When cops kill, redress is rare - except in famous cases


TWO SIDES OF THE STREET: Police and protesters squared off after an officer shot and killed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, fueling national debate about police tactics. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

The 2014 shooting death of black teen Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, prompted angry protests and trained a national spotlight on a perceived lack of police accountability for violent encounters with the public.

Since then, the “Black Lives Matter” movement – sparked by the killing of black teen Trayvon Martin by civilian George Zimmerman in Florida in 2012 – has become closely associated with critiques of overly aggressive policing, particularly against black people. Heightened public awareness, enhanced by the increasing prevalence of cellphone video, has kept the issue front and center through a series of incidents that have made national headlines in recent years.

These high-profile cases – unlike most excessive force lawsuits against police that Reuters reviewed – are outliers, resulting in generous settlement offers and sometimes even criminal charges before police had any recourse to claiming qualified immunity.

Michael Brown, a black teen killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014.

Settlement: $1.5 million.

Criminal charges: None.

Eric Garner, a black man who died after repeatedly crying “I can’t breathe” while placed in a chokehold by a New York City cop during an attempted 2014 arrest.

Settlement: $5.9 million.

Criminal charges: None.

Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black boy who was holding a toy gun when shot dead by a Cleveland, Ohio, police officer in 2014.

Settlement: $6 million.

Criminal charges: None.

Freddie Gray, a black man who died from injuries he sustained while in handcuffs and leg irons after being thrown into the back of a Baltimore police van in 2015.

Settlement: $6.4 million.

Criminal charges: The six officers criminally charged in Gray’s death were acquitted or the charges were dropped.

Walter Scott, an unarmed black man shot in the back while fleeing on foot from a traffic stop in North Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.

Settlement: $6.5 million.

Criminal charges: The officer pleaded guilty to federal civil rights charges and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Philando Castile,  a black man shot and killed during a 2016 traffic stop in a St. Paul, Minnesota, suburb after telling police he had a gun in the vehicle.

Settlement: Close to $3 million.

Criminal charges: A jury acquitted the officer on charges of felony manslaughter and reckless discharge of a firearm.

Justine Damond, an unarmed white Australian-American woman shot dead by police who were responding to her 911 call to report a possible rape in 2017.

Settlement: $18 million paid to her family, and $2 million donated to gun violence prevention.

Criminal charges: A jury convicted the officer of murder.

Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man killed by Sacramento, California, police in 2018 after they chased him into his grandmother’s back yard.

Settlement: Clark’s two children received $1.2 million each. Claims by other family members are pending.

Criminal charges: None.

Atatiana Jefferson, a black woman shot dead by a Fort Worth, Texas, cop in 2019 while standing in her home with a handgun after hearing noises outside.

Settlement: No lawsuit filed yet.

Criminal charges: The officer, who resigned, is awaiting trial for murder.