Law Enforcement

Lawsuit Time Bomb That Could Explode on Denver's Next Mayor

Two images of injuries to student Michael Acker during the 2020 George Floyd protests shared in a lawsuit settled in January for $500,000.
Two images of injuries to student Michael Acker during the 2020 George Floyd protests shared in a lawsuit settled in January for $500,000. Killmer, Lane & Newman LLP
Fifteen people have filed paperwork to run for mayor of Denver in April 2023, and the winner will face myriad challenges — including more than twenty lawsuits that bring the potential of big-money payouts and more negative publicity for the city.

At least 23 complaints are pending against the City and County of Denver over alleged civil-rights violations during the 2020 George Floyd protests, involving more than 120 plaintiffs. While it's impossible to predict how much the suits could ultimately cost Denver, four cases suggest that the total could be astronomical.

In January, Denver City Council approved a $500,000 settlement for college student Michael Acker, who was shot in the eye with a 40mm baton round fired by a police officer. In February, council authorized a combined $825,000 settlement for protesters Youssef Amghar and Megan Matthews, both of whom were struck by projectiles. In March, a jury awarded $14 million to twelve plaintiffs represented by the ACLU of Colorado. And last month, a $450,000 settlement was okayed for photographer Trevor Hughes, whose finger was nearly blown off.

Attorney Milo Schwab of Denver-based Ascend Counsel, who assembled the list of 23 cases, including three that he's handling, sees these resolutions in the larger context of civil-rights settlements and awards.

"It's reaffirming that juries are just as upset about these types of issues as we are," Schwab says. "That's not to say a jury will hit Denver harder because there's something special about George Floyd cases. All civil-rights cases are important. But these abuses just don't seem to be something juries are going to stand for anymore. And given the number of injuries that happened during the protests, and the severity of those injuries, Denver's potential liability is staggering. Just staggering."

Some of the cases could be settled before the mayoral election next April. But Schwab believes the overwhelming majority will still be lingering when Hancock's successor is sworn in.

Schwab points to the fact that Denver has filed a motion to dismiss at least seven of the complaints. And the tenor of a document submitted last month in regard to one of his cases, Dominick et al. v. City of Denver et al., indicates that the city plans to energetically fight allegations rather than settle, he says.

Denver makes two major arguments against the lawsuit in the sixteen-page motion: "Plaintiffs’ Fourteenth Amendment Due Process and Selective Enforcement Claims do not State Plausible Claims of Constitutional Violations by Individual Defendants," based in part on the assertion that "Plaintiffs have not plausibly alleged selective enforcement," and "Plaintiffs Have Not Plausibly Pled Municipal Liability" because, among other things, they "have not plausibly established a widespread practice or custom caused their constitutional injury."
click to enlarge
Attorney Milo Schwab has three pending civil-rights cases pertaining to the 2020 George Floyd protests in Denver.
Schwab counters these contentions. "Out of hundreds of supervisors, only seven went to training on crowd-control techniques in all of 2019 — so there was a culture from the top down that training wasn't important in Denver," he notes. "I know there were certain munitions they weren't trained on, and they used them in ways you would never train someone to use them. But the city is saying, 'The plaintiffs can't even claim we're responsible,' which is a new tactic they've engaged in."

That approach is likely to result in delays, he says, which could push the lawsuits into the next mayor's administration.

Click to read the motion to dismiss in Dominick v. Denver and continue to see Schwab's list of 23 active civil-rights cases related to the 2020 George Floyd protests in Denver. Twenty-two of the entries include information about plaintiffs, defendants, filing dates, courts and the presiding judge, as well as a link to their docket from the Justia website. The exception is Feldman v. City and County of Denver; its link connects to a letter sent for settlement purposes to the office of Mayor Hancock.

Abay et al. v. City of Denver
Plaintiffs: Michael McDaniel, Agazi Abay, Amy Schneider and Gabriel Thorn
Defendant: City of Denver
Filed: June 4, 2020
Court: US District Court for the District of Colorado
Presiding Judge: R. Brooke Jackson

Bjelland et al. v. City and County of Denver et al.
Plaintiffs: Jazmine Bjelland, Derek Buranen, Gareth Doskey, Lauren Folkerts, Jack Girard, Joseph Gallegos, Robert Greer, Zuri Hoskin, Huitziloxochitl (Lala) Jaramillo, Virya Kelsang, Kevin Kreeger, Sebastian McCants, Christian McDonnell, Douglas Munn, Huitziloxochitl Jaramillo and Lala
Defendants: City and County of Denver and Adam Bolton
Filed: May 27, 2022
Court: US District Court for the District of Colorado
Presiding Judge: Michael E. Hegarty

