Minneapolis faces $111 million in legal payments

Lawsuits filed in the wake of George Floyd’s killing are piling up and hurting city finances

By: - November 16, 2021 7:01 am

Andy Browne sued the city of Minneapolis after being shoved to the ground by a Minneapolis police officer days after George Floyd’s police killing after he questioned the officers’ slow response.

Andy Browne was helping two friends set up a basketball hoop when he noticed volunteer security guards leading a man in a black hoodie away from the George Floyd memorial at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue.

It was just days after Floyd was killed by police on the street on May  25, 2020, and the man had thrown debris at mourners and hurled a brick through the front door of Cup Foods on that corner. 

A tattoo and his cell phone led volunteers patrolling the memorial to believe he was a white supremacist. They detained the man and called the police so he would be taken away and charged with vandalism. 

After 30 minutes, with no police in sight, they called the police dispatcher again, who told them to take him a couple of blocks away, to 38th Street and Oakland Avenue.

The citizens loaded him into the back of Browne’s pickup and drove there. 

When six officers finally arrived — after more than an hour and two more calls to dispatch  — Browne asked one of them, “What’s with the dicking around with changing spots?” 

The officer responded by shoving Browne to the ground, and then the four squad cars sped off, video of the incident shows. The citizens had no choice but to release the suspect into the night. 

Afterward, Browne filed a complaint with the police department and sued six officers, alleging excessive force and retaliation.

Browne said he simply wanted to know why it took 90 minutes to get a police response for someone who damaged property and was trying to incite violence.

“I’m a Minneapolis taxpayer,” he said. “This is my community.”

Claims could cost city $111 million

Browne’s lawsuit is just one of many 2020 general liability claims that a recently released actuarial study estimates could ultimately cost the city more than $111 million.

The city of Minneapolis was hit with a flurry of lawsuits dating to the weeks after Floyd’s killing — when protests and riots rocked the metro — by everyone from Floyd’s family to protesters and journalists injured by police. 

The bulk of the cost, $84 million, stems from 13 officer-misconduct claims of $2 million or more each — all tied to incidents in the 15 days following Floyd’s death. Six more misconduct claims were made with estimated losses of between $250,000 and $2 million.

“I’ve got plans for a fair amount of that,” joked Robert Bennett, an attorney who represented the family of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, who was shot by former officer Mohamed Noor in 2017 after she called 911 to report a possible crime. Her family won a $20 million settlement from the city in 2019.

Bennett represents John Pope, who was 14 years old when Derek Chauvin hit him in the head with a flashlight twice before kneeling on his back for 17 minutes as he pleaded that he couldn’t breathe. That was in 2017, three years before Floyd would die under Chauvin’s knee. Bennett also represents Soren Stevenson, who lost an eye after being hit by police with a rubber bullet while protesting Floyd’s killing.

The study estimates the city will pay out about $15 million per year through 2025 for its general liability claims. And that assumes the largest claims — more than $2 million — won’t be settled and paid until after 2025.

Minneapolis is self-insured, so legal settlements are paid out of city funds.

The city had been averaging about $7 million per year in projected losses since 2015, but that figure jumped to $24 million in 2017, and then skyrocketed to $111 million last year. That’s 10 times what used to be in a bad year for the city.

The amount needed to settle all outstanding general liability claims against the city increased from $43 million to $119 million by the end of last year, primarily due to MPD officer-misconduct claims associated with the protests and riots following Floyd’s death. The city settled with Floyd’s family for a historic $27 million this year. 

$29 million in workers’ comp payouts projected

Meanwhile, the city is also paying out big bucks due to an increase in workers’ comp claims, primarily post-traumatic stress disorder claims by police employees.

The city had been averaging about $10 million in projected workers’ comp payouts annually since 2015. That figure jumped to $29 million last year, largely driven by police employee claims, according to the study.

The city averaged 169 police workers’ comp claims from 2014 to 2019; that number spiked to 370 in 2020.

Historically, the average PTSD claim cost the city $170,000. Current PTSD claims are estimated to cost $175,000 per claim, which totaled more than $20 million for 115 claims last year.

The study estimated 20 PTSD claims would be paid out each of the next five years at a cost of $175,000 per claim, or $17.5 million total over five years. But that number is likely outdated:

Attorney Ronald Meuser Jr. has said he represents about 200 Minneapolis cops and firefighters who filed workers’ comp claims in the aftermath of Floyd’s murder. And millions of dollars worth of workers’ comp settlements have been approved by the City Council this year.

The study estimated the self-insurance fund’s outstanding losses — or the cost of unpaid claims — for workers’ comp and general liabilities at nearly $173 million, compared to $79 million at the end of 2019.

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The estimated cost of unpaid claims for all six funds in the self-insurance fund (such as the health and dental insurance funds) was $206 million.

The self-insurance fund’s net position for all six funds — which is akin to your savings account, minus your mortgage and car balances, if you had to pay them off today — was negative $98 million at the end of 2020, down nearly $78 million from the prior year.

Browne settled

As part of his lawsuit, Andy Browne’s attorney obtained body camera video showing the cop shoving Browne.

The bodycam showed that as the cops were driving away, the cop told his partner, “I can’t let him approach me like that. He just can’t talk to me that way.”

“You’re running really hot right now,” his partner replied.

Browne eventually settled with the city, after getting what’s called a Rule 68 offer, which is designed to encourage early settlements.

He was told if he didn’t take the $10,000 offer, he’d have to foot the bill even if he won and the judgement was less than that.

It wasn’t about money, he said. His goal was to get the story out.

“I was just trying to get a bad apple out of my neighborhood,” Browne said.

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs. Before joining the staff of the Reformer in 2021 she was a contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. She and her husband have a daughter, son, and very grand child. In her spare time, she likes to play tennis, jog, garden and attempt to check out all the best restaurants in the metro area.

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