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City of Columbus reaches $5.75M settlement in protest lawsuit

The city also said it will permanently agree to not use many non-lethal but dangerous weapons against non-violent protesters.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The City of Columbus announced Thursday it has agreed to pay a $5.75 million settlement to protesters – some of whom were injured during the civil justice protests of 2020.

The settlement also includes a permanent injunction that would ban Columbus Division of Police officers from using non-lethal but dangerous weapons like pepper spray, tear gas, wooden bullets and other use of force against non-violent protesters.

The downtown protests, which began in late May of 2020, were in response to the death of George Floyd, who was killed by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

A federal lawsuit describes peaceful demonstrators and bystanders being beaten, fired on with wooden and rubber bullets, and unlawfully arrested during protests in late May and June.

In the lawsuit, at least three protesters said they were treated for broken bones.

“During the protests in Columbus, some plaintiffs were significantly injured. Therefore, it’s incumbent upon the City to accept responsibility and pay restitution,” Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein wrote in a release.

In a preliminary injunction in April, a federal judge ordered Columbus police to stop using tear gas, pepper spray, flash-bang grenades, rubber bullets, wooden pellets, batons, body slams, pushing or pulling, or kettling on nonviolent protesters to disperse them including to clear streets or sidewalks. As part of the announced settlement, the city said it would agree to a permanent injunction.

“Many Columbus Division of Police officers did perform their jobs professionally during that time, but this litigation highlighted serious issues that must be addressed,” Klein said.

Attorney John Marshall, a lead attorney for the protesters in the lawsuit, said, “The injunction mandates that peaceful protestors on city streets and sidewalks cannot be subjected to uses of force, arrests, or dispersal orders except in extraordinary circumstances. It also includes special protections for street medics, reporters, and legal observers.”

The settlement amount would come from the city’s general fund account, if approved by Columbus City Council.

Director of Public Safety Robert Clark released the following statement about the settlement:

“We have implemented significant changes in protest response and training since last year’s protests. We recognize what a painful chapter this has been for everyone involved, including the women and men of the Columbus Division of Police and the community we serve.  Before there can be healing, there must be accountability. Where we have missed the mark and relationships have been damaged, we must strive to make it right. This settlement is a step toward that, while also protecting the interests of Columbus taxpayers.”

Marshall told 10TV News that a special master would determine who the $5.75 million would be divided up among the plaintiffs. Some, Marshall, said endured more life-altering injuries than others but it would be up to this special master to decide who gets what.

The settlement still needs city council approval and approval by a federal judge.

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