Featured Case Collection: Police Violence Protests

Jan. 26, 2024

Black Lives Matter Protest, Grand Rapids PD

The Clearinghouse has more than 50 cases in a collection of litigation challenging city and law enforcement responses to the protests that occurred nationwide in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, on May 25, 2020 by Minneapolis police officers.  These lawsuits cover issues including curfews, police use of chemical agents, arrests and assaults of reporters, denials of permits, excessive force and unlawful arrests, racial discrimination against protesters and media, and dispersal of protests. For example: 

In Sow v. City of New York, plaintiffs alleged that NYPD officers, with the approval of their supervisors, regularly engaged in the practice of using excessive force against and falsely arresting peaceful protesters and often confiscated personal belongings and declined to return them or returned them damaged. After the district court granted in part and denied in part defendants' motions to dismiss, the parties reported that they had reached a settlement agreement. As of January 2024, the settlement is pending a fairness hearing.   

In Epps v. City and County of Denver, plaintiffs alleged that the city and state police used a number of less-lethal weapons on them as they were peacefully protesting, and violated their rights to free speech, free assembly, and freedom to petition under the First Amendment as well as the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments' prohibitions on unreasonable seizures and excessive use of force. After a trial on some claims, the jury found that the City had violated protestors' First and Fourth Amendment rights and awarded $14M in damages. A separate group of plaintiffs, who had been arrested for violation of curfew, subsequently settled with the City for $4.7M.  

In Rulli v. Pittsburgh, plaintiffs challenged police use of flash-bang grenades, rubber bullets and tear gas and other conduct during protests, arguing that the police actions violated their First and Fourth Amendment rights. Ultimately, the parties agreed to to develop a policy regarding 1) the use or prohibition of various munitions at protests, 2) methods of distinguishing between peaceful protestors and individuals engaged in criminal acts 3) circumstances under which a dispersal order is permissible, 4) contents of a permissible dispersal order; and 5) circumstances under which a protestor can be arrested for their failure to disperse. They also reached an agreement on a settlement amount of $275,000 to be divided between the plaintiffs. 

See all the cases in the "Police Violence Protests" special collection here