Aurora sues Denver over lawsuits against police response to 2020 protests

Aurora is asking a judge to force Denver to pay the full cost of lawsuits that include the city and the police officers it lent to its larger neighbor during the massive 2020 racial justice protests.

Attorneys for Aurora filed a lawsuit against Denver on Friday, alleging that city’s officials have not said whether they’ll meet their obligation under Colorado law to pay for legal costs, settlements and jury awards against Aurora officers who worked in Denver during the 2020 protests.

“Aurora has repeatedly asked Denver to confirm that it will indemnify Aurora or otherwise assume responsibility for these claims as required by state law and the parties’ longstanding practice and agreement,” the lawsuit states. “Denver has refused, and so Aurora now seeks a declaration establishing that Denver does, in fact, have that obligation.”

The legal fight between two of Colorado’s largest cities comes three years after thousands of people marched in downtown Denver demanding change in policing following the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

Aurora and several other municipalities in the metro area sent officers to help the Denver Police Department during the protests in late May and June of 2020.

Officers repeatedly used excessive force against demonstrators, but a lack of proper record-keeping made it difficult to determine which officer — or which agency — was responsible for unneeded violence, according to a report from Denver’s police watchdog.

Aurora or Aurora police officers have been named as defendants in four lawsuits connected to the racial-justice demonstrations in Denver, including one case in which a jury awarded $14 million to 12 protesters. Attorneys for Denver are appealing the verdict in that case and the amount Aurora could be liable for remains unclear.

Aurora’s lawsuit does not state how much the city could be liable for in any of the excessive force lawsuits.

Officials from Denver and Aurora issued a joint statement to The Denver Post on Monday stating the two cities are at odds over which one should pay.

“Aurora and Denver disagree on which municipality should cover costs associated with legal challenges to the Aurora Police Department’s involvement in the George Floyd protests that occurred in downtown Denver in May 2020,” the statement said.  “Aurora is seeking a declaration from the Denver District Court that state statute… requires Denver to indemnify Aurora.  Denver does not believe it is legally required to pay for claims against Aurora and its police officers.  While Aurora and Denver argue their respective positions in court, they will continue to work together outside court toward a safer metropolitan community.”

Jefferson County has also asked Denver to indemnify it against lawsuits filed against the sheriff’s deputies it sent to help during the 2020 protests, Denver City Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Melissa Sisneros said.

Aurora agreed to send its officers under the understanding that Denver would indemnify the city, as is a longstanding practice, the lawsuit states. State law requires that any jurisdiction that receives extra officers be responsible for those officers’ “negligent or otherwise tortious actions,” the lawsuit argues.

“Over the last several years, Aurora has incurred and continues to incur substantial costs in defending itself and its individual officers in these lawsuits,” the lawsuit states. “In addition, Aurora faces the possibility of having to pay substantial sums either in settlement or in satisfaction of a final judgment in those cases.”

Although Denver to date has paid $3,832,500 to settle lawsuits brought over its police officers’ actions against protesters during the 2020 demonstrations, few officers were punished for their actions during three protests. Three Denver police officers were disciplined for using inappropriate force against peaceful protesters.

More than 30 lawsuits have been filed against Denver in connection to police officers’ actions during the protests, Sisneros said.

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