Minneapolis officials have signed off on a $475,000 payout to settle a lawsuit brought by ex-Vikings defensive tackle Tom Johnson in which he accused two police officers of assaulting him outside a downtown bar nearly six years ago.
Johnson alleged that officers Patrick McCarver and John LaLuzerne violated his civil rights during an altercation outside Seven nightclub.
According to the 2016 lawsuit, the two officers, who were working off-duty security at Seven, pepper-sprayed Johnson and then shocked him with a Taser after he refused to stop recording them with his cellphone.
He was later arrested on charges of trespassing and disorderly conduct, and was later found not guilty.
City officials had sought dismissal of Johnson's lawsuit under qualified immunity, which protects police officers and other government officials from being sued unless their actions are shown to clearly violate an established right.
But last November, a federal appeals court ruled that while the officers couldn't be held responsible for pepper-spraying and arresting Johnson, McCarver could still be liable for subduing him with a Taser. LaLuzerne died in 2018 at age 52.
"In an attempt to justify the decision to use a Taser on a non-resisting citizen who had the audacity to take a photo of an officer whom he believed had mistreated him, the officers ultimately concocted a story in which they claimed Johnson jumped up on the planter and lunged at the officers," Johnson's attorneys wrote in an e-mail announcing the settlement.
Officials on Friday said that the settlement was in the city's best interests.
"Going to trial risked the potential of the city being forced to absorb a much larger financial loss of an unknown amount, at a time when every dollar is essential to providing services that are critically important right now," interim city attorney Erik Nilsson said in a statement.
While a jury later cleared Johnson of all charges stemming from the incident, his attorneys say that the episode saddled him with a negative image as "a troublemaker and a wrongdoer, which defined the perception of him by the public and, more importantly, by teams around the NFL."
Minneapolis attorney Eric Hageman, who represented Johnson in the civil suit, but not his criminal case, said the settlement brings to an end a difficult chapter in his client's life.
He said that Johnson had rejected an earlier settlement offer, and that the case dragged on for years after city officials argued to have the suit thrown out.
"He's somebody who had the resources to do something about it and to hold police accountable," Hageman said of Johnson. "For him, I don't think it was ever really about the money, but it was about righting a wrong."
He said that earlier this year Johnson sat down with Minneapolis City Council member Jeremiah Ellison, who outlined several reforms instituted within the department since the incident.
He said Johnson came away from the meeting feeling hopeful that the department was moving toward being "really accountable to the citizens" and that a similar incident would never happen again.
After going undrafted out of Southern Mississippi University, Johnson joined the Vikings in 2014 for the first of his two stints on the team. He returned to the team in 2018, and has amassed 186 tackles, 25.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception over his career, according to NFL.com.
Johnson's settlement is the third sizable payout over the past year to allegations of police brutality, after the city agreed to pay the estates of Justine Damond Ruszczyk and Terrance Franklin $20 million and $795,000, respectively.
Hageman said that the council's decision shows that the city was taking police accountability seriously.
"It shows that this administration, from the mayor's office to the police chief, that they take responsibility when their officers have committed misconduct, and I think that that's an encouraging sign for the city and it's long overdue," Hageman said.
A Police Department spokesman declined to comment and the Police Federation didn't immediately respond to a message left Friday afternoon.