Denver will pay $130,000 to settle police retaliation lawsuits

Denver city officials will pay $130,000 to settle two lawsuits accusing police officers of retaliating against homeless rights advocates for filming and criticizing police activity.

Denver City Council on Monday approved settlements in the lawsuits filed by advocates Regan and Bo Benson in 2023, according to a news release from the law firm Newman McNulty.

The first lawsuit claims Denver Police Department Officer John Schaal retaliated against the Bensons in August 2021 after the couple spotted a group of police officers sitting in their vehicles in a private parking lot near the 800 block of South Huron Street and pulled over to start filming them. Schaal wrote a ticket for parking in the middle of a roadway and blocking traffic and later requested that Bo Benson be required to retake his driver’s test.

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Benson’s license was later suspended in connection to the incident, according to the complaint. A DPD internal investigation later found Schaal violated department policy by conducting a traffic stop in retaliation for filming officers, and he was suspended for 10 days.

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The second lawsuit claims Denver police officials retaliated against Regan Benson for criticizing the department during a virtual public meeting of the Citizen’s Advisory Board in September 2021.

Benson was criticizing police treatment of homeless people during the open forum portion of a meeting when she was challenged and questioned by now-Police Chief Ron Thomas, who was a division chief at the time. She was later banned from future meetings for making disruptive comments, according to the lawsuit.

The Bensons will receive $100,000 to settle the first lawsuit and $30,000 for the second, along with an agreement that Regan Benson is not banned from attending or recording advisory board meetings.

“While exceptionally deceptive, this is a mild case of police retaliation by those that are sworn to uphold and protect our rights,” Regan Benson said in a statement through her attorney, Andy McNulty. “They failed, once again. I do not ever want to forget or minimize those who have lost their lives or physically/emotionally suffered eternally due to law enforcement misconduct.”

The Denver Police Department and Denver City Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the settlements.

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