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Police shot pepper balls into a pregnant woman’s car. Denver will pay $325K.

By Daniel Wu Washington Post | Published on 1/13/2023
Shaiitarrio Brown and Brittany King were delivering meals for DoorDash in the early morning of May 30, 2020, as protests decrying the killing of George Floyd swept through Denver. As the couple stopped at an intersection, a police officer fired a plastic ball containing a pepper spray-like agent at their car.

Brown exited the vehicle and shouted at police to stop — “You shot a car with a pregnant woman in it!” he yelled to officers in bystander footage that later went viral on social media.

Officers responded by firing several more pepper balls at Brown and into the vehicle. King, Brown’s girlfriend, can be heard in the video screaming before the couple drives away as officers continue to pelt the car.

“It was pretty vicious,” Brown told The Washington Post in an interview Wednesday.

On Monday, the Denver City Council approved a settlement of $325,000 with Brown and King, who’d sued the city and police department in 2021.

“We got money out of it,” Brown said. “But we’ve still got no accountability, so there’s no closure for us at the end of the day.”

The city of Denver did not respond to a request for comment. The Denver Police Department declined to comment on the settlement and said an internal investigation into the incident overseen by Denver’s Office of the Independent Monitor found “no policy violation” based on available evidence.

Brown was hit once in the face and King three times in the abdomen, according to the lawsuit. King was 19 weeks pregnant at the time and was hospitalized twice for pregnancy complications after the incident, the suit adds.

Nearly two years after George Floyd’s death, fallout over police response to unrest continues

Thousands of protesters in Denver joined the nationwide outcry against the killing of Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer in May 2020. Police dispersed crowds using tear gas and nonlethal ammunition over several nights of protest and drew widespread accusations of using excessive force on demonstrators, claims corroborated by an investigation commissioned by the Denver City Council. In response, Denver police announced changes to policies on use of force.

Denver police faced several lawsuits in the wake of the protests. In March, a jury awarded $14 million to 12 protesters who were injured by officers using pepper spray and nonlethal ammunition. By then, Denver had already settled several other protest-related lawsuits for over $1 million, Denver7 reported.

Brown and King weren’t protesting when police fired upon them but were delivering food to an apartment building several blocks from the nearest protest, the lawsuit states.

Video footage shows the couple driving up to an intersection surrounded by dozens of police officers near the Capitol. One of them fired at their car unprovoked, Brown said. He opened the door, got out and told the officers to stop.

“Of course I was mad and screaming,” Brown said. “ … And then they unloaded on our car.”

Brown and King said officers followed them as they drove away and sought treatment at an ambulance, and later confronted Brown when he took King to a hospital. Brown was left with cuts and bruising, while King suffered a broken hand and chemical burns, according to their lawsuit. Chemicals from the paintball-sized pepper balls filled the car as King sat inside, she said, coating the seat and her clothes.

“We were finding pepper balls in the car for months after the incident,” King said.

Hospital tests found chemicals from the pepper balls in King’s bloodstream, she said, and burns in her throat made it hard to swallow or eat for months afterward. The pepper balls used by police contain chemicals known to cause birth defects or pregnancy loss, the lawsuit alleged.

“When I was pregnant, it was just hoping,” King said. “I was just waiting for birth. To see her that first time, to make sure she’s okay.”

Shaiitarrio Brown, Brittany King and their daughter Brooklyn, who was born three months after Denver police fired pepper balls at Brown and King. (Courtesy of Shaiitarrio Brown)
King and Brown’s daughter Brooklyn was born in October 2020. At nine months old, Brooklyn showed “pronounced developmental delays,” the lawsuit claims. King said Brooklyn suffered from hip dysplasia, a condition in which an infant’s hip joint is malformed.

Brown and King, who are now engaged, have moved out of Denver, where they said police still make them feel unsafe. They continue to see specialists for Brooklyn, now 2 years old. King says she’s made progress.

“She was a little slower at first,” King said. “ … She’s doing really well now.”