Crime, Law and Justice

Man who lost eye to Mpls. police projectile wins $2.4M from city, describes ordeal

A man during a press conference.
Soren Stevenson speaks to reporters with his attorney Katie Bennett on Wednesday. He is one of three people who lost eyes to police projectiles during protests in the summer of 2020 following the murder of George Floyd and sued the city.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

A man who was partially blinded during the George Floyd protests in 2020 said a Minneapolis police officer deliberately fired a 40mm projectile at his face.

Soren Stevenson is due to receive a $2.4 million settlement from the city. He was one of three people who lost eyes to police projectiles during the protests in the summer of 2020 and sued the city.

By May 31, 2020, the worst of the rioting in Minneapolis had passed, but an 8 p.m. curfew was still in effect. People outraged by the police murder of Floyd six days earlier continued to hold demonstrations.

Soren Stevenson, now 27, took part in one of those protests. He was with a large group of people standing in a grassy area at University Avenue and Interstate 35W when a police officer fired a 40mm blunt impact projectile directly at Stevenson’s face.

A person in the crowd recorded video as other protesters came to Stevenson’s aid.

Photos included in Stevenson’s federal lawsuit show him standing in the grass. He was not looting, rioting or violating any other law. At his attorney’s office Wednesday, Stevenson, wearing a black patch over his left eye, said a SWAT officer, whom plaintiff’s attorneys later identified as Benjamin Bauer, aimed the projectile launcher directly at his face.

“This weapon is extremely accurate,” Stevenson said. “He knew what he was doing, and he shot me in the face knowingly.”

Stevenson said the loss of his eye has changed his life for the worse in many ways.

“It took me a long time to get a job even though I was well qualified because it’s pretty hard to look at a computer screen with one eye after having two,” Stevenson said. “Merging left onto the freeway is an extremely dangerous task that I do frequently.”

In the nearly two years since he was injured, Stevenson said the Minneapolis Police Department has not implemented policy changes needed to prevent others from getting hurt. And as part of the settlement, the city was not required to acknowledge any wrongdoing.

His attorney Katie Bennett said shooting someone in the face with a 40mm round is a blatant violation of department rules, yet Bauer and his supervisors — Matthew Severance and Ryan McCann — don’t appear to have been disciplined. All three were named in the lawsuit.

A line of officers in front of a crowd of people on the interstate.
Protesters head northbound on Interstate 35W in Minneapolis Sunday, May 31, 2020, towards a line of law enforcement officers.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

A Minneapolis police spokesperson has not yet provided comment for this story. A city spokesperson acknowledged the settlement, but did not answer questions about whether the officers faced any sort of discipline, or if they’re still on the force.

Bennett said it was difficult to determine who shot her client. She initially named John Doe officers in the lawsuit. Through the discovery process, she obtained body camera video that eventually yielded answers.

“Really it came down to way too much time spent watching the bodycam, trying to figure out first who was even really in that vicinity, who had their body cameras on,” Bennett said.

A judge has barred the attorney from releasing the body camera footage. In addition to the $2.4 million she won for Stevenson, Bennett said she’s seeking attorney’s fees in the seven figures.

Bennett also represents Ethan Marks, who also lost an eye to a 40mm projectile. The attorney said Marks was shot three days before Stevenson, and she alleges Bauer was involved in the Marks case as well. Marks was out with his mother on a Thursday afternoon helping with a neighborhood cleanup near the looted Lake Street Target. 

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