RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – The city of Richmond has paid nearly $300,000 to people who filed lawsuits alleging police misconduct during civil unrest in the summer of 2020, a figure that could increase as settlement negotiations continue.
Protests erupted and spread across the country in the wake of the police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky.
Demonstrators seeking police reforms marched the streets of Richmond, where a curfew was implemented and protesters and law enforcement clashed in front of the city’s police department. On June 1, 2020, demonstrators were tear-gassed near the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue without warning and before the 8 p.m. curfew set by Mayor Levar Stoney.
In response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by 8News, Richmond’s senior assistant city attorney confirmed on Dec. 7 that the city “has to date paid a total of $297,627.92 to claimants” who filed civil lawsuits stemming from encounters between protesters and Richmond police officers.
But it’s still unclear who received the payments from the city. Of the eight civil lawsuits filed against the city following the protests in May and June 2020, court records show that:
- One case has been settled
- Five lawsuits remain active (two are set to go to trial and two are in ongoing settlement negotiations)
- One case was dismissed in court
- The parties involved in the other case filed a stipulation of dismissal after months of settlement negotiations
The lawsuit that was settled was filed in Richmond Circuit Court by two plaintiffs who claimed a group of police officers used pepper spray on them as they were walking along West Broad Street near Goshen Street in the early morning hours of May 31, 2020.
Video shows a group of eight officers and three people walking towards each other on the sidewalk before the encounter. The lawsuit alleges the police told the people to “go home” and one of them responded “no, you go home” before an officer used “pepper spray or some other chemical irritant” on them.
A man living in the area at the time, identified as Mikhail Smith in court documents, yelled and cursed at the officers while recording the incident from his second-story window. The video, which gained widespread attention after it was posted online, then shows an officer spraying into Smith’s apartment window. Smith is then heard coughing in the video.
Smith and the three people on the street, identified in court filings as Destiny Sparks, Kiara Derricott and Charles Cosby, accused the officers of multiple civil rights violations in three separate civil lawsuits filed against the city last year.
The lawsuits from Smith and Sparks are set to go to trial, but court documents show the lawsuit filed by Derricott and Cosby was settled in Richmond Circuit Court. Derricott and Cosby’s lawsuit demanded a jury trial and sought $750,000.
The attorneys for the officers named as plaintiffs in the lawsuits — Christopher Brown, Anthony Farnsworth, Brian Rogers and Benito Frias — initially filed pleas of qualified immunity in an effort to have the cases dismissed. They did not respond to 8News’ requests for comment on the settlement agreements with Derricott and Cosby.
“While the Mayor’s previous statements on relevant events during this time are well-known, the city does not comment on litigation, beyond saying that we are glad to have achieved resolution in these cases,” Jim Nolan, a spokesman for Mayor Stoney, said in a statement to 8News.
The Richmond Police Department did not respond to 8News’ request for comment before publication.
Specific details of the agreement Derricott and Cosby reached with the city are unknown. The money the city of Richmond has paid out could have been used for another lawsuit filed in the Eastern District of Virginia by a man who said he was near the Lee statue before officers deployed tear gas on June 1, 2020.
The civil lawsuit, which named the city and former police chief William Smith as defendants, argued members of the Richmond Police Department “used intentional, unjustified, and inexcusable force and threats of force to disperse citizens” who gathered in the area.
The plaintiff, identified as Nathan Arries in court documents, “was blinded and felt his skin, eyes, nose, mouth and lungs burn, causing coughing and difficulty breathing” after the incident, the lawsuit alleges.
The suit claimed the police’s actions violated the constitutional rights of Arries, and “his federal constitutional and statutory rights and Virginia law.” The lawsuit, which requested a jury trial, sought declaratory judgement, general and compensatory damages, attorney fees and other costs of the suit.
According to online court records, a special master was appointed to oversee the settlement negotiations about a month after the lawsuit was filed in February. On Sept. 14, months into the negotiations, the parties involved filed a stipulation of dismissal with the court.
The lawyer who represented Arries did not respond to multiple requests for comment on if a monetary settlement was reached with the city.
While it’s unclear where the funds came from, taxpayers typically end up covering the costs of the settlements localities reach with plaintiffs.