The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota and Fish & Richardson filed a class action lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of protesters who were injured during peaceful demonstrations over the murder of George Floyd.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Minnesota against the City of Minneapolis, Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, police union head Bob Kroll, Minnesota Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington, and Minnesota State Patrol Colonel Matthew Langer.
The lawsuit alleges that the Minneapolis Police and the Minnesota State Patrol used unnecessary and excessive force to suppress people’s First Amendment rights to assemble peacefully and speak out against injustice. Peaceful protesters were teargassed, pepper-sprayed and shot with foam bullets and flashbangs to intimidate them and quash the protests. Law enforcement often fired without warning or orders to leave.
All four of our named plaintiffs - Nekima Levy Armstrong, Marques Armstrong, Terry Hempfling, and Rachel Clark – suffered injuries that remain two months later, including severe bruising and vocal issues from the tear gas. They’re now afraid to protest, and are either limiting their activities or bringing protective gear.
“No one should face tear gassing, foam bullets or pepper spray while exercising their right to peacefully protest,” said ACLU-MN Legal Director Teresa Nelson. “That law enforcement here followed their typical pattern of using indiscriminate force rather than respecting the First Amendment, especially following the brutal murder of George Floyd by four of their own, is disgraceful and an affront to our Constitution.”
“It is deeply disturbing that the MPD chose to respond to protests – and to the justifiable frustration and outrage that people feel over George Floyd’s murder by MPD – with violence,” said plaintiff Nekima Levy Armstrong, a civil rights lawyer and activist. “As one of the protesters who was teargassed, I still feel the lingering effects of such a strong chemical agent. We are participating in the lawsuit to protect our First Amendment freedoms of speech and the right to peaceably assemble in protest, which will help us fight for justice for George Floyd.”
The lawsuit seeks a declaration that this police conduct violated the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, an injunction and an award of damages and attorneys’ fees.
“Freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and due process of law are bedrock principles of a democratic and free society. The police in Minnesota, and throughout our country, should be protecting and serving those who exercise their rights under these laws, not impeding and chilling such actions,” said Fish & Richardson principal Ahmed J. Davis. “Every person in this country should be able to peacefully protest without fear of injury or harm, and we plan to continue fighting for these basic constitutional and human rights.”
The lawsuit also outlines a sustained history of unconstitutional actions by the Minneapolis police against protesters, and an ongoing failure to train, supervise, investigate, and discipline officers for First Amendment violations.