Federal lawsuits allege excessive force against protesters in Minneapolis, Brooklyn Center

Two separate lawsuits filed in federal court on Monday seek damages for allegations that law enforcement used excessive force against activists protesting the police killings of George Floyd and Daunte Wright.

They’re the latest in a series of legal claims to emerge from protests in Minneapolis and Brooklyn Center, including hefty settlements with an Indiana man who lost his eye when he was hit by a tear gas canister and a man who was acquitted of shooting at officers who were firing rubber bullets from an unmarked van.

Gash from rubber bullet requires 4 staples

One lawsuit describes the actions of Minneapolis police the morning of May 30, 2020, five days after ex-officer Derek Chauvin murdered Floyd by kneeling on his neck for several minutes.

The plaintiff, Raven Bartz, alleges she was peacefully protesting with “a small group of other people” around 12:30 a.m. near Lake Street East and Nicollet Avenue. A line of Minneapolis police officers was stationed about 10 yards away.

Despite the protesters raising their hands “as a sign of peace and no-aggression,” the MPD officers fired less-lethal munitions at her and other protesters “without any warnings, directives, orders, or provocation” and aimed at their heads and faces, the lawsuit states.

RELATED: 5 INVESTIGATES: Less lethal, life changing

Bartz and her group turned away, and a projectile hit Bartz in the back of her head, causing a laceration that required four staples to close.

The filing goes on to state that this “was not an isolated incident” and that the MPD “implemented a routine practice and custom of … assaulting peaceful demonstrators” and destroying their personal property.

Bartz claims the actions of the unnamed police officer amounted to retaliation for exercising her First Amendment rights and violated her Fourth Amendment right against excessive force.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS reached out to the plaintiff’s attorney, Zorislav Leyderman, for comment but has yet to hear back.

The Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the case.

Rubber bullet fired from 10 feet away causes “chronic knee pain”

Another lawsuit filed Monday claims the crowd control tactics — particularly the use of less-lethal munitions — employed by numerous agencies outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department following Wright’s death amounted to civil rights abuses.

The civil suit by plaintiff Sam Wolk names a laundry list of state and local agencies: the City of Brooklyn Center, Hennepin County, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

A multitude of individual co-defendants are named as well: former Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon, Brooklyn Center Police Cmdr. Tony Gruenig, Hennepin County Sheriff Dave Hutchinson, Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington, Minnesota State Patrol Chief Col. Matt Langer, DNR Director of Enforcement Col. Rodman Smith, DNR Incident Commander Capt. Aaron Kahre and 100 unnamed law enforcement officers.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS has contacted Wolk’s legal team and the agencies named in the lawsuit for a comment and is awaiting a response.

RELATED: Judge approves settlement over State Patrol arrests of journalists

The filing states Wolk, who uses they/them pronouns, participated in demonstrations outside the BCPD headquarters daily from April 13-16, 2021, and was “unreasonably exposed” to tear gas and pepper spray and was shot in the knee by a rubber bullet from less than 10 feet away.

In the following weeks, “Wolk had difficulty walking without assistance” and was later told by a doctor not to stand for more than 20 minutes at a time. They had to undergo physical therapy and still experiences “chronic knee pain,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit claims law enforcement infringed on Wolk’s First Amendment right to free speech, Fourth Amendment right to be free of excessive force and 14th Amendment right to due process.

In addition to monetary relief, Wolk is seeking a declaration that the co-defendants “have a pattern and practice of using excessive force” and an injunction against further such uses of force.