Dallas Police Sued by Protesters Ahead of Trump Visit

Police surround and detain hundreds of protesters who marched onto the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge while demonstrating against police brutality in Dallas on June 1, 2020. (Ryan Michalesko/The Dallas Morning News via AP)

DALLAS (CN) — Dallas police agreed to stop firing tear gas or less-than-lethal ammunition at peaceful protesters, journalists or bystanders late Thursday, hours after being sued by two protesters who were shot by rubber bullets while protesting police brutality.

Tasia Williams and Vincent Doyle sued the city and Police Chief U. Renee Hall in federal court, alleging violations of their Fourth and 14th Amendment rights.

Doyle was injured during a May 30 protest when a rubber bullet struck him in the face, requiring a metal plate to be inserted for facial fractures. Williams was injured and left bloodied on the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge during a June 1 protest when she was shot in the leg with a rubber bullet.

The plaintiffs demanded a ban on “future use of tear gas, smoke bombs, flash-bang grenades, pepper balls, mace, and other chemical agents, as well as what are known as kinetic impact projectiles, such as rubber, sponge, and foam bullets, against protesters, bystanders, and press” who do not pose an immediate threat, according to a 14-page motion for a temporary restraining order filed with the complaint.

City officials quickly agreed to a preliminary injunction that bans use of the chemical agents against protesters, journalists or bystanders who are not posing “an immediate threat of serious harm to anyone” and bans the projectiles “for purposes of controlling peaceful crowds,” according to the 4-page order. The defendants also agreed to not fire the kinetic impact projectiles into a crowd “for any purpose.”

Cities nationwide have grappled with more than two weeks of massive protests against police brutality after George Floyd, an unarmed black man, was killed in Minneapolis police custody on May 25. Video posted on social media shows a white police officer keeping his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly 9 minutes as he pleaded for his mother and for his life.

“Dressed in riot gear and driving armored vehicles, Dallas Police — like police in other cities recently — are deploying riot control devices against ordinary citizens and journalists alike, without regard to whether the circumstances justify it, and without regard or competence for shooting this ‘less lethal’ weaponry safely,” the 51-page complaint states. “Chief Hall has even defended her decision to shoot protesters with tear gas — a chemical weapon banned in war but nonetheless used against peaceful American citizens by their own governments and in their own cities — during the 2020 protests in Dallas.”

Attorney Michelle Simpson Tuegel, representing Williams and Doyle, said Dallas police clearly violated Williams’ civil rights when they blocked both ends of the bridge. About 700 protesters were trapped on the bridge that night and were detained for several hours before being released.

“Police say that they need to use tear gas and rubber bullets as tools to force a crowd to leave an area,” she told reporters Thursday morning. “But when they are being used against protesters who have already been trapped and have no way to leave, these are no longer tools of crowd control — they are instruments of torture.”

Tuegel said Thursday evening that the city’s agreement to the 90-day ban is an acknowledgement of the protesters’ point “that police brutality is real.”

Attorney Daryl Washington, another member of the plaintiffs’ legal team, compared the bridge protesters to civil rights protesters in 1965 who were beaten and tear-gassed by police in Selma, Alabama, when they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

“Instead of heeding the message of hope for a more just future, Dallas police tried to take us backwards in time more than half a century, leaving protesters injured and bloody for the ‘crime’ of peacefully marching across a bridge,” he said Thursday morning.

After the city agreed to the ban, Washington praised the protesters for doing something that matters and said the ban “helps them to keep doing it, because there is a lot more work to be done.” 

The attorneys said they intend to file a products liability lawsuit against unspecified manufacturers and distributors of rubber bullets in Dallas County District Court by Friday.

The plaintiffs’ lawsuit also mentions injured protester Brandon Saenz, another one of Washington’s clients. Saenz lost his left eye at a May 30 protest when he was shot in the face with a rubber bullet. He also lost seven teeth and has required several surgeries for facial fractures. Saenz has demanded action from Hall and has appealed to the public to help identify the police officer who shot him.

The lawsuit came two days after protesters in Seattle filed a similar federal lawsuit against city officials there, seeking a stop to the use of tear gas, less-then-lethal rubber bullets, flash-bang grenades and pepper spray. They say Seattle police continued to fire chemical agents at protesters despite a 30-day ban on tear gas use by Mayor Jenny Durkan.

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