cruz spent several hours in jail without medical attention for his eye, he alleged.
DPD spokesperson Doug Schepman declined to comment on the lawsuit.
“The City and Denver Police Department have not yet officially received the lawsuit,” he wrote in an email. “Out of respect for the legal process, DPD will refrain from commenting on the pending lawsuit.”
Plaintiff Kelsey Taylor said she witnessed DPD tear gas an “entire crowd without provocation. Taylor did not see anyone throw anything or get aggressive with police,” according to the lawsuit. Taylor, who suffers from asthma, breathed in some of the tear gas.
Denver City Council directed the Office of the Independent Monitor, a civilian-run department that oversees investigations into law enforcement officers in Denver, to investigate DPD’s handling of the protests. Hundreds of individual complaints have been filed against officers.
The lawsuit also alleges DPD violated First Amendment rights because officers “enforced the curfew,” which Mayor Michael Hancock imposed during the protests, “differently against people who were protesters or who they perceived to be protesters,” Wang said.
The lawsuit is seeking compensation for the injuries suffered by the plaintiffs, she said.
This story has been updated with a comment from DPD.