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A Denver Police Department SWAT vehicle. Photo by Victoria Carodine.
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Denver Police Mishandled Response to This Summer’s Protests, New Report Says

Plus: A rundown of pending high-profile lawsuits against the Denver Police Department related to misconduct at the protests.

Thousands of people marched through the streets of Denver and nearby cities this summer to protest police brutality. Despite efforts by most demonstrators to remain peaceful, the public outcry sparked numerous clashes between protestors and police officers, and many observers said they witnessed law enforcement use pepper balls and foam bullets on nonthreatening individuals.

Those events ultimately prompted the Denver City Council to ask the Denver Office of Independent Monitors (OIM) to investigate the department’s use of force during the protests. On Tuesday, the OIM released the report, which found “significant” gaps in the police department’s internal controls used to manage officers’ use of force. The report also found inefficiencies in the department’s policies and practices for less-lethal equipment, including rubber-ball grenades, flash-bangs and other noise flash devices, and pepper balls, as well as lax record-keeping, which made it difficult to investigate the department’s response.

“The DPD did not effectively track the less-lethal munitions deployed by its officers and was unable to produce rosters of the officers who worked during the first four days of the [George Floyd Protests]. The DPD also could not produce [body-worn camera] videos for many officers who policed the protests, and many DPD officers did not complete written use of force statements until more than 12 days after the [protests] began,” according to the report.

The OIM also noted that, as of early December, more than 100 complaints had been filed against DPD alleging misconduct during this summer’s protests. Of those complaints, roughly 50 remain open. Here’s a look at some high-profile examples that are still pending lawsuits. (A spokesperson for DPD said they cannot comment on these cases at this time.)

Black Lives Matter 5280 v. City and County of Denver

Date filed: June 25
What you need to know: Advocacy group Black Lives Matter 5280 and nine individuals filed suit against the City and County of Denver claiming DPD officers, Denver Sheriff Department, and officers from other jurisdictions used unconstitutional and excessive force during protests in late May and early June. The lawsuit says less-lethal methods, such as tear gas, chemical irritants, grenades, pepper spray, and weapons “intended to stun with light and sound,” were used during the protests. Court documents go on to say, “Officers used violent and unconstitutional crowd control tactics against peaceful protestors, including kettling, indiscriminate and unwarned launching of tear gas and flashbang grenades into crowds and at individuals, and shooting kinetic impact projectiles at protestors without lawful justification.” The advocacy group and individuals that filed suit claim these actions discourage First Amendment activity and violate the right to freedom of speech. The plaintiffs are seeking damage and injunctive relief, and hope to hold the city accountable, according to the lawsuit.
What now: A 12- to 15-day jury trial is scheduled for March 7.

Cruz v. City and County of Denver

Date filed: July 1
What you need to know: Ambrose Cruz and eight others filed suit against the City and County of Denver and several officers claiming the officers used “violent control tactics against peaceful protestors” this summer. The class-action lawsuit also claims protestors who were arrested for not adhering to city curfew from May 30 to June 4 violated the First, Fourth, and 15th Amendments. The lawsuit seeks damages for the plaintiffs and anyone who had a similar experience. It also seeks to restrain the city of Denver and DPD from “further violence and unconstitutional conduct.”
What now: A scheduling conference was set for September 9, but according to court documents, the date has since been vacated. A new date has not been set.

Acker v. City and County of Denver

Date filed: October 22
What you need to know: Michael Acker filed a lawsuit against the City and County of Denver, Chief of Police Paul Pazen, and five unnamed officers claiming officers fired pepper spray at Acker and others without warning during a protest on May 28. As Acker was helping those injured, he claims DPD officers fired a 40 mm round at his eye. “Acker seeks to hold Denver accountable for repeated violations of constitutional rights,” according to the lawsuit. “Denver’s actions, while unconstitutional in any context, are even more pernicious here because the use of excessive force specifically targeted peaceful demonstrators who assembled to protest police violence and brutality.”
What now: No date has been set for this case.

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