Minneapolis City Council approves $700K in settlements over police actions during protests

A police officer throws a tear gas canister towards protesters.
A police officer throws a tear gas canister towards protesters at the Minneapolis 3rd Police Precinct during protests on May 26, 2020
Carlos Gonzalez | Star Tribune via AP file

The Minneapolis City Council on Thursday approved settlements totaling more than $700,000 in lawsuits filed by more than a dozen protesters, who claimed Minneapolis police officers used excessive force against them.

Most of the cases stemmed from police actions during protests following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020.

The largest settlement involves payment of $50,000 each to 12 plaintiffs, for a total of $600,000. It was unanimously approved by 12 council members on Thursday, with one council member absent. It still requires the approval of Mayor Jacob Frey.

As part of that settlement, the city also agreed to a proposed injunction on police use of chemical agents like tear gas or mace, or rubber bullets, against peaceful protesters.

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Attorney Joshua Rissman, who represented some of the plaintiffs, said the injunction — which is subject to court approval — could have a big impact. He called it 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 told MPR News. “This differs from most settlements, which provide only monetary compensation and do not include mechanisms to prevent the same misconduct from occurring again.”

Some of the plaintiffs were on the Interstate 35W bridge across the Mississippi River when a tanker truck drove into the group of protesters on May 31, 2020, sending people running to get out of the way.

One of the lawsuits stated that responding law enforcement officers, from Minneapolis police and other agencies, "began using tactics such as spraying pepper spray, dispensing tear gas, and shooting rubber bullets, despite the fact that the protestors were already dispersing."

That, and other actions by police in the days following Floyd's killing, caused the plaintiffs "pain and suffering, mental anguish, and chilled (their) First Amendment right to free speech and peaceful assembly," the lawsuit claimed.

The settlements approved by the Minneapolis City Council on Thursday are among millions of dollars in payouts the city has made in response to lawsuits filed over the 2020 protests.

In May of this year, council members approved $1.2 million in settlements — including $600,000 to a freelance photographer who lost sight in her left eye after an officer fired a 40mm foam round at her while she was covering protests.

In April, the city agreed to a $1.8 million settlement with two women who were struck in the eye by police projectiles.

And in March, the city reached a $2.4 million settlement with a man who was partially blinded after a Minneapolis police officer fired a 40mm projectile at his face during the protests.