BLM protesters reach $700,000 settlement in excessive-force complaints against Minneapolis police – October 2022

BLM closes down I-35 | source: Fibonacci Blue

Mayor Jacob Frey and the Minneapolis City Council approved a payout of $723,000 to 15 different people, settling four separate complaints against the city’s Police Department for excessive force used during Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 and 2021. The largest of this round of settlements went to a group of protesters who, after nearly being run over while demonstrating on a highway, were pepper-sprayed by the police rather than asked if they had been injured.

Key Players

Black Lives Matter (BLM), a social and protest movement that seeks to combat racism, was founded in 2013 after George Zimmerman, a white man who fatally shot Black 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, in February 2012, was acquitted of second-degree murder. BLM had a large resurgence after the police murder of George Floyd in May 2020. As unrest and violence broke out at some demonstrations, critics accused BLM of instigating property damage, looting, and physical violence. Others maintain that police behaved unlawfully, attacking protesters and journalists at such events. According to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, a nonprofit that maps and measures crisis-related incidents, an analysis of more than 7,750 BLM demonstrations in the United States revealed that more than 93% of protests between May 26 and Aug. 22, 2020, were peaceful.

The Minneapolis City Council has 13 members and governs a city of about 425,000 residents. 

Mayor Jacob Frey (D) assumed office on Jan. 2, 2018. 

The Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) had 653 officers as of November 2021, though that number has dropped since Floyd’s murder, KARE 11 reported. In November 2021, voters rejected a bill that would have disbanded the police force after the city council had promised during the 2020 demonstrations that it would do so, USA Today reported.

Further Details

On Oct. 20, 2022, almost two and half years after Floyd’s murder reignited BLM demonstrations, the Minneapolis City Council signed off on settlements with several protesters alleging excessive force by police. The settlements totaled $723,000, divided among 15 people. 

Twelve of these people, 11 Minnesotans and one Iowan, filed a class-action lawsuit against MPD for “targeting them with tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray,” the Star Tribune reported. On May 31, 2020, they were among a group of thousands marching along Interstate 35W, which runs directly through the city, when an oil tanker drove directly at them. They were forced to scatter to avoid the truck, and when MPD officers arrived on the scene, the lawsuit alleges they checked on wellbeing of the truck driver, but not any of the protesters. The 12 protesters said police could “be seen spraying tear gas and pepper spray indiscriminately out of their squad car windows.” They were each awarded $50,000. 

Another Minneapolis resident, Brenda Smith, alleged in her lawsuit that she was shot in the foot with a rubber bullet at a peaceful demonstration in May 2020 and suffered severe foot injuries as well as post-traumatic stress disorder. Smith received $100,000 from MPD.

The two other lawsuits that were settled involved unlawful arrests in BLM demonstrations that occurred later. Laura DeShane, who had been arrested in November 2020, received $10,000. Deeqa Hussain, who was arrested in June 2021, received $13,000.

On Oct. 26, after city council approved the settlements, Frey signed the settlements, Reuters reported.  

The settlements add to the massive costs incurred by the city following the death of Floyd. On top of the $27 million Minneapolis paid to Floyd’s family, it has settled several other cases for over a million dollars, and many more in the hundreds of thousands.


Injunction could prevent use of tear gas, mace, rubber bullets

As part of the settlement with the group of 12 attacked on the highway, the city agreed to an injunction that would bar police from responding to peaceful protests with certain chemical agents, such as tear gas, mace, and rubber bullets. 

Joshua Rissman, the attorney for several plaintiffs, told MPR News that the injunction would be a “crucial accountability mechanism.”

“Any time the MPD unlawfully uses rubber bullets, mace, tear gas or other chemical munitions against peaceful protesters, we are able to immediately seek to enforce the injunction in federal court,” Rissman said. “This differs from most settlements, which provide only monetary compensation and do not include mechanisms to prevent the same misconduct from occurring again.”

Federal judge approves of injunction

On Nov. 30, U.S. District Judge Katherine M. Menendez, nominated by President Joe Biden, signed the order for injunction

With the injunction in place, excessive force cases could be much more easily handled in the courts. Since mace, tear gas, and rubber bullets were commonly used against protesters in the BLM demonstrations, the injunction could strongly disincentivize their use by law enforcement going forward.

“People who are demonstrating peacefully should never be met with police violence as they were in Minneapolis during protests over MPD’s murder of George Floyd,” stated ACLU-MN legal director Teresa Nelson. “Tear gas, foam bullets and pepper spray became weapons for intimidating and hurting protesters, making it dangerous for people to exercise their First Amendment rights. We hope this settlement sends a message to law enforcement across Minnesota that this violation of our constitutional rights will not be tolerated.”

As of Jan. 17, 2023, there were no further developments.