The American Civil Liberties Union of the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of four people who say the police pepper sprayed, wrongly arrested, and brutalized them during the January 20 Inauguration Day protests against Donald Trump.
While the majority of the protesters during Trump's inauguration were peaceful, anarchist and "antifa" groups within the crowd threw rocks through store windows, smashed cars, and destroyed bus stops. In the ensuing fracas, D.C.'s Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) launched tear gas and arrested more than 200 people, including several journalists and legal observers. Most of the charges against reporters and other bystanders have been dropped.
The four plaintiffs—a freelance photographer, a legal observer, and two protesters exercising their First Amendment rights—say they were either doing their jobs or peacefully protesting far away from any acts of vandalism. Judah Ariel, who was wearing a bright green hat identifying him as a legal observer, said he was monitoring MPD detainees when he was pepper sprayed without warning. He was not arrested, but the three other plaintiffs were detained and arrested. Criminal charges against one of the plaintiffs were dropped, but charges are still pending against the other two.
"In the course of the roundup and subsequent processing of demonstrators, police held detainees for hours without food, water, or access to toilets" and "handcuffed detainees so tightly as to cause injury or loss of feeling," the lawsuit says. According to the suit, two of the plaintiffs "were subjected to intrusive, humiliating, and unjustified manual rectal probing and grabbing of their testicles."
It's not very fun reading:
"The MPD's extreme tactics against members of the public, including journalists, demonstrators, and observers, were unjustifiable and unconstitutional," Scott Michelman, senior staff attorney for the ACLU-DC, said in a statement. "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."
In a statement, a spokesperson for MPD said that "each year, the men and women of MPD protect the rights and ensure the safety of thousands of First Amendment 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," the spokesperson continued. "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. Moreover, all instances of use of force by officers and allegations of misconduct will be fully investigated."
The four plaintiffs are seeking damages for wrongful arrest; excessive force; violations of their First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendment rights; and emotional distress.