Community activist and mayoral candidate Terrance Roberts sues Denver Police for brutality

Roberts was pepper sprayed while counter-protesting a rally in support of police and Trump
3 min. read
Terrance Roberts leads protesters in a march calling for and end to police violence in Denver, CO, August 30, 2020.
Kevin Mohatt/Reuters

Former gang leader turned anti-gang crusader turned Denver mayoral candidate Terrance Roberts is suing the Denver Police Department, accusing officers of trying to silence his voice with targeted brutality.

The alleged incident happened on July 19, 2020, amid the George Floyd protests. Roberts demonstrated against a rally that supported police and former President Donald Trump in Civic Center Park.

Roberts was leading chants when an officer sprayed him in the face with pepper spray, according to the lawsuit filed by Kilmer, Lane and Newman, LLC.

"After watching the horrendous killings of several people of color at the hands of local and national law enforcement agencies in 2019 and 2020, America was at a turning point," Roberts said in a statement. "Several organizers, including myself, chose to stand up for police accountability and justice for victims of police brutality and misconduct. We were beaten, sprayed with harmful chemicals, falsely arrested, and publicly slandered in retaliation for our peaceful activities."

Prominent Denver attorney Mari Newman is leading the case.

"We will not tolerate the Denver Police Department's unconstitutional efforts to quash opposition to police violence against people of color by brutalizing community leaders," Newman said in a statement. "Denver police must be held accountable for the rampant violence they inflicted on peaceful protesters like Terrance Roberts who have spoken publicly to condemn racist police brutality."

Newman's firm led multiple successful lawsuits against the City of Denver and the Denver Police Department. They have resulted in millions of dollars in settlements to victims and families of victims of law-enforcement brutality and killing, including in the cases of the deaths of Michael Marshall and Marvin Booker at the hands of Denver Sheriff's deputies.

Roberts' case is the latest in a string of lawsuits that have led to millions in settlements with protesters attacked by police at rallies against the police murder of George Floyd.

The City Attorney's Office, which is representing the Denver Police Department, declined to comment on Roberts' lawsuit.

Denver Police Department offered the following statement: "While it would be inappropriate to comment specifically on the lawsuit filed, the Denver Police Department Internal Affairs Bureau received a complaint regarding an alleged inappropriate use of force against Mr. Roberts. The IAB reviewed available video based upon the date, location and time provided. Mr. Roberts is not seen in the video when the officer deploys pepper spray."

Roberts has been a longstanding critic of police violence.

He's also been the subject of "The Holly," a book and documentary, by Julian Rubinstein, about a 2013 arrest.

That year, at a peace rally he led, Roberts shot a member of the Bloods. The man, who allegedly threatened Roberts and approached him with a knife, survived the incident. Roberts was charged with attempted murder. Eventually, the court ruled he had acted in self-defense.

The book and documentary allege the Bloods were working with the Denver Police Department on a targeted campaign against Roberts to silence his criticisms of the city.

Roberts contends Denver police continued their attempt to silence him by using force during the 2020 protests.

"No one deserves these types of physical and emotional abuses for doing what we have a constitutional right to do, peacefully assemble to fight tyranny and injustice," Roberts said. "I hope the homicide victims, and those of us who were assaulted fighting for change, receive justice."

This story has been updated with a statement from the Denver Police Department. 

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