Blades et al. v. City and County of Denver, et al.
Plaintiff: Shavonne Blades, Carol Funk, Brian Loma, Winston Noles, John Reed, Michael Sexton and Elijah Wesbrock
Defendants: The City and County of Denver, Sean Faris, Officer Does 1-100 and City and County of Denver
Filed: May 25, 2022
Court: US District Court for the District of Colorado
Presiding Judge: Scott T. Varholak

Brown et al. v. Denver, Colorado et al.
Plaintiff: Shaiitarrio Brown and Brittany King
Defendants: Denver, Colorado and John and Jane Does
Filed: July 29, 2021
Court: US District Court for the District of Colorado
Presiding Judge: William J. Martinez

Cousik et al. v. Phelan et al.
Plaintiff: Tejas Cousik, Tarin Allen, Jake Douglas, Alejo Gonzalez, Jeremy Hedlund, Robert Helmick, Phillip Lopez, Mark Rosenthal, Brianne Sanchez, Emma Smedberg, Mariah Wood, Abigail Zinman, Tyson McCormick and James Williams
Defendants: City and County of Denver, Colorado, Patrick Phelan, City of Aurora, Colorado and Austin Runyon
Filed: May 17, 2022
Court: US District Court for the District of Colorado
Presiding Judge: Philip A. Brimmer

Dayton v. City and County of Denver, Colorado et al.
Plaintiff: Robert Dayton
Defendants: City and County of Denver, Colorado, Paul Pazen and Patrick Phelan
Filed: April 7, 2022
Court: US District Court for the District of Colorado
Presiding Judge: Michael E. Hegarty

Dominick et al. v. City of Denver et al.
Plaintiffs: Marquis Dominick, Brett Rios, Alex Hickman, Tashari Sellers, Raymond Schwab, Jesse Friedman, Susan McKillips, Ryan Kehoe, Adam Bentch, Patricia KooIsis Usborne, Kristen Klotzer, Joe Szuszwalak
Defendants: City of Denver, Patrick Phelan, Paul Pazen
Filed: May 27, 2022
Court: US District Court
Presiding Judge: Philip A. Brimmer

Driscoll v. City and County of Denver et al.
Plaintiff: Michael Driscoll
Defendants: City and County of Denver, Paul Pazen and Patrick Phelan
Filed: October 25, 2021
Court: US District Court for the District of Colorado
Presiding Judge: Lewis T. Babcock

Epps et al. v. City and County of Denver et al.
Plaintiffs: Amanda Blasingame, Apryl Alexander, Ashlee Wedgeworth, Zach Packard, Elisabeth Epps, Stanford Smith, Cidney Fisk, Black Lives Matter 5280, Hollis Lyman, Phillip Rothlein and Maya Rothlein
Defendants: City and County of Denver, David Abeyta, City of Aurora, CO, Officer Cory Budaj, Board of County Commissioners for Jefferson County Colorado, Jeff Shrader, Jonathan Christian, Keith Valentine, David McNamee, Patricio Serrant, Matthew Brukbacher, John and Jane Does 1-100, John and Jane Boes 1-50, Timothy Dreith, Anthony Hamilton, Patrick Phelan and Matthew Canino
Filed: June 25, 2020
Court: US District Court for the District of Colorado
Presiding Judge: Michael E. Hegarty

Fink v. City and County of Denver et al.
Plaintiff: Stephen Fink
Defendant: City and County of Denver, City of Aurora, Does 1-20
Filed: May 25, 2022
Court: US District Court for the District of Colorado
Presiding Judge: Michael E. Hegarty

Hampton v. City and County of Denver, Colorado et al.
Plaintiff: Darrell Hampton
Defendant: City and County of Denver, Colorado, Paul Pazen, John Allred and Carla Havard
Filed: March 10, 2022
Court: US District Court for the District of Colorado
Presiding Judge: Scott T. Varholak

Lawrence v. City and County of Denver et al.
Plaintiff: Sammie Leon Lawrence, IV
Defendants: City and County of Denver, Shawn Saunders, Kenneth Bridges, Jackson Burkin and Brent Cairns
Filed: May 25, 2022
Court: US District Court for the District of Colorado
Presiding Judge: Lewis T. Babcock

Martinson v. City and County of Denver et al.
Plaintiff: Alex Martinson
Defendants: City and County of Denver, Paul Pazen, Patrick Phelan and City and County of Denver, Colorado
Filed: May 10, 2022
Court: US District Court for the District of Colorado
Presiding Judge: Daniel D. Domenico

Minter v. City and County of Denver, Colorado et al.
Plaintiff: Lindsay Minter
Defendant: City and County of Denver, Colorado, Paul Pazen and Patrick Phelan
Filed: May 27, 2022
Court: US District Court for the District of Colorado
Presiding Judge: Philip A. Brimmer

Peterson et al. v. City and County of Denver et al.
Plaintiffs: Diego Quintos de Peterson, Titus D. Peterson and Titus Peterson
Defendants: Denver Police Department, City and County of Denver and Denver Police Department
Filed: July 1, 2021
Court: US District Court for the District of Colorado
Presiding Judge: S. Kato Crews

Schlough v. City and County of Denver, Colorado et al.
Plaintiff: Gabriel Schlough
Defendants: City and County of Denver, Colorado, Paul Pazen, Patrick Phelan, Vince Porter, J.D. Williams, Zackary Petrick and Julie Weinheimer
Filed: February 7, 2022
Court: US District Court for the District of Colorado
Presiding Judge: Lewis T. Babcock

Thomas v. City and County of Denver Colorado et al.
Plaintiff: Mercii Thomas
Defendants: City and County of Denver, Paul Pazen and Patrick Phelan
Filed: May 25, 2022
Court: US District Court for the District of Colorado
Presiding Judge: N. Reid Neureiter

Weber v. City and County of Denver Colorado et al.
Plaintiff: Eric Weber
Defendants: City and County of Denver Colorado, Paul Pazen and Patrick Phelan
Filed: May 27, 2022
Court: US District Court for the District of Colorado
Presiding Judge: Lewis T. Babcock

Feldman v. City and County of Denver
Plaintiff: Jax Feldman
Defendant: City and County of Denver

Orlin et al. v. City and County of Denver et al.
Plaintiffs: Nicholas Orlin, Shawn Murphy and Nicolas Orlin
Defendants: City and County of Denver, Does and City and County of Denver
Filed: January 27, 2022
Court: US District Court for the District of Colorado
Presiding Judge: Regina M. Rodriguez

Agwu et al. v. City and County of Denver et al.
Plaintiffs: Rebecca Agwu, Jesse Andersen, Azria Arroyo, Scarlett Barnhill, Dana Bergren, Chelsea Smith, Victoria Brown, Porshai Campbell, David Chapman, Theresa Dougherty, David Hagan, Forrest Elliot, Fernando Garcia, Alisa Guy, Brandi Smith, Jared Hayes, Emily Heydt, Pamela Keltie, James Stacey, Christoper Lo Coco, Luna Rose Lo Coco, Timmy Lomas, Alexis Mendez, Alexis Morris-Philippus, Carter Nadolsky, Branden Rich, Ellektra Rowland, Elizabeth Werren, Benjamin Bialy, Asa Briggs, John Cameron, Dan Delany, Ailyn Havens, Lily Knowles, K.M. (a minor child), Ryan Jon Pflanzer, David Seaver, Sable Spottswood, Jonathan Ziegler, James Sweetman, Nicholas Titus, Gregory Trickel, Bradley Mashino and Desiree Mashino
Defendants: The City and County of Denver, Reece Hunter, Alfonso Carrera, Does 1-100
Filed: September 13, 2021
Court: US District Court for the District of Colorado
Presiding Judge: R. Brooke Jackson

Barbour et al. v. City and County of Denver
Plaintiffs: Alexandra Barbour, Brianna Barber, Jessica Beverage, Robert Harr, Christopher Holland, Nalina Infante, Cody Schmitt and Alex Wolfson
Defendants: The City and County of Denver, Does 1-100
Filed: September 13, 2021
Court: US District Court for the District of Colorado
Presiding Judge: Kristen L. Mix

Strong v. City and County of Denver et al.
Plaintiff: Russell Strong
Defendants: City and County of Denver and Officer Doe
Filed: February 16, 2021
Court: US District Court for the District of Colorado
Presiding Judge: R. Brooke Jackson

This is the first in a series regarding pending lawsuits related to the 2020 George Floyd protests in Denver.
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