Minneapolis offers $2.4 million settlement with protester whose eye was shot out by MPD

By: - February 28, 2022 1:40 pm

Soren Stevenson lost an eye after getting hit by a rubber bullet while protesting the police killing of George Floyd. Photo by Will Jacott/Minnesota Reformer.

The city of Minneapolis has offered $2.4 million to settle a civil lawsuit with a man who lost his left eye after being hit with a rubber bullet during a protest six days after George Floyd was killed by police.

Soren Stevenson, 27, accepted the offer, according to federal court filings. Minneapolis is self-insured, so legal settlements are paid out of city funds. 

Stevenson was standing on a closed ramp to I-35W on May 31, arms linked with other protesters, when police fired rubber bullets at them without warning, hitting him in the eye, he said. The police didn’t help him; he was driven to a hospital by a bystander.

MPD policy says officers shouldn’t target a person’s head, neck, throat and chest “unless deadly force is justified” because they could cause “permanent physical or mental incapacity or possible death.”

Stevenson’s eye had to be removed, and he had several surgeries to reset his facial bones. The eye didn’t heal correctly — despite multiple stitches and a skin graft — and bled for months. 

His mother left her job for a month to be with him; his father two weeks; his brother three weeks. 

But he continued to protest.

“The first time I went out (again), I could hardly breathe,” he told the Reformer in November 2020. “But there’s really no other choice for me … I don’t regret at all protesting for the life of George Floyd.” 

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

Stevenson’s lawsuit is one of many 2020 general liability claims that an actuarial study estimated could cost the city more than $111 million. The bulk of the projected cost — $84 million — stems from 13 officer misconduct claims of at least $2 million each. They are all tied to incidents within 15 days of Floyd’s death, according to the study.

The city averaged about $7 million per year in projected liability losses from 2015 to 2017, when that figure jumped to $24 million, and then skyrocketed to $111 million last year.

Combined with police workers’ compensation claims following Floyd’s death, police brutality lawsuits were a key cause of a $34 million city budget shortfall last year. Mayor Jacob Frey proposed dealing with the gap by increasing property taxes more than 5% and shifting $24 million in general funds to shore up the city’s self-insurance fund.

The lawsuit initially sought $10 million in damages and was filed against police officer Benjamin M. Bauer, and supervisors Matthew Severance and Ryan McCann.

The city made a rule 68 offer, which is designed to encourage early settlements. By accepting it, Stevenson agreed to drop all his claims against the other defendants — the city and former Chief Medaria Arradondo. 

Stevenson’s attorney, Robert Bennett, did not return a phone call seeking comment. Bennett has handled MPD cases since the 1980s, and also 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.

Bennett negotiated a $20 million settlement for the family in 2019.

He also represents John Pope, whom former MPD officer Derek Chauvin hit in the head with a flashlight twice before kneeling on his back for 17 minutes as the 14-year-old boy pleaded that he couldn’t breathe. That was in 2017, three years before Floyd would die under Chauvin’s knee. 

The city also settled with Floyd’s family for a historic $27 million last year. 

Update: The Minneapolis City Council consulted with the City Attorney’s Office prior to its settlement offer, so council approval isn’t required, a city spokeswoman 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.