Ex-Viking Tom Johnson Wins $475,000 Settlement in Police Brutality Lawsuit

Illustration for article titled Ex-Viking Tom Johnson Wins $475,000 Settlement in Police Brutality Lawsuit
Photo: Christian Petersen (Getty Images)

Former NFL player Tom Johnson just scored a point for police accountability enthusiasts everywhere by reaching a $475,000 settlement with the city of Minneapolis, putting to rest a 2016 lawsuit alleging police brutality and violation of Johnson’s civil rights.

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According to the StarTribune, the lawsuit said that officers Patrick McCarver and John LaLuzerne assaulted Johnson before arresting him outside of Seven, a Minneapolis nightclub, in October 2014. According to the officers, who were off duty and working security for the club at the time of the incident, Johnson repeatedly ignored their orders, as well as the staff’s, to leave the club after it had closed.

Johnson tells a different story, though, in which it was the officers who instigated the confrontation. Johnson claims he was singled out by staff for violating the club’s dress code by wearing Timberland boots. Johnson said that as he was walking out, the officers started yelling at him to leave and then began pepper-spraying him. The ex-Vikings defensive tackle said he attempted to pull out his cellphone to record the incident but that officer McCarver “swatted” the phone away and used a taser on him. Johnson was arrested and charged with misdemeanor trespassing, disorderly conduct and interfering with a police officer. He was found not guilty on all charges in June 2015.

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Johnson claims that the officers falsely painted him as the aggressor in their police reports leaving him “injured, jailed, publicly humiliated and ultimately forced to defend himself from criminal charges.”

“In an attempt to justify the decision to use a Taser on a non-resisting citizen who had the audacity to take a photo of an officer whom he believed had mistreated him, the officers ultimately concocted a story in which they claimed Johnson jumped up on the planter and lunged at the officers,” Johnson’s attorneys wrote in an e-mail announcing the settlement.

According to the StarTribune, an attempt was made to have the lawsuit tossed for reasons many would argue could give cops a whole lot of legroom to (continue to) do whatever the hell they want.

City officials had sought dismissal of Johnson’s lawsuit under qualified immunity, which protects police officers and other government officials from being sued unless their actions are shown to clearly violate an established right.

But last November, a federal appeals court ruled that while the officers couldn’t be held responsible for pepper-spraying and arresting Johnson, McCarver could still be liable for subduing him with a Taser. LaLuzerne died in 2018 at age 52.

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It’s unclear why pepper-spraying someone for no apparent reason is a-okay but tasing them is where the line is to be drawn, but hey, sometimes you have to take that small sliver of justice however it comes.

On Friday, interim city attorney Erik Nilsson said in a statement that the settlement was in the city’s best interests.

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“Going to trial risked the potential of the city being forced to absorb a much larger financial loss of an unknown amount, at a time when every dollar is essential to providing services that are critically important right now,” Nilsson said.

You know what else would help greatly in avoiding that risk? Officers not violating the civil liberties of citizens.

Zack Linly is a poet, performer, freelance writer, blogger and grown man lover of cartoons

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“Going to trial risked the potential of the city being forced to absorb a much larger financial loss of an unknown amount, at a time when every dollar is essential to providing services that are critically important right now,” Nilsson said.

“We’re not settling because we’re wrong, we’re settling because a bad jury might misunderstand our officers’ necessary and honorable brutality and award millions, costing us money we’d spend wisely on the citizens we love so much.”