RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Richmond has settled two more lawsuits that claimed police misconduct during the 2020 racial justice protests, bringing its total payout for such cases above the $1.6 million amount the city confirmed last year.
Protests spread across the country that summer, including throughout Richmond, following the police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky. In Richmond, protesters clashed with police, a curfew was imposed and demonstrators were tear-gassed.
The city reached a settlement with a group of activists and journalists who filed a federal lawsuit last May alleging a pattern of unreasonable force, harassment and unlawful arrests during and after the protests.
Their attorney, Terry Frank, confirmed to 8News that a settlement was agreed to but did not disclose the amount and said it has not been signed yet. The deal was first reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Richmond also recently settled with a man who filed a $3 million federal lawsuit last June claiming he was “shot in the back of the head at close range with what is believed to have been a rubber bullet” during a protest outside Richmond City Hall on June 23, 2020.
The case was settled for $50,000, according to the Richmond City Attorney’s office.
Last August, the city attorney’s office said Richmond had spent $1,617,960.69 to settle 122 claims stemming from the 2020 protests up to that point. These latest settlements bring that total up, but it’s still unclear by how much.
“Our office had been keeping a running total of settlement payments made, but is no longer doing so,” Neil R. Gibson, senior assistant attorney for the city, wrote in an email to 8News. Gibson added that the Department of Finance could have the total but that the city attorney’s office “is not aware” if it does.
While the financial terms of the settlement were not disclosed, the federal lawsuit filed by the group of journalists and activists will bring policy changes for the department.
According to Frank, the attorney for the group, the police department must enact a First Amendment policy with input from the plaintiffs and the city will be required to make its police policies more available to the public.
“Our goal was accountability and transparency,” she told 8News, adding that the plaintiffs were pleased that the case would lead to more training for Richmond police officers on what is lawful when they interact with the press and public during such demonstrations.
The plaintiffs — journalists covering the protests, an attorney, activists and others — initially sued Richmond and current and former members of its police department claiming that their constitutional rights were violated by police in various ways in the wake of the protests.
The city was the only remaining defendant when the case was settled out of court, online records show.
The suit claimed they were verbally and physically assaulted, unlawfully handcuffed, harassed online and in person, doused with chemical agents by police and faced “bogus criminal charges.” Some of these included events that had “nothing to do with the protests,” Frank said, including plaintiffs recording officers’ interactions with the public.
The suit added that all of the plaintiffs who were arrested and charged had all their charges dismissed or found not guilty, including one who received “an apology from the presiding judge at the conclusion of his trial.”
“The Plaintiffs’ injuries are the direct result of the policies, practices and customs of the Richmond Police Department, who routinely harass, detain, assault and arrest citizens and members of the press who observe or record police activity,” the lawsuit claimed.
A spokesperson for the city did not respond to a request for comment.