DENVER (KDVR) — Seven strangers who suffered significant eye injuries during Denver’s George Floyd protests in May say they believe police projectiles — like the “less lethal” 40mm sponge grenade — may have caused their injuries. The sponge grenade is made of a hard, foam rubber tip, and is ejected from a launcher at high speeds.
“I’m just confused. I’m stressed out with everything. S–t’s a lot harder,” said Jax Feldmann, 21. “My anxiety is through the roof all the time. It’s not a good time.”
Feldmann, who said he was not participating in the protest, was attempting to walk to his friend’s car when he was struck in the eye and blinded.
“I couldn’t see anything. Blood was pouring out,” he said.
Denver-based Baumgartner Law has taken the case of Feldmann and three other eye injury victims with plans to sue the city.
“We are bringing a federal lawsuit in order to vindicate our client’s constitutional rights,” said Birk Baumgartner, the firm’s managing partner. “There is at least one group of police officers who were intentionally aiming at the faces of protesters.”
“The police did what amounted to a drive by shooting,” Cliff Beem, who is working with Baumgartner on future suits, told the FOX31 Problem Solvers. “The only thing we can do is sue the municipalities and the police departments for money, and if they have to pay money because of what they’re doing, then eventually, they will change what they do because they don’t like to pay out.”
At the request of two Denver City Council members, Denver’s Office of the Independent Monitor is investigating Denver police actions and subsequent complaints during the spring protests.
The report is expected to be released in early December.
“I hope it uncovers the truth,” said Murphy Robinson, Denver’s executive director of public safety.
Robinson said he asked the police department to stop using the 40mm weapon – unless it is absolutely necessary – while the review is being completed.
“Any time there is an allegation of injury to anyone in our community – whether it’s visitors or residents – and whether they were causing harm or not…are of some concern,” he said.
Robinson said the review will help provide clarity on the best tools for the department and whether training or discipline practices should change.
“There was a lot happening during that time, and it’s not misplaced on me that there are some things that we can learn from and improve on, but we also have to realize our police officers were…placed in a very precarious position and had a very interesting thing they had to deal with, historic,” he said. “We are asking them to do (the investigation) right, not fast, and to make sure that this review is comprehensive enough for us to get information so we can utilize it, so we can make good decisions in the future.”
While being sued in federal court over police tactics during the protests, the City of Denver also agreed, in June, not to discharge less lethal projectiles in a manner that targets a person’s head, pelvis, or back and not to discharge the weapons “indiscriminately into a crowd.”
The City also agreed that the weapons would only be used if an on-scene supervisor would authorize the use of force in response to “specific acts of violence or destruction of property.”
“The police department also agreed that all officers deployed to demonstrations would record “any and all acts of confrontation between officers and others” on body-worn cameras.
According to Denver Police Department’s operations manual, 40mm launchers should only be used “to incapacitate, safely control, or take into custody an individual whose conduct rises to Active Aggression…as less lethal intervention to prevent an officer or a third person from being seriously injured or killed; or to incapacitate an individual who is threatening or attempting suicide.”
The manual also prohibits officers from aiming a less lethal weapon at someone’s “head, eyes, throat, neck, breasts of a female, genitalia, pelvis or spinal column.”
The manual says aiming at someone’s back is prohibited when the weapons are being used during protests or riots.
Some of the eye-injury victims represented by Baumgartner may be included in another upcoming lawsuit he plans to file against the City of Denver, involving 51 plaintiffs.
Denver’s City Attorney’s office confirmed it received notices of claim Tuesday afternoon. However, Baumgartner said some of his clients have injuries that are so disproportionate to the other plaintiffs that he plans to bring their claims separately.
“Each and every one of these protesters in our large 50+ person lawsuit has had their individual rights violated,” said Baumgartner. :We want the City to answer for each and every violation.”
Another attorney, Andy McNulty, who represents eye-injury victim, Michael Acker, who was shot in the eye while wearing a gas mask, filed a suit in October.
“Denver’s actions, while unconstitutional in any context, are even more pernicious here because the police violence and brutality was specifically targeted at peaceful demonstrators protesting police violence and brutality,” he said.