Detroit offers to pay Black Lives Matter protesters nearly $1.3 million

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — The city is moving to offer nearly $1.3 million to protesters in five pending lawsuits, the vast majority going to Detroit Will Breathe which has alleged Detroit officers used excessive force during the George Floyd protests in 2020.

The Detroit City Council in its last seven-hour session Tuesday before recessing through September, unanimously approved a package totaling $1,265,000.

In the proposed settlement, $1,035,000 would go to Detroit Will Breathe and 14 plaintiffs. Another $150,000 would go to Nadia Rohr, while $60,000 would be paid to Emma Howland-Bolton and four plaintiffs. Another $10,000 each would go to Marlon Frazier and Timothy Hall.

Detroit Will Breathe organizer Tristan Taylor marches in downtown Detroit on May 31, 2020 to protest the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of police. Taylor is being $45,000 as part of a more than $1 million lawsuit settlement offer to the group and its 14 plaintiffs.

During the May 2020 protests in Detroit, one man was killed and dozens arrested as peaceful daytime protests in the city gave way to violence on a Friday night. Demonstrators displayed anger over police brutality in America, clashing with city police who fought back with tear gas. Over that summer, dozens were arrested during protests held at the sites where Detroiters had died at the hands of police-involved shootings.

Deputy Corporation Counsel Chuck Raimi told The Detroit News in a Tuesday statemen: "The overwhelming majority of Detroit Police Department officers conducted themselves with courage and honor during the George Floyd protests, despite innumerable violent attacks and other shameful conduct by protestors.”

He continued: “The City’s law department’s offers of judgment reflect the unfortunate reality that in our litigious society, and particularly in cases of this sort where plaintiffs’ lawyers (but not the City’s lawyers) have the opportunity to recover enormous attorney fees payable by the City, the City’s financial interests may be best served by seeking a settlement."

Detroit Will Breathe's offer lists 14 plaintiffs with various settlement amounts including  $45,000 each to leaders Tristan Taylor, Jazten Bass, Margaret Henige; $90,000 each to Nakia Wallace and Iman Saleh; $75,000 to Lauryn Brennan; $120,000 to Amy Nahabedian; $150,0000 to Caylee Arnold; and $250,000 to Alexander Anest.

The offers do not include attorney fees, but should the protesters accept the offers, their attorney fees would be liable by the city, according to an offer signed off on by Detroit Corporation Counsel Conrad Mallett Jr.

Taylor, co-founder of Detroit Will Breathe, told The Detroit News they are discussing the issue with their attorneys and did not comment further.

Detroit Will Breathe leader Tristan Taylor speaks to dozens of people gathered at the Butzel Family Recreation Center, in Detroit July 12, 2020, to protest police brutality. In a proposed settlement by the city of Detroit, $1,035,000 would go to Detroit Will Breathe and 14 plaintiffs for alleged police assaults during 2020 protests.

Council members did not comment on the settlements. President Mary Sheffield said she would not comment.

A coalition whose members include the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, the Michigan Chapter of the National Lawyer's Guild and Detroit Will Breathe renewed calls earlier this summer to defund the Detroit police. 

DPD has a "continuing pattern and practice of police violence and killing," the Coalition for Police Transparency said in a 17-page letter to the U.S. Department of Justice that was released in May.

At the time, Detroit Police 2nd Deputy Chief Rudy Harper said in a statement that Chief James White's administration is committed to transparency and accountability. 

"This is why the Detroit Police Department is firmly committed to its mission to encourage thoughtful decision-making and a strong sense of community responsibility," Harper previously said. "To this end, the Department recently hired a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion professional with experience in the Michigan Department of Civil Rights." 

Detroit police were under federal oversight from 2000 to 2014. The city entered into the consent judgments to avoid lawsuits alleging excessive force by officers, mistreatment of witnesses and unconstitutional conditions of confinement.

U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn ended the federal oversight in August 2014 when he ruled the police department had sufficiently overhauled its practices and training.

More: Has George Floyd's death led to police reforms in Michigan?

Twitter: @SarahRahal_