The Minneapolis City Council approved four separate settlements Thursday totaling more than $700,000 to resolve claims of unreasonable and excessive force by police in response to demonstrations following the deaths of George Floyd and Winston Smith.
The largest award was issued to a group of 11 Minnesotans and one former Iowa resident who filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court accusing the Minneapolis Police Department of targeting them with tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray as they peacefully protested in the immediate aftermath of Floyd's murder.
Most of the plaintiffs were marching along the Interstate 35W bridge on May 31, 2020, when an oil tanker barreled toward the large crowd at high speed, forcing protesters to scatter in every direction. When MPD and other law enforcement arrived, they did not seek to discover whether anyone was injured, the suit alleges, instead focusing on the safety of the truck driver.
"In other blatant displays of excessive force, captured on video, MPD officers can be seen spraying tear gas and pepper spray indiscriminately out of their squad car windows while driving through peaceful protests," according to a 60-page civil suit.
After a closed-door session Thursday, 12 City Council members unanimously voted to award $50,000 to each named plaintiff in the case, which included civil rights attorney Nekima Levy Armstrong, her husband, Marques Armstrong, and Hennepin Healthcare's Dr. Max Fraden. (Council Member Andrew Johnson was absent for the vote.)
The city also agreed to an injunction that, subject to court approval, would bar MPD from unlawfully using rubber bullets, Mace and tear gas as a crowd control measure against those exercising their First Amendment rights, said Minneapolis-based attorney Joshua J. Rissman, a partner with Gustafson Gluek PLLC.
"In the past, any misconduct required years of litigation to reach a resolution," Rissman said. "While we appreciate there is a desire to reform the Minneapolis Police Department, this settlement provides a crucial accountability mechanism with respect to peaceful protest."
Earlier Thursday, the full council approved three other police-related settlements. Brenda Smith, a 54-year-old Minneapolis resident who said she sustained severe injuries to her foot and later developed PTSD after being shot with a rubber bullet on May 30, 2020, outside the Fifth Precinct, was awarded $100,000. Another $10,000 went to Laura DeShane, who was arrested while recording a Facebook Live video during a demonstration in the city on Nov. 3, 2020. Deeqa Hussein won $13,000 in damages for her unlawful arrest while on a public sidewalk in Uptown on June 5, 2021, following the death of Winston Smith.
The settlements require approval from Mayor Jacob Frey.
The city of Minneapolis has already shelled out millions of dollars to settle claims of police brutality for officer misconduct that occurred in the week following Floyd's murder. Among them:
Last March the city paid $2.4 million to Soren Stevenson, who lost his eye after he was struck by a 40mm blunt-impact projectile while standing with a group of other protesters on a closed ramp near I-35W.
In April, the city paid a combined $1.8 million to two women who say police shot them in the face with projectiles while they peacefully protested Floyd's murder in spring 2020.
Ana Maria Gelhaye and Samantha Wright alleged in separate federal lawsuits filed last year that the "less-lethal" projectiles fired by Minneapolis officers left them with permanent eye injuries, after they joined the thousands of demonstrators in south Minneapolis in the week after Floyd's murder on May 25, 2020. Each received $900,000.
In June the city paid $500,000 to Jaime Bunkholt, a photographer from Atlanta, who alleged in her federal lawsuit that an unidentified Minneapolis police officer fired a rubber bullet from the roof of the besieged Third Precinct headquarters that hit her in the back of the head.
In a similar settlement, the city paid $600,000 to freelance journalist Linda Tirado, who was blinded in one eye by a police projectile while covering protests of Floyd's killing.
Staff writer Liz Navratil contributed to this report.