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ACLU-DC sues DC Police for alleged misconduct in Inauguration Day protests

Police deploy smoke and pepper grenades during clashes with protesters in northwest Washington, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Mark Tenally)

The American Civil Liberties Union of the District of Columbia (ACLU-DC) announced Wednesday it filed a lawsuit against the D.C. Police Department for allegedly "unconstitutional arrests, using excessive force, denying arrested people food, water, and access to toilets, and invasive bodily searches of protesters" during Inauguration Day protests.

The ACLU-DC accused police of responding to protesters who damaged property with controversial methods, including 'kettling', when officers surround a crowd of protesters, some of whom are innocent, and hold them there for several hours before making arrests. Police also used pepper spray, tear gas, flash-bang grenades, concussion grenades and smoke flares, according to the ACLU-DC.

"The MPD's (Metropolitan Police Department'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 stated in a press release . "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."

According to the ACLU-DC, the lawsuit seeks compensation in response to three arrests: activist Elizabeth Lagesse, who the ACLU-DC said did not partake in any vandalism; photojournalist Shay Horse, who was photographing the protest; and protester Milo Gonzalez.

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-DC said in the press release.

The ACLU-DC said Horse and Gonzalez were also "subjected to invasive manual rectal probe searches while in police custody."

The ACLU-DC claims the alleged actions violate the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments as well as the District's First Amendment Assemblies Act, which they state, prohibits acts such as kettling without a probable cause that a crime was committed by an identified protester.

"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 ACLU-DC states in the press release.

The ACLU-DC also raises allegations of assault and battery and false arrest.

"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 was stated as saying in the press release. "So many of us suffered tremendously just for exercising our First Amendment rights to cover the demonstrations or participate in them."

D.C. police tweeted the following statement in response to the lawsuit:

“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. 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.
MPD remains committed to ensuring the public safety of all residents and visitors of the District of Columbia.”

The following video was posted on Inauguration Day of protesters damaging a Bank of America and Starbucks:

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