Judge denies Denver’s request for new trial in $14 million protest lawsuit

A federal judge on Monday denied Denver city attorneys’ request for a new trial and a significantly lower penalty in the civil case in which a jury awarded protesters $14 million after police injured them while they peacefully demonstrated during the 2020 racial justice demonstrations following the murder of George Floyd.

U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson found the city failed to present convincing arguments that the jury’s March decision should be undone.

The evidence supported the jury’s finding that Denver Police Department policy gave officers wide discretion to use less-lethal weapons like pepper ball guns and tear gas in protest situations, he wrote. He also found that Denver was liable for the actions of officers from other departments who were called in to help Denver police.

“The police no doubt faced a very difficult situation, as there were individuals in the crowds who threw rocks, full water bottles and other objects at officers throughout the protests,” Jackson wrote. “However, Denver’s stubborn instance that the police did nothing wrong in the face of overwhelming video evidence to the contrary, coupled with evidence that each plaintiff was peaceful but sustained injuries as a result of the misconduct, was sufficient to support the jurors’ verdict.”

Jackson also denied the city’s request to use a legal process called remittitur to lower the $14 million in damages the jury awarded to the 12 protesters.

“Remittitur is an extreme remedy and one that this Court would not engage in without a verdict that shocked the judicial conscience,” Jackson wrote in his order. “This is not such a verdict. The plaintiffs testified about the impact that their experiences at the hands of the police while they peacefully protested had on them. It is clear from the verdict that the jury believed that testimony and assessed damages that they believed were warranted in light of that impact.”

“The Court might have awarded less,” he continued. “However, the jury is the conscience of the community.”

Jackson did grant a small slice of the city’s request. He lowered the amount of damages awarded against Denver police officer Jonathan Christian from $250,000 to $50,000. Christian shot plaintiff Elisabeth Epps with a pepper ball while she crossed the street.

“If Ms. Epps is unwilling to accept that amount, then I will grant a new trial as to her claims against Mr. Christian,” Jackson wrote.

One of the attorneys representing the protesters said he was thrilled with the judge’s decision.

“The Court affirmed that our jury was extremely diligent, attentive, and asked thoughtful questions throughout the trial,” Timothy Macdonald, partner at Arnold and Porter, said in a statement. “We look forward to bringing this case to a close.”

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