Main plaintiff, who lost an eye after being hit by a police projectile, is set to receive $2.9 million while several other claimants would share $450,000
SAN JOSE, Calif. — According to court and public records, the City of San Jose is poised to pay more than $3 million to a group of demonstrators and observers injured by police during the George Floyd protests downtown three years ago, including a man who lost his eye after being hit by a police projectile.
The proposed settlement would resolve a federal lawsuit filed in March 2021 that alleged a slew of constitutional and civil-rights violations in the San Jose Police Department’s violent response to the first of several days of protests in May 2020 over the infamous police killing of Floyd in Minneapolis.
The tentative settlement, which was formally filed in court this week and is set to be reviewed by the City Council on Sept. 12, would award $2.9 million to lead plaintiff Michael Acosta, who lost his left eye, and $450,000 to four other claimants.
The City Attorney’s Office, which will carry out the settlement, and the plaintiff attorneys both declined to comment to the Bay Area News Group, citing the confidentiality of any potential agreement until it is finalized by council approval. However, news of the tentative settlement was published in the federal court docket for the Northern District of California, and the council review is now on a public agenda.
Judge Phyllis Hamilton granted Acosta and four other plaintiffs’ motions to proceed to trial in early August. Six other plaintiffs’ claims were dismissed by Hamilton because they did not specifically implicate an officer who injured them or missed filing deadlines. The judge also dismissed the lawsuit’s two civil-rights organizations, ruling that they lacked standing to sue.
Had the suit gone to trial, the plaintiffs were prepared to argue to a federal civil jury that besides Acosta’s catastrophic injury, a woman was shoved or jabbed with batons “at least seventeen times” by two officers, another woman was hit by projectiles while observing the protests, a man was shoved to the ground by police and was hit by multiple projectiles, and another man was hit with a projectile in his groin while pacing back and forth in front of a police line.
Hamilton’s rulings also rejected claims of qualified immunity by three police supervisors, whom the plaintiffs claimed gave orders to use projectile launchers, causing their injuries.
In the aftermath of the protests, the police department admitted that most of the officers on the scene “lacked sufficient training and experience” with crowd control and blamed this on understaffing. Under intense scrutiny, the police department later prohibited the use of rubber bullets in crowd control scenarios.
On the afternoon of May 29, 2020, Acosta was out running errands when he came across the protests. What he didn’t realize was that police were closing in on the scene of a man being arrested after driving his SUV into a crowd of demonstrators. According to the lawsuit, Acosta was hit “in the eye with an impact munition” fired by San Jose police officers within moments. He would later discover that his eye had ruptured and would need to be removed.
Hamilton’s August ruling cited in part an earlier federal excessive force lawsuit, also stemming from the protests, that Judge Beth Labson Freeman allowed to proceed to trial in March. In that case, the plaintiffs were led by Derrick Sanderlin, a community activist and former police trainer who was famously shot in the groin by a police officer while attempting to de-escalate tensions between protesters and officers manning a police line.
However, proceedings toward a prospective trial have been halted after the city petitioned the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse Labson Freeman’s decision on the grounds that the officers had qualified immunity, which protects government officials from being sued over their work actions unless there is a clear violation of constitutional or statutory rights. That appeal is still pending.