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“It’s Changed Everything”: Man Blinded in One Eye by Police During Denver Protests Sues City, Unidentified Officer

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A Denver man whose eye had to be removed after police shot him in the face with a projectile during protests downtown last summer is suing the city government for his injuries and in an attempt to change police policies.

Russell Strong has undergone three surgeries since Denver police injured him during a protest against police brutality on May 30 at Civic Center. The projectile that slammed into his face ruptured his eye, broke the bones in his eye socket and fractured his face. He will need more surgeries and care as he manages the loss of his eye for the rest of his life, he said.

“It’s been devastating, quite honestly,” Strong said. “It’s hard to put into words. It’s changed everything. Not only when it comes to physical tasks like driving or tasks at work, but the mental strain of being in large crowds and feeling self-conscious about my eye.”

The lawsuit filed late Tuesday is at least the fifth claim in federal court against the Denver government for injuries inflicted on protesters by police officers responding to the massive demonstrations of police brutality in late May and early June in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

The lawsuits represent more than 20 people injured by police, though hundreds more were hurt by projectiles and tear gas.

Denver police Chief Paul Pazen promised change in how the department reacts to large protests after a scathing report by the city’s Office of the Independent Monitor about how the department handled the demonstrations found a lack of communication, multiple instances of excessive force and a lack of recordkeeping. He has also promised to thoroughly

“Given the routine targeting of peaceful protesters by officers in Denver, the shooting of Mr. Strong in the face with a kinetic impact projectile was not an isolated incident,” Strong’s lawsuit states. “Rather, Mr. Strong was just one victim of many who were shot in the head, neck, face, and chest with kinetic impact projectiles by officers in Denver during the protests.”

Police shot at least nine other people in the head with projectiles during the protests in Denver, the lawsuit alleges, including another man who lost vision in one eye.

Strong came to the demonstration on May 30 because he wanted to show support for those marching to protest police brutality, especially against Black people, he said. Just after 7 p.m., Strong was holding a sign dozens of feet back from the line of police officers in Civic Center when a police projectile flew through the air and smashed into his eye, his lawsuit states. Other protesters dragged him toward the line of officers so they could help him, photos and videos of the incident show.

“Given their scope and size, they were overwhelmingly peaceful protests and Russell was in the middle of the crowd, holding a sign, and doing nothing wrong,” said Felipe Bohnet-Gomez, one of the attorneys at the Rathod Mohamedbhai firm representing Strong.