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Terrance Roberts files lawsuit against Denver police, citing excessive force during 2020 protest

Roberts says an officer pepper-sprayed him in the face while leading a protest against police brutality.

DENVER — A civil rights activist, who's also running to be the next mayor of Denver, is suing the City and County of Denver on an excessive force claim.

Terrance Roberts and his lawyer filed the lawsuit on Thursday.

"I'm not against law enforcement," said Roberts. "I'm against law enforcement hurting people and abusing their constituency and getting away with it."

On July 19, 2020, Terrance Roberts said he was leading a peaceful protest speaking out against police brutality towards people of color. He said on that day, they were counter-protesting a pro-Trump and pro-police rally in Civic Center Park.

"We were just making noise, beating pots and pans. I had a bullhorn just saying, 'We want justice. No justice no peace," said Roberts. "To them, of course, it was irritating and we were irritated by them too, of course."

Roberts said the protest was ending and they were leaving, headed to their car when he was pepper sprayed by a Denver police officer.

The complaint claims two other officers stood by and watched it happen.

"We were walking behind a group of protesters from their side and they had police walking with them and the law enforcement officer looked at me and he just walked right up to me and sprayed me in the face with pepper spray," said Roberts."

The lawsuit states: "While speaking out against police brutality, Mr. Roberts, a Black man, became a victim of the same police brutality he was protesting."

"If we can't protect the First Amendment right to protest peaceably without fear of physical retaliation by the police, this country is in a whole lot of trouble," said Mari Newman, Roberts' lawyer. 

She said this case is an example of Denver police targeting community organizers and protest leaders in order to silence them.

"Terrance is just the most recent lawsuit against the Denver Police for its brutal retaliation against protesters who are simply, peacefully advocating against racist police brutality and something has to change," said Newman.

The Denver City Attorney's Office said they do not comment on pending litigation.

The Department of Public Safety sent 9NEWS this statement:

"While it would be inappropriate to comment specifically on the lawsuit filed, the Denver Police Department Internal Affairs Bureau received a complaint regarding an alleged inappropriate use of force against Mr. Roberts. The IAB reviewed available video based upon the date, location and time provided. Mr. Roberts is not seen in the video when the officer deploys pepper spray."

Newman said their law office filed a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request back in April asking for any and all records, including video, involving Roberts being pepper sprayed on that day. In June, Newman said the City and County of Denver said "...no recordings of the referenced incident were located."

Robert's lawsuit comes just a couple months after a federal jury awarded $14 million to 12 plaintiffs. The jury found Denver police used excessive force against the plaintiffs, who were protesting after the murder of George Floyd back in 2020.

RELATED: Jury rules in favor of protesters in federal trial over DPD use of force

The City Attorney's Office said it estimates there have been 26 cases brought against Denver police in relation to late May and June protests in 2020. Two of those cases have been settled. 

Many people may remember Robert's high-profile acquittal nearly a decade ago in an attempted murder case. A book and documentary has now been produced documenting his life.

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