BATON ROUGE (CN) – Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKesson is lead plaintiff in a class action against the city of Baton Rouge over arrests during peaceful protests following the shooting death of Alton Sterling, a black man, by white police officers.
The federal class action targets the “unlawful mass arrests and prosecutions under constitutionally dubious statues, regulations, policies and practices” made by Baton Rouge police and others, the lawsuit said.
McKesson, a Baltimore resident, says that he was arrested by Baton Rouge police on July 9 while peacefully protesting. He was released the following day and the charges against him were later dropped by Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore.
Kira Marrero, a Louisiana resident, and La Riva, a filmmaker from San Francisco, along with McKesson, say that although they have received pro bono legal representation, they still had to post substantial bail and pay administrative fees to clear their criminal arrest records before charges against them were dropped.
“Defendants deprived plaintiffs and class members of their civil rights and selectively interpreted and enforced the laws, based upon the facts that plaintiffs and class members were protesting Defendants’ conduct and were seeking changes to Defendants’ policies, practices and procedures,” the lawsuit says.
Plaintiffs say that despite the peaceful nature of the protests, “defendants responded in a militarized and aggressive manner. Police advanced against protestors dressed in military gear, with gas masks, shin guards, face shields, brandishing assault weapons alongside heavy military vehicles.”
Further, they say, “Baton Rouge Police Department, Louisiana State Police and East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Officers threatened non-violent protestors by pointing their weapons directly at them.”
The police officers “ordered class members to walk on the sidewalks, and to not walk in the street,” the lawsuit says, going to contend “this order was unreasonable and placed citizens walking along Airline Highway and other streets in danger, because those streets do not have sidewalks and the adjacent areas were uneven or not mowed and contained hazards that could not be seen.”
They also argue the “defendants arrested class members after defendants had closed the public highway, such that there was no through traffic to obstruct, and therefore there could be no practical violation of” any ordinance.
Also, “defendants detained, arrested, and charged plaintiffs and class members with state misdemeanor violations, when municipal citations, traffic citations, or other less harsh enforcement was available.”
Plaintiffs say defendants used “excessive force in attacking, battering, beating, and assaulting plaintiffs and class members without provocation or the need for defense.”
Defendants also violated the First Amendment right of freedom of the press by arresting press members, who were journalists, photo journalists, camera persons and reporters and throwing them in jail
Named defendants are the City of Baton Rouge, East Baton Rouge Parish, Parish Mayor Melvin “Kip” Holden, Baton Rouge Chief of Police Carl Dabadie Jr., Baton Rouge Sheriff Sid J. Gautreaux III and Col. Michael Edmonson, Superintendent of Louisiana State Police.
Officials from the Baton Rouge Police Department and the sheriff’s office did not immediately reply to phoned requests for comment Friday.
On July 15 the office for East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore announced in a pair of releases that his office will not prosecute 100 of the 185 activists arrested during protests.
“These particular cases only involve facts where the person arrested failed to comply with an officer’s direction to leave the roadway or public passage,” the release from the district attorney’s office said. “While all citizens have the right to assemble and protest, they do not have the right to block streets and impede the flow of traffic. Under Louisiana law, first-time offenders, should they avoid further arrests and convictions, may have their misdemeanor arrests expunged from the criminal history records of the State of Louisiana at no cost.”
Plaintiffs are asking the court to nullify their arrests and expunge their records. They also seek an order that bars defendants from mentioning the arrests to prospective employers, and finally, the return of all bond payments made.
A representative from the Parish attorney’s office Friday said in a phone interview that the Louisiana law on waived fees for expungement is clear, and that if the district attorney agrees, protesters who were arrested should have no problem having their records expunged free of charge.
The individual, who did not want to be named, said also that in situations where protestors were charged with federal or state rather than local offenses, as the lawsuit stated, it was probably because the protestors in those cases were arrested by police officers working under federal or state and not local jurisdictions, since dozens of police came in from outlying areas during the protests.
The lawsuit was filed by John Etter of Rodney & Etter in New Orleans.
Attorneys for Rodney & Etter were not immediately reached by phoned and emailed requests for comment Friday.
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