Washington, DC – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)’s District of Columbia branch announced on Tuesday, January 2 that they had “filed an amended complaint against the District of Columbia and its police department for constitutional violations on Inauguration Day.” The modified lawsuit now names 27 individual police officials involved in police actions which included a targeted mass arrest of an entire protest march, as well as extensive use of weapons such as mace, or oleoresin capsicum (OC) spray.
The lawsuit, Horse v. District of Columbia, was first filed in June 21 of last year by the DC ACLU “on behalf of four individuals, including a photojournalist and a legal observer, harmed by the police conduct on Inauguration Day.”
“The complaint seeks damages for violations of plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to free expression, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, and due process, and also raises claims for assault and battery, false arrest and imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and violations of the D.C. First Amendment Assemblies Act.“ – DC ACLU
The lawsuit contains numerous detailed descriptions of abuses against protesters and others who were detained outdoors in winter weather for over eight hours and denied food, water, and access to medical care.
Plantiffs described being doused in pepper spray, hit with stinger grenades, and being mocked by police as they rummaged in the trash for food that officers had refused to give them and had instead thrown out. Several people arrested at the protest, including two of the people suing, also reported that police punitively subjected them to “intrusive, humiliating, and unjustified manual rectal jabbing.”
The ACLU’s amended complaint filed this week adds two additional plantiffs to the case: a 10-year-old boy from North Carolina, referred to pseudonymously in court filings as A.S, and his mother, Gwen Frisbie-Fulton. Ms. Frisbie-Fulton and her son A.S. were both observing the mass arrest from the outside of the police perimeter when police attacked the group of demonstrators where they had been standing in the street.
Frisbie-Fulton detailed her experience on January 20 in a Medium post published earlier this week alongside the ACLU’s press release announcing the amended complaint.
“After we spent a few hours protesting, I learned that a friend was being detained. When we got to the location, people had gathered across from where a large group of protesters had been cornered by police. […] We were there for more than half an hour without incident.
But then, without warning, everything changed.
An officer pulled out pepper spray a little ways away from us. I told A. it was time to go. As we tried to leave, the police line rushed forward, knocking A. down. Instinctually, I jumped on top of him, rounding my back to create a pocket under my body so he wouldn’t be crushed. I felt people being knocked around above us and I could hear A. crying under me.
When I was able, I stood up with A. in my arms and turned to leave again. I was blocked by police officers; I asked if I could go. ‘You shouldn’t have brought your kid,’ was one officer’s answer. They continued to block the sidewalk.
Clouds of pepper spray filled the street and the noise from flash-bangs ricocheted off the buildings. One officer tried to help us, yelling ‘She has a child, she has a child!’ and running beside us — but we lost him. Many of the officers were masked, wearing all black and helmets so you couldn’t tell them apart.
A. pressed his face into the space where my neck and shoulder meet as I ran with him to where I knew we would be safest — towards the protesters. I had trouble running because he is getting too big to carry , and because I was coughing from the pepper spray.
Another protester ran up and took A. and ran with him. Protesters — strangers — surrounded my child to protect him; his face was red and splotchy from either crying or being exposed to pepper spray. Someone wiped his face with their bandanna and water. The flash-bangs and pepper spray continued, so we picked him up and ran again.
People have talked a lot about that day and the violence that took place. I need to be very clear: the police are the ones who put us in danger. The other protesters were our safety.” – Gwen Frisbie-Fulton, Why My Son and I Are Suing D.C. Police
Video taken on the ground on January 20 shows the chaotic series of events in which police attacked the crowd of protesters, including Gwen Frisbie-Fulton and her son. A protester in black bloc can be seen carrying A.S. to safety away as police indiscriminately attack the crowd with batons and OC spray.
The masked man in black who saved A.S. would later be identified as Dane Powell, who left prison in late 2017 after serving four months upon pleading guilty to several felonies in a non-cooperating plea deal.
Commander Keith Deville, a key witness in the US Attorney’s guilt-by-association prosecution of Trump inauguration protesters, is named in the suit for his direct role in personally ordering the mass arrest. The suit quotes sworn testimony given by Deville in the trial, in which he said “I wasn’t differentiating who was demonstrating and who was rioting” when he ordered officers to herd and encircle the group so he could trap and arrest as many “anarchists” as he could.
Deville also admitted on the stand that if Trump inauguration protesters were convicted, he believed it would limit his legal liability.
“The 27 defendants we added today are either supervisors who directed unlawful conduct or individual officers we have specific reason to believe committed an unlawful act, such as pepper-spraying peaceful demonstrators or journalists,” said DC ACLU Senior Staff Attorney Scott Michelman. “Unlike the U.S. Attorney’s approach to its criminal charges against demonstrators, we have named only individuals against whom we had specific evidence of wrongdoing rather than simply naming everyone who was present.”
The lawsuit had already named as a defendant Peter Newsham, who was Acting Chief on January 20th. He was officially nominated a month later as DC’s police chief by Democratic Mayor Muriel Bowser and confirmed by the District’s Democratic city council.
According to an investigation of Newsham done by DC’s FOX 5 in the lead-up to Trump’s inauguration, he has a history of alcoholism and violent domestic abuse. Newsham was in charge of a mishandled rape investigation in which an 11-year old gang rape victim was charged with making false statements, despite the existence of verified medical evidence supporting her claims. The police officer also once had his service weapon taken from him after he was found passed out drunk in the street with his police revolver while working as a DC police officer in 1990s.
Newsham, through his former role as Assistant Chief of Police, has already been a defendant in a lawsuit stemming from his role in 2002 in ordering the mass arrest of over 400 people who had gathered in Pershing Park in Washington, DC for a protest against the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
After litigation lasting over a decade, the District of Columbia ended up paying a total of $14 million to settle the 2002 IMF mass arrest lawsuit, including $3 million spent to personally defend Newsham in court. According to a local DC news investigation,
[Then-Assistant Chief] Newsham…was virtually allowed to investigate himself because at the time, he was also head of the Office of Professional Responsibility—the ethics branch of the police department. It was ultimately discovered that the log of events that would have certified and documented the chain of command and orders made that day completely vanished. The evidence somehow disappeared in the immediate aftermath of the arrests.
A separate lawsuit filed in March 2017 by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund is suing the District of Columbia and the Metropolitan Police Department, along with Chief Newsham and Mayor Bowser, over MPD’s refusal to release records of the decision to mass arrest the entire crowd at the anti-capitalist anti-fascist march during Trump’s inauguration.
Read the full amended complaint below:horse_v_dc_redacted_amended_complaint_1-3-2018_0
Title image credit: AP Photo/John Minchillo
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