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Charlotte Protesters Say Police Went Too Far

(CN) - Seven Charlotte, North Carolina residents who participated in demonstrations following a September police shooting claim in court that officers carried out a "military grade assault" to break up their demonstration.

In a complaint filed Oct. 21 in Charlotte Federal Court, the plaintiffs claim they were engaged in peaceful and lawful protests in the days following the shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott when officers from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department descended on them and violently broke up the gathering.

Scott was shot and killed Sept. 20 by a black police officer. Afterward, Scott's wife said he was merely reading a book and waiting for his son's school bus when a fatal confrontation with police ensued. The authorities said Scott had a gun that he refused to lay down. The discrepancy between the accounts led to several days of protests, the imposition of a nightly curfew and the deployment of the National Guard to help police restore calm.

But the protesters say the authorities went too far, and that their alleged heavy-handed tactics prevented aggrieved community members from exercising their constitutional rights.

"CCMPD, acting under color of law, has intimidated demonstrators, impeded their entry or exit from demonstrations, assaulted them with chemical agents (including tear gas and pepper spray), shot them with so-called "less than lethal" projectiles, rounded them up in mass arrests, engaged in physical and verbal abuse, failed to visibly identify themselves, and categorically labeled all demonstrations as unlawful assemblies," the complaint says.

The plaintiffs claim that the police used excessive force despite the fact elderly people and children were among those in the crowd, and that protesters were often trapped or bottled up in locations where they could not escape exposure to the tear gas.

They also claim that while the police response was extreme, it is also illustrative of a longstanding policy in which law enforcement treats blacks differently from other races based solely on their race.

The plaintiffs say in addition to seeking redress for what happened during their protests, they filed their lawsuit to bring to light the broader issue of the strained relationship between the police department and the community.

They are seeking a restraining order and injunctive relief as well as a court order saying law enforcement officers cannot be deployed to gatherings, organized protests or other public events without clearly visible personal identification; cannot use tear gas, pepper spray or other chemical agents to breakup non-criminal activities; and cannot forcibly breakup a peaceful protest until demonstrators are given clear and unambiguous instructions to leave, time to heed the warning and a way to safely leave the area.

The plaintiffs are represented by Jacob Sussman of Tin Fulton walker & Owen PLLC in Charlotte; C. Scott Holmes of the North Carolina Central University Civil Litigation Clinic; and David Hall of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

A representative of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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