Police Spraying Toxic Chemicals on Americans Who Peacefully Object to Brutality: Lawsuit


Sabrina Canfield | Courthouse News Service

BATON ROUGE (CN) – The ACLU of Louisiana and other local groups sued the Baton Rouge Police Department and the state over officers’ heavy-handed response to protests in the wake of Alton Sterling’s shooting death last week.

The lawsuit seeks an order restraining the police from using chemical agents and force on protestors who have expressed their grievances peacefully.

The plaintiffs claim police repeatedly violated peaceful protester’s civil rights during protests that occurred across city following Sterling’s July 5th death at the hands of police..

“Our Nation is built on a foundation of free speech, dissent, and protest; since our very founding, the American people have taken to the streets and sidewalks to make their voices heard on matters of public concern,” the lawsuit says.

Protesters, the lawsuit says, have come together to peacefully observe their “foundational rights —by joining together in peaceful protest to draw attention to the death of Mr. Sterling, the deaths of Black citizens at the hands of police across the country, and law enforcement’s use of excessive force, particularly toward the Black community.”

But, in response, the defendants, who are city of Baton Rouge, Baton Rouge Police Department, Louisiana State Police, the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office, and several law enforcement officials have “engaged with protesters in a militarized fashion, including full body gear, threatening the use of chemical agents, and keeping live automatic weapons trained on peaceful crowds.”

Approximately 200 protestors were arrested during protests over this past weekend. Several were arrested from a private home after the woman who rents it told the protestors they could come inside to escape police harassment. Police went into the house and arrested the protestors without permission.

“Law enforcement officers have escalated peaceful situations; impeded protestors’ entry or exit from demonstrations; threatened assault with chemical agents including mace and pepper spray; rounded them up in mass arrests; engaged in physical and verbal abuse; punished and wrongly arrested individuals engaged in constitutionally-protected speech; created an imminent risk of physical and constitutional harm to Plaintiffs and others engaged in lawful protest; and used objectively excessive force in effectuating arrests,” the lawsuit says.

On July 5, 2016, Alton Sterling, “a black man accused of no crime, was shot at point-blank range by officers with the Baton Rouge Police Department after being tackled and physically detained, on his back, by the two officers involved,” the court documents say.

Since Sterling’s shooting death, thousands of people has responded with anger about his death in particular, as well as over what appears to be “broader patterns of aggressive policing and racial disparities evident in law enforcement officers’ use of force across the United States,” and protests that “have been overwhelmingly peaceful and law-abiding” have broken out.

“Police have repeatedly interfered with peaceful protests on public sidewalks and private property,” the lawsuit said.

For instance, it continues “on the evening of July 10, police confronted protestors on Government Street and East Boulevard. Police initially blocked the street but left the sidewalks open. At approximately 7:30 PM, police advanced down East Boulevard and France Street brandishing batons and assault rifles, and closed off the sidewalk, leaving protestors without access to that space to protest or leave the area. At one point, protestors were standing on the public sidewalk abutting East Boulevard, where they were peacefully chanting at police. A large number of police in riot gear advanced on the protestors, driving many off of the sidewalk, including onto neighboring private property. Police grabbed and pushed some protestors to the ground and arrested them. Police arrested a reporter, who was clearly engaging in reporting activities.”

Not long after, Lisa Batiste invited protestors onto her property after they were ordered by police to disperse from the street.

“With Ms. Batiste’s permission, more than one hundred protestors gathered on her lawn and porch, and some protestors entered her home,” the lawsuit said.

“A large group of officers in riot gear then entered and remained on her property without permission, where they ordered protestors to leave the property, used force on protestors, including tackling and pushing some to the ground, and arrested a number of protestors,’ the documents continue. “Police were informed by both Ms. Batiste and by protestors that the protestors had permission to be on the property. At one point, at least a dozen police crowded onto Ms. Batiste’s porch, where they grabbed and pushed protestors standing inside the home’s open doorway and forced them out of the house and off the porch. Police also arrested protestors standing or walking on the public sidewalk abutting Ms. Batiste’s property.”

Police had arrested not just protestors, but also members of the press and legal observers, the lawsuit says.


Protestors were blocked in by police and were unsure whether they could safely leave without being arrested because of the inaudible instructions, conflicting instructions and witnessing other individuals being arrested or detained while attempting to leave, the complaint says.

At least three reporters were arrested on July 9, including a reporter who merely stepped onto the street to get a better angle with his camera as he attempted to videotape protestors, and Juvenile Justice Information Exchange reporter Karen Savage was arrested without being told why and despite identifying herself as a member of the press, according to the complaint.

The ACLU and other plaintiffs said in the complaint it has collected extensive testimonial and documentary evidence of defendants’ civil rights violations.

The lawsuit was filed by North Baton Rouge Matters, Black Youth Project 100, New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice, American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana and the Louisiana Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.

Plaintiffs seek a temporary restraining order that would bar the police from using military force and chemical agents at gatherings “unless as a last resort to prevent an immediate threat to public safety.”

Marjorie Esman of the ACLU of Louisiana told Courthouse News Thursday afternoon that a status conference on the lawsuit was then underway.

Asked whether she would like to make a comment, Esman said the lawsuit speaks for itself.

The lawsuit is before Judge John deGravelles of the Baton Rouge Federal Court. When or what deGravelles will decide was not immediately apparent.

A legal representative from the Baton Rouge Police Department did not return an emailed request for comment.

The lawsuit was filed by Ronald Wilson of New Orleans, Candice Sirmon of the ACLU of Louisiana and and Sima Atri of New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice.

Published by Courthouse News Service.

Watch scenes from the protests below: