DENVER — A man who went blind in one eye after he was hit with a projectile during protests last May is suing the Denver Police Department for excessive force.
Attorneys for Russell Strong filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Denver on Tuesday.
The suit claims Denver police fired a Kinetic Impact Projectile (KIP) at Strong’s head while he was peacefully participating in George Floyd protests at Civic Center Park on May 30, 2020.
"I went there that day to be an ally to the Black community, that I feel gets brutalized by police," Strong told Denver7. "We were there in response to George Floyd."
Strong was holding a sign adorned with a peace symbol on one side and the words “No Justice, No Peace,” on the other when officers shot him in the face with a KIP gun without warning, the suit alleges.
"It unfolded so quickly. The atmosphere went from peaceful to chaotic in just the blink of an eye. It was very disorienting. There were a lot of loud flash bangs and smoke grenades," Strong said.
The impact of the projectile caused Strong to lose his sight in his right eye, which had to be surgically removed. He also suffered numerous facial fractures, effecting his facial symmetry and breathing, according to the lawsuit.
"Losing an eye so abruptly has been very difficult obviously. I've had to enter therapy to try to cope with the loss and just the grief that comes with that," he said.
The suit alleges police were targeting their KIP guns “at the most vulnerable body parts of protesters to deliberately inflict maximum harm.”
The city was marked by unrest over the Memorial Day weekend last year as peaceful daytime protests for George Floyd devolved into tense standoffs with police. Hundreds of people were arrested but most charges were later dropped.
During days of protests last year, a federal judge temporarily banned the department from using tear gas, pepper balls or "projectiles of any kind" against peaceful protesters, declaring in a blistering ruling the department "failed in its duty to police its own."
A bill introduced Tuesday in the state Senate would put limits on police responses to protests. Senate Bill 31 would prohibit police from dispersing a crowd unless the crowd is working together to inflict personal injury or significant property damage.
One of the bill's sponsor, Sen. Jeff Bridges, D-Greenwood Village, says SB-31 will create some clarity between police and protesters.
"What we're trying to do is make it clear -- what are the responsibilities of protesters? What are the responsibilities of police? What is that line?" Bridges said.
Sen. John Cooke, R-Greeley, says the bill is too broad and will hamper law enforcement.
"It puts law enforcement in a bad spot again, because the bill is so broadly drafted," Cooke said. "It says a 'significant number of protesters,' and well, what is that?"
Strong’s lawsuit is one of at least five filed in federal court against DPD’s use of force during the protests last year. He is seeking policy changes and better training within the department. The lawsuit is also seeking punitive damages.
Denver7 has reached out to the Denver Police Department for an official response to the allegations in the lawsuit. They sent Denver7 the following statement: "Out of respect for the court process, we are unable to provide comment due to pending Litigation."