WASHINGTON, DC – The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the Washington Metropolitan Police Department. In its lawsuit, the ACLU-DC says DC Police wrongfully arrested innocent protesters during President Trump’s inauguration.
The ACLU-DC lawsuit also says the department used excessive force, denied arrested people, food, water and access to toilets and ‘invasive’ bodily searches of protesters exercising their First Amendment rights on Inauguration Day.
The lawsuit was filed Wednesday at DC’s federal district court on behalf of four people seeking monetary compensation. The ACLU-DC says the amount that would be determined by a jury.
According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs include Shay Horse, a photojournalist from New York who was covering the protests; Elizabeth Lagesse, a Baltimore resident and peaceful protester; Judah Ariel, a DC resident and legal observer monitoring protest conditions; and Milo Gonzales.
The ACLU-DC says, Lagesse did not participate in any acts of vandalism but was arrested. The lawsuit says both Horse and Lagesse were “kettled,” that’s when officers surrounded protesters, some of whom are innocent, and hold them for several hours before making arrests. The ACLU-DC says police also used pepper spray, tear gas, flash-bang grenades, concussion grenades and smoke flares.
“The MPD’s extreme tactics against members of the public, including journalists, demonstrators, and observers, were unjustifiable and unconstitutional,” said Scott Michelman, senior staff attorney for the ACLU-DC. “People from all over the country come to the nation’s capital to exercise their constitutional right to protest. MPD’s wanton and vindictive conduct on January 20 chills free speech, which is a vital part of our democracy.”
The ACLU-DC said Horse and Gonzalez were “subjected to invasive manual rectal probe searches while in police custody.”
Among the defendants listed are the District of Columbia, Police Chief Peter Newsham, and as many as 150 police officers, whose names were not released.
DC police tweeted a statement Wednesday afternoon responding to the ACLU accusations. In their statement, DC Police said their efforts during inauguration were aimed at restoring peace after a group of rioters damaged property and injured at least six officers.
“Each year, the men and women of MPD protect the rights and ensure the safety of thousands of First Amendments assemblies, demonstrations and protests. During the 58th Presidential Inauguration, there were thousands of individuals who exercised their constitutional right to peacefully assemble and speak out for their cause. Unfortunately, there was another group of individuals who chose to engage in criminal acts, destroying property and hurling projectiles injuring at least six officers. These individuals were ultimately arrested for their criminal actions, and the bulk of them are pending prosecution after being indicted by a grand jury. As with any pending criminal or civil matter, we will continue to support and respect the formal legal process.”
The department said it would investigate any allegations of police misconduct during the presidential inauguration.