The authorities in Denver approved a $4.7 million settlement on Monday for protesters who were detained for violating an emergency curfew during demonstrations over the killing of George Floyd in 2020, and later accused the police of using excessive force.
The settlement, approved by the Denver City Council, resolves a class-action lawsuit filed by protesters against the consolidated city and county of Denver, which denies any liability or wrongdoing.
The Denver demonstrations were part of unrest in cities across the United States and beyond over the May 2020 death of Mr. Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, after a white police officer in Minneapolis held his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck as he gasped for breath. The officer, Derek Chauvin, was later convicted of murder and sentenced to 22 and a half years in prison. Three other officers involved in Mr. Floyd’s death were each sentenced to several years in prison.
The settlement approved on Monday is the second major victory for protesters who have criticized the Denver Police Department’s handling of the 2020 demonstrations. In a civil case last year, a jury in federal court in Colorado ordered the Denver authorities to pay $14 million in damages to 12 protesters after finding that police officers had used excessive force against them in 2020.
The settlement Monday ends a legal process involving separate cases that were later merged into one. The plaintiffs include union organizers, a lawyer, a former U.S. Marine, a journalist, a software engineer and a business owner.
Their lawyers accused the police in a complaint of using “violent crowd control tactics” against hundreds of protesters who gathered in late May and early June of 2020 to demonstrate against police brutality and racism against Black people in the United States. They said the police fired tear gas, flashbang grenades, pepper balls, rubber bullets and other projectiles directly at protesters without giving them time to disperse.
The complaint also said that police officers used violence to enforce the emergency curfew in effect at the time, and that the curfew was “applied discriminatorily against protesters” in a way that violated their constitutional rights, including the right to free speech. More than 350 people were arrested over several days in late May and early June, mostly for violating a curfew that ran from May 30 to June 5, the complaint said.
The Denver Police Department referred questions late Monday to the city attorney’s office, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The city attorney’s office said in June that it was dismissing 320 cases against people who had been arrested for curfew violations during the 2020 demonstrations but were not charged with additional crimes.
The office of Denver’s mayor, Mike Johnston, who was sworn in last month, did not respond to an inquiry overnight.
The settlement agreement said the city denied that its emergency curfew had been “targeted for enforcement against anyone engaged in First Amendment or protest activity.”
The plaintiffs take a different view.
“Over 300 people were arrested for the simple act of protesting,” Elizabeth Wang, lead attorney for the protesters and a partner at the Chicago law firm Loevy & Loevy, said in a statement that the firm released Monday evening on X, formerly known as Twitter.
“The First Amendment does not allow police to clear the streets of protesters simply because they do not agree with their message,” Ms. Wang added.