‘It changes your feelings toward police’: Hear from plaintiffs in major lawsuit over 2020 Denver protests

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DENVER (KDVR) — Lawyers have filed the largest lawsuit to date stemming from the George Floyd protests last summer.

A total of 50 defendants are suing the City of Denver in federal court, claiming their civil rights were violated by officers on the scene. Some were injured, while others claim they were detained unconstitutionally.

The lawsuit could be the largest police brutality lawsuit in U.S. history because of its multiple plaintiffs. It is taking two law firms and eight attorneys to represent these 50 people.

The plaintiffs said officer accountability and police reform are what they are hoping to accomplish by filing these lawsuits.

A link to the lawsuits is at the bottom of this article.

DENVER, CO – MAY 29: Police officers fire tear gas at protesters near the Colorado state capitol during a protest on May 29, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. This was the second day of protests in Denver, with more demonstrations planned for the weekend. Demonstrations are being held across the US after George Floyd died in police custody on May 25th in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)

Plaintiff Timmy Lomas

Timmy Lomas was one of the people on the front lines last summer. He was recording the events when things turned violent.

“I was pepper-sprayed without any reason. I was just doing chants like ‘hands up, don’t shoot.’ There was nothing I saw in my vicinity that was doing anything to provoke the police.,” Lomas said. “There were people farther back in the crowd that were throwing water bottles. The police started moving forward, protesters started stepping back. Again, without any provocation from anyone toward the front lines, police started spraying pepper spray. There was no defiance of an order or anything of that nature.”

Timmy Lomas is one of 42 plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Denver over police actions during the 2020 protests in Denver.

According to the lawsuit, Lomas was pepper-sprayed in the face and upper body while he filmed an incident on May 30, 2020, involving a man hurt by a police flash-bang grenade.

“I would like accountability. That’s the most important thing. Hopefully, we are still a nation of laws, and everyone is governed by those laws, including police,” Lomas said.

Lomas said he will continue to protest issues he is passionate about.

“You want to be able to exercise your freedom of speech, but once you go through an incident of being pepper-sprayed, it does have a psychological impact … In subsequent protests I went to, I wore goggles, protective gear and I brought milk and water. It’s a real shame because it’s something we as Americans should be proud of, to have that be taken away to a certain extent by actions of the police. It changes your feeling toward the police. I’ve never been a person who is anti-police. I’m still not anti-police as a whole, but for the police officers who did these things, I hope they are held accountable,” Lomas said.

Plaintiff Em Heydt

Em Heydt was leaving downtown on a motorcycle on one of the first nights of the protests, May 28, 2020, when she ended up behind a Denver Police SWAT truck.

Em Heydt is one of 42 plaintiffs who filed a lawsuit against Denver for police actions during the 2020 protests.

“I was chanting what I felt, expressing what I felt toward them. They could hear me and they stopped. That’s when I immediately got fired on with pepper balls. They struck multiple times on my motorcycle, hit my upper thigh. My leg was hurting. I had to ride my motorcycle home after being shot by a pepper pellet. I made it home, in pain. My skin was burning,” Heydt said.

According to the lawsuit, the officers did not give commands or warnings before firing the weapons. The incident was captured on video.

“That changed my life going forward,” Heydt said. “It shook me even more. Made me afraid. You want to be able to ask cops for help. I feel like I can’t go to a police officer for help. I hate to admit how effective it was to make me hesitant to exercise my First Amendment rights. I am definitely hesitant to go out and protest, join a group. I’m always watching my back.”

Attorneys Clifford Beem and Birk Baumgartner

Attorneys Clifford Beem and Birk Baumgartner are the lead attorneys on the case.

“They are individuals who were there to show their support for police brutality in other cases,” Beem said. “They were exercising their right to peaceful protest. None of those 42 people involved were involved in assaulting police or attacking police or physically resisting police. Many of them were arrested as they were trying to leave.”

“These were not rioters. These were protesters,” Baumgartner said. “The police responded violently because they took offense to the very idea that the protest would be against them.”

Birk Baumgartner is one of two lead attorneys on two lawsuits against Denver for police actions during the 2020 protests. (KDVR)

“If the City of Denver would like to take responsibility for its unconstitutional actions towards large groups of citizens, institute real reforms, show some evidence they will hold these officers accountable, and hold themselves accountable for their policies, then we may be able to settle this case,” Baumgartner continued. “But we don’t see any indication they acknowledge they did a single thing wrong during these protests.”

Baumgartner said he believes the U.S. Department of Justice should be overseeing the City of Denver and how its police force uses force and responds to protests.

“We have seen the Department of Justice step in and monitor police forces before. Denver over the years has shown it is unwilling to make changes to conform with the constitution. I don’t know what else there is to do,” Baumgartner said.

“What the police did to them definitely has a chilling effect on anybody who wants to come out and demonstrate to exercise their right of public assembly and peaceful protest,” Beem said.

“All Americans should be able to participate in that very important thing, which is going out and peacefully protesting,” Baumgartner said.

Clifford Beem is one of two lead attorneys on two lawsuits against Denver for police actions during the 2020 protests. (KDVR)

When asked if he characterized these as peaceful protests, he said, “Yes, unreservedly so. There are very few examples of protesters initiating violence. A careful review of violence during the George Floyd protest shows it was police departments and not the protestors who almost always initiated violence.”

“As civil lawyers, we don’t have any right or power to make that happen,” Beem said. “We can’t file an action to ask the Justice Department to come in and do anything. All we can do is make sure what has happened is known to the general public. The only avenue allowed to us by law is to ask for monetary damages. What history has shown us is that municipalities, governmental entities and corporations will change if it starts costing them money. That’s generally the only thing they recognize.”

Denver’s police union responds

In a statement, Nick Rogers with the Denver Police Protective Association responded:

“On May 28th 2020 through June 1st 2020, all Denver police officers had to respond to chaos, violence and riots in downtown Denver. Some would classify or try to say these were protests, as some of the events started as protests. They ended with massive riots. More than 90 officers were severely injured, millions of dollars of damage was done to Denver businesses. The city of Denver is lucky and should be thankful that the police officers that responded held the line and did not allow more damage, more injury and more chaos to our city. This lawsuit is an absolute play on the judicial system. The individuals involved in the rioting are criminals and should all be prosecuted and put in jail.”

What Denver officials say

When reached for comment, the Denver Police Department referred questions to the City Attorney’s Office. The City Attorney’s office replied, “The city has not reviewed the lawsuits, and it would be inappropriate to comment on pending litigation.”

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