San Jose: City looks to settle George Floyd protest injury lawsuit for more than $3 million

San Jose: City looks to settle George Floyd protest injury lawsuit for more than $3 million

SAN JOSE — 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 infamous George Floyd protests downtown three years ago, including a man who lost his eye after being hit by a police projectile, court and public records show.

The proposed payout would settle a federal lawsuit filed in March 2021 that alleged an array of constitutional and civil-rights violations related to the violent San Jose Police Department response to the first of several days of protests in May 2020 over the notorious police killing of Floyd in Minneapolis.

A frame from a 2021 Zoom video of downtown San Jose resident Michael Acosta after he was hit in the eye by a police projectile during the George Floyd protests in downtown San Jose the previous year. Acosta led a federal lawsuit against San Jose police after he lost his left eye to the injury. (Frame from video press conference by Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area) 

Under the tentative settlement — which was formally filed in court this week and is scheduled to be reviewed by the City Council on Sept. 12 — lead plaintiff Michael Acosta, who lost his left eye, would receive $2.9 million, while 10 other plaintiffs and two organizations, the San Jose-Silicon Valley NAACP and the San Jose Peace and Justice Center, would share $450,000.

The City Attorney’s Office, which will execute the settlement, and the plaintiff attorneys declined to comment to the Bay Area News Group, citing that any potential agreement is confidential until it is finalized by the council’s approval. But news of the tentative settlement was published in the Northern District of California federal court docket, and the council review is now listed in a public agenda.

The number of parties set to split the $450,000 amount might be surprising since earlier this month Judge Phyllis Hamilton only allowed the claims of Acosta and four other plaintiffs to proceed to trial. Hamilton dismissed claims by six other plaintiffs after deciding they did not specifically implicate an officer who injured them or missed filing deadlines. The judge also dismissed the two civil-rights organizations from the lawsuit after ruling they did not have 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 who claims he 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.

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Hamilton’s rulings also denied claims of qualified immunity by three police supervisors who the plaintiffs claimed made orders to use projectile launchers that directly resulted in their injuries.

In the fallout from the protests, the police department acknowledged that most of the officers on scene “lacked the sufficient training and experience” with crowd control and blamed understaffing for that dearth of training. The police department, under intense scrutiny, later banned the use of rubber bullets in crowd control scenarios.

Acosta was running errands the afternoon of May 29 when he came upon the demonstrations. What he didn’t know was that police were closing in on the aftermath of a scene in which a man was arrested after driving his SUV into a crowd of demonstrators. Within moments, Acosta said he was hit “in the eye with an impact munition” fired by San Jose police officers, according to the lawsuit. He would later learn that his eye was ruptured and had to be removed.

This is a developing report. Check back for updates.