San Jose will pay more than $3 million to a group of people who sued the city and police department over injuries they suffered during the infamous 2020 George Floyd demonstrations downtown, with the bulk of the funds going to a man who lost an eye when police fired a projectile at him while trying to disperse a crowd.
Tuesday, the City Council unanimously approved the payout after reviewing two settlement agreements that first surfaced in federal court records and city records at the end of last month. A few weeks earlier, a federal judge ruled that five of the eleven original plaintiffs could take their injury claims to trial, which led to a deal being reached.
Under the terms of the agreements, the city admits no fault, and lead plaintiff Michael Acosta, who lost his left eye, will receive $2.9 million, while four other claimants will share $450,000.
“I’m glad the lawsuit has been resolved, but no amount of money could ever return to me what has been taken,” Acosta said in a statement Tuesday. “Every aspect of my life has been impacted, and not a day goes by when I am not reminded of the loss of my eye. It is my hope that this case and incident will be an impetus for change in the SJPD and these so-called ‘less lethal’ weapons will no longer be used the way they were on me.”
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, and banned the use of rubber bullets for crowd control.
The federal lawsuit alleged an array of constitutional and civil-rights violations related to the violent San Jose Police Department response on May 29, 2020, the first of several days of protests over the notorious police killing of Floyd in Minneapolis.
City Attorney Nora Frimann issued a statement Tuesday that confirmed the terms of the settlement, and noted that “the size of the protests and some of the violent behavior that occurred during them as unprecedented in San Jose,” and that the “two settlement agreements are presented today to resolve that lawsuit in its entirety.”
Rachel Lederman, senior counsel for the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund — who along with Shook, Hardy & Bacon, the Flynn Law Office, and Jim Chanin formed the plaintiffs’ legal team — said Tuesday that what happened three years ago was borne from a “de facto policy of indiscriminate violence against George Floyd protestors, and a striking lack of accountability for this violence that went all the way to the top.”
“We hope that this settlement will help push the city toward alternatives to policing and stronger oversight of the SJPD,” Lederman said.
Federal Judge Phyllis Hamilton dismissed claims by six other plaintiffs after ruling that they did not specifically implicate an officer who injured them or that lawyers had missed filing deadlines. The judge also dismissed two civil-rights organizations — the local NAACP chapter and the San Jose Peace & Justice Center — from the lawsuit after ruling they did not have standing to sue.
Acosta was running errands the afternoon of May 29, 2020, 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.
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Acosta claimed in the lawsuit that the officer who shot him was Jared Yuen, who elicited international scorn after the emergence of a viral video of him profanely antagonizing protesters, and who was subsequently the subject of more than 2,000 formal complaints made to the police department and city, nearly 90% of the total for 2020. Yuen was a defendant for another plaintiff, Peter Allen, who states in the lawsuit that he was shoved to the ground by police and was hit by multiple projectiles.
After Acosta and Allen, the remaining plaintiffs included a Megan Swift, a demosntrator who was shoved or jabbed with batons “at least seventeen times” by two officers, another woman who was hit by projectiles while observing the protests, and a man who was hit with a projectile in his groin while pacing back and forth in front of a police line.
“I never expected that I would be subjected to police violence for protesting police violence,” Swift said in a statement. “It is important to all who make San Jose their home that San Jose police officers never again hurt our community with the brutality they inflicted.”
Staff writer Gabriel Greschler contributed to this report.