This lawsuit, brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the First and Fourth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, and state common law, alleges the excessive use of force and suppression of free speech by the District of Columbia in its mass arrest of peaceful “Black Lives Matter” protesters on Swann Street on June 1, 2020. The Firm represents eight individuals who peacefully protested to demand an end to the systemic racism and police brutality that have taken the lives of George Floyd, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, and so many other Black Americans.
Following the death on May 25, 2020, of George Floyd—an unarmed Black man who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer who kneeled on his neck as he repeatedly cried out, “I can’t breathe”—Black Lives Matter protests against racist police violence spread across the world. Protestors were still mourning that tragic loss of life when Tony McDade, a Black transgender man, was shot and killed by Tallahassee police on May 29, 2020.
On June 1, 2020, thousands took to the streets of Washington, DC to demonstrate against racism and police brutality. This suit alleges that, although the protesters were peaceful, the District of Columbia and its policymakers, including then-Metropolitan Police Department Chief Peter Newsham, responded to protest activities with excessive force and violence. On the night of June 1, police officers “kettled” protesters by enclosing the 1400 block of Swann Street NW on either side. Once protesters were trapped inside the kettle, officers indiscriminately deployed pepper spray and used their shields, batons, and hands to push, strike, and beat demonstrators. Though some homes on the street voluntarily opened their doors to let protestors take shelter inside, other protesters were detained for hours on the street before being arrested for curfew violations; forced into painful zip tie handcuffs; transported to an off-site police facility; crammed into packed rooms with other detainees; and denied access to food, water, and bathrooms until their release the following morning.
This lawsuit—filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on March 25, 2021—seeks damages and declaratory relief for the constitutional injury, physical pain and injury, and emotional distress suffered by Plaintiffs.
On January 13, 2022, Judge Beryl Howell denied the District of Columbia’s motion to dismiss in its entirety, holding that Plaintiffs properly alleged the existence of a municipal policy causing Plaintiffs’ injury; that the doctrine of qualified immunity did not bar claims against former MPD Chief Peter Newsham; and that Plaintiffs’ claims of First Amendment retaliation and negligence per se (the latter based on a violation of the First Amendment Assemblies Act) were properly pleaded. The opinion is reported at --- F. Supp. 3d --- 2022 WL 123894 (Jan. 13, 2022).