WASHINGTON >> The American Civil Liberties Union is suing over the actions of District of Columbia police on Inauguration Day, saying police acted improperly by using pepper spray and flash-bang grenades without warning or justification and holding demonstrators without food, water or access to toilets, among other actions.
More than 200 people were charged with rioting after protesters broke windows and set fire to a limousine on the day of President Donald Trump’s inauguration. But ACLU attorney Scott Michelman said during a press conference today that police attacked peaceful demonstrators without justification and used the actions of a few to “punish a great many law-abiding demonstrators.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of the District of Columbia lawsuit, filed today in federal court in Washington on behalf of four people, says the actions of police violated city law and the Constitution. Michelman said prosecutors’ charging decisions in the case also seem “awfully excessive.”
“It sends a chilling message to people who want to come to the nation’s capital and express their views. We can expect, in this political climate, a lot of protests. But a lot of protesters may well look to what happened on January 20 and think twice about coming here to express their views,” Michelman said.
The lawsuit also says police used excessive force, including refusing to remove zip-tie handcuffs despite knowing they were too tight, and conducted invasive bodily searches that amounted to assault and battery.
The Metropolitan Police Department responded in a statement that police ensure the safety of thousands of people who come to Washington to demonstrate every year. The statement pointed out that some Inauguration Day demonstrators chose to “engage in criminal acts, destroying property and hurling projectiles, injuring at least six officers.” The statement said those demonstrators were arrested.
“As with any pending criminal or civil matter, we will continue to support and respect the formal legal process. Moreover, all instances of use of force by officers and allegations of misconduct will be fully investigated,” the statement said.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, which does not typically comment on pending cases, had no comment.
The ACLU’s lawsuit was filed on behalf of four people, including three who were arrested on Inauguration Day: Shay Horse, Elizabeth Lagesse and Milo Gonzalez. Lagesse and Gonzalez still face charges while charges against Horse, who was photographing the march as a photojournalist, have been dropped. The lawsuit also includes Judah Ariel, who was at the demonstration as a legal observer. Despite wearing a green hat identifying him as a legal observer, he was pepper-sprayed, the lawsuit said. Additional plaintiffs could be added at a later date, Michelman said.
The lawsuit seeks monetary damages but does not specify an amount.
Horse said today that police were indiscriminate in rounding up demonstrators and “targeting everyone in the area that wasn’t them.” Horse said that though he was working as a journalist he was arrested and subjected to an invasive search.
“I feel like I was raped,” he said.
Horse said police could clearly see that he was a photographer.
“I was just doing my job,” Horse said.