Detroit police officers restrain Nakia Wallace people surround them
Detroit police officers restrain Nakia Wallace, co-founder of Detroit Will Breathe, during Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. Detroit police were later banned from using chokeholds after excessive force lawsuits and a change in Board of Police Commissioners policy. (Photo courtesy of Adam J. Dewey)

Members of a group that marched against police brutality in Detroit’s streets for months in 2020 have accepted a $1 million from the city to resolve federal lawsuits alleging police used excessive force against demonstrators and violated their rights. 

Detroit Will Breathe, an anti-police brutality organization that formed in the wake of George Floyd’s 2020 murder at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, gets $5,000 under the judgment and the rest will be spread out among individual plaintiffs of the group. 

Detroit’s Law Department sent the “offer of judgment” package in a “confidential” memorandum to the City Council in June. Council members approved sending the offer to plaintiffs in July

Members of Detroit Will Breathe and other activists demonstrated in the city for more than 100 consecutive days during 2020 as part of a nationwide movement sparked after Floyd, who was Black, was murdered by a white police officer in Minneapolis.

Amanda Ghannam, an attorney with the National Lawyers Guild, which is representing Detroit Will Breathe and the other plaintiffs, said the outcome is a victory for her clients but justice has not yet been fully served. 

“It’s a win, and it’s some financial compensation for the harms my clients experienced,” she said. But argued, “the officers whose conduct led to all of this were ever disciplined.”

In August 2020, Detroit Will Breathe and several individual plaintiffs filed the lawsuits against the city alleging Detroit police had used unconstitutional and excessive force against protesters and prevented them from exercising their First Amendment rights. As a result, a federal judge put a temporary ban on certain uses of force against protesters such as chokeholds, rubber bullets and sound cannons.

Now that the plaintiffs have accepted the offer, Ghannam said, Detroit’s City Council will have to vote on a negotiated $860,000 in legal fees and costs associated with the litigation, according to the federal court judgment. 

Ghannam argued Friday that the legal fees wouldn’t have been as steep if the city had turned over important documents and information before attorneys had to file motions to obtain it.

“We had to go and ask the court to order them to turn over things like body cam footage, incident reports, officers disciplinary histories, all the documentation and use of force reports, all the things that are supposed to happen routinely,” she said. 

The city did not immediately respond Friday to a request for comment. In July, Detroit’s Deputy Corporation Counsel Chuck Raimi defended the police department in a statement and said that “the city’s financial interests may be best served by seeking a settlement.”

Bryce Huffman is a reporter for BridgeDetroit. He was formerly a reporter for Michigan Radio, and host of the podcast, Same Same Different.

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