The city of Minneapolis has settled the first lawsuit by a demonstrator injured by a police projectile in the aftermath of George Floyd's death.
The City Council has approved a payment of $57,900 to Graciela Cisneros and her attorneys. Mayor Jacob Frey officially signed off on the payout last Tuesday.
Cisneros, 22, suffered an eye injury when a police officer fired a projectile at her on May 29 as she and her partner were walking home after a demonstration.
"Right now it is looking like she recovered," said Nico Ratkowski, her St. Paul attorney. "The settlement made sense based on what my client and what the city were willing to do," he said.
The city was confronted with large demonstrations and major civil unrest after the death of Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police on May 25. Four police officers have been charged with killing Floyd.
The Cisneros suit is one of several legal actions alleging police misconduct during the Floyd protests, including a second federal suit filed by Ratkowski on behalf of Ericka Khounedaleth, 21, an accounting administrator from Plymouth. She was yanked from her car at gunpoint by a Minneapolis police officer who pushed her to the pavement on May 31, the suit alleges.
The incident was captured by New York-based photojournalist Victor J. Blue, whose photo was published in the New York Times.
"I still experience a lot of night terrors," Khounedaleth said in an interview. "I have frequent nightmares. I have very bad dreams."
Cisneros, who declined to be interviewed, was an Augsburg University student living in Eagan. She was walking with her partner, Ricardo Ramos Jr., after attending a May 29 march to protest the Floyd killing, when they encountered three officers at S. 1st Avenue near E. 28th Street in Minneapolis. One of the officers shined a flashlight at them and another fired his weapon, launching a nonlethal projectile at her face, the suit said. None of the officers offered to help her, the suit says.
She was not arrested. People in a nearby apartment let the two stay overnight and in the morning she was taken to Regions Hospital in St. Paul where she received four stitches and a CT scan showing she had suffered a fracture of her left cheekbone.
Ratkowski said there was green paint on Cisneros' face, indicating she was likely shot with a "marking round" used in crowd control. He said he was unable to obtain body camera footage nor could he determine the name of the officer who fired the round.
In his second suit against the city, which is still in its early stages, Ratkowski said that Khounedaleth was driving a car with four passengers with the intention of passing out water bottles to protesters. They were following a group of protesters marching on Washington Avenue when police cordoned off the area and she pulled into a parking lot to turn around.
Police pointed guns at her. "She was ripped out of the car without any warning," said Ratkowski. The car was in reverse when she was pulled out of the vehicle and a police officer had to jump in and put it in park. Khounedaleth was handcuffed with plastic ties and put on a Metro Mobility bus with other protesters. She was issued citations for unlawful assembly and a curfew violation and released early the next morning. The charges were later dropped according to the federal lawsuit. Three other occupants of the car also had their charges dropped, and Ratkowski said he did not have information on the fifth occupant.
Protesters and journalists have filed multiple lawsuits for injuries suffered during the protests. Officials acknowledged last summer that some innocent civilians were injured during days of protests and unrest but they argued the situation required force to maintain public safety and it was difficult to distinguish between peaceful protesters and those wishing to cause harm.
In two lawsuits, attorney Robert Bennett represents Ethan Marks, 19, a bystander, who lost vision in his right eye when he was struck in the face with a tear-gas canister last May, and Soren Stevenson, 25, a protester who lost his left eye when he was struck by a projectile fired by police in a separate demonstration over Floyd's death.
Dave Bicking, a board member of Communities United Against Police Brutality, a local activist group, has long opposed the use of nonlethal projectiles.
"The city should ban the use of these less-lethal munitions or projectiles, or at the very least ban them for crowd control because they are used indiscriminately and cause serious injuries," Bicking said.
The Minneapolis city attorney's office would not discuss the Cisneros settlement.
"At this time, the City Attorney's Office is declining to comment on this case or any of the cases stemming from the unrest following George Floyd's death," said Casper Hill, media relations coordinator for the city of Minneapolis.
Staff writer Libor Jany contributed to this story.