The LAPD used less-lethal rounds indiscriminately during protests and injured peaceful demonstrators.
LOS ANGELES (CN) — A federal judge on Monday ordered the Los Angeles Police Department not to fire their “less lethal” weapons at protesters in close range and said officers cannot use the weapons indiscriminately.
U.S. District Judge Consuelo Marshall’s ruling comes as the United States braces for a verdict in the Derek Chauvin murder trial for the death of George Floyd. Police agencies across the country have asked for calm, though Floyd’s death sparked a nationwide movement that resulted in violent clashes between heavily armed police officers and protesters.
Monday’s ruling stems from a lawsuit filed by the local Black Lives Matter chapter in response to the LAPD’s use of 40 mm and 37 mm rounds fired from less than lethal rifles and launchers. The group says that LAPD struck a journalist unconscious at an event in March when an officer fired a round at their back. As part of their complaint, Black Lives Matter LA submitted a report that analyzed the LAPD’s use of crowd control tactics and revealed people were struck in the face and head by the rounds during last summer’s protests.
The group argued the LAPD’s use of less-lethal launchers against peaceful protesters at Echo Park Lake on March 25, 2021 and at another demonstration on March 11, 2021, violated the protesters’ Fourth Amendment rights. One person was shot in the right arm between the elbow and shoulder, while their partner was shot at close range according to declarations filed. LAPD officers fired on protesters at distances of less than two feet and aimed the rounds at people’s upper bodies in violation of the department’s policy, according to the complaint.
Melina Abdullah of Black Lives Matter LA had argued protests are likely with the Chauvin verdict. Marshall agreed.
“As of the writing of this order, closing arguments in the Derek Chauvin case are set for today, Monday, April 19, 2021. It is reasonable to believe that demonstrations will continue,” wrote Marshall. “The court finds that plaintiffs have shown a likelihood of irreparable injury.”
Marshall ordered the LAPD to fire from distances not less than five feet from protesters and to not aim their weapons at a person’s upper body. She also restricted the use of less-lethal weapons at public demonstrations except by trained and certified officers. Police must give a verbal warning and give people a chance to comply before they fire, though officers can use the weapons when attacked or when a protester poses a threat to others.
While Marshall weighed the harm the restrictions might have for the LAPD, she found a strong interest in preserving a person’s First Amendment rights.
“On balance, plaintiffs’ requested relief is tailored to restricting LAPD’s use of less-lethal launchers on peaceful protesters and those who are documenting the demonstrations,” Marshall wrote. “Plaintiffs’ tailored request does not seek to ban LAPD’s crowd control tactics; their request limits LAPD’s use of the launchers in order to ensure that the safety of the protesters and the officers can both be achieved.”
The LAPD did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Marshall’s ruling. Ahead of a press conference calling for peaceful protests in response to a verdict in the Chauvin trial, the department said it “will always encourage, support, and protect the community’s First Amendment rights and