WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union of the District of Columbia today filed a lawsuit against the District of Columbia, Metropolitan Police Department officers, and D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham for making unconstitutional arrests, using excessive force, denying 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 on behalf of a legal observer, a photojournalist, and two others arrested that day.
While the overwhelming majority of Inauguration Day protesters demonstrated peacefully, a small number caused property damage. In response to the vandalism, MPD officers employed a controversial crowd-control tactic known as “kettling,” where officers corralled more than 200 protesters—including many who had broken no laws—by trapping and detaining them for several hours before formally arresting them. Officers also deployed nonlethal crowd-control devices—including pepper spray, tear gas, flash-bang grenades, concussion grenades, and smoke flares—upon protesters and others both on the street and inside the kettle, without warning or threat of harm to officers or other members of the public.
The complaint filed by the ACLU of DC also outlines incidents in which MPD officers handcuffed detained individuals so tightly as to cause injury and subjected some individuals to unlawful manual rectal probing.
“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 of 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 of DC’s lawsuit, filed in federal district court in Washington, seeks monetary compensation for the four individuals in an amount to be determined by a jury.
Among the plaintiffs in today’s case are New York resident Shay Horse, who was covering the protests as a photojournalist, and Baltimore resident Elizabeth Lagesse, an activist who travelled to D.C. to peacefully protest President Trump’s inauguration. An MPD officer witnessed Horse taking photos to document the protest, then pepper-sprayed him. Lagesse did not participate in any acts of vandalism whatsoever. Both Horse and Lagesse were kettled and subjected to pepper spray, tear gas, and painful handcuffing, and they were denied food, water, and bathroom access for several hours.
The ACLU of DC also represents D.C. resident Judah Ariel, a legal observer whose neon-green hat clearly marked him as an observer and who was monitoring the conditions of the people trapped in the kettle when he was pepper-sprayed by MPD officers without warning or justification.
The ACLU of DC is also seeking damages on behalf of Horse and fellow detainee Milo Gonzalez, who were subjected to invasive manual rectal probe searches while in police custody.
“I've been documenting protests for years and I've never seen police act like this in America in such an open, blatant way in broad daylight,” Horse said. “So many of us suffered tremendously just for exercising our First Amendment rights to cover the demonstrations or participate in them. With this lawsuit, I want to stand up for all the protestors who were abused and bullied and assaulted and molested.”
In addition to the constitutional claims under the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments, the lawsuit charges MPD violated D.C.’s First Amendment Assemblies Act. That act specifies that tactics that “substantially encircle” protesters are unlawful unless police have probable cause to believe protesters “have committed unlawful acts” and “police have ability to identify those individuals.” The lawsuit also raises claims for assault and battery and false arrest, among others.
The lawsuit is titled Horse v. District of Columbia. The complaint can be found here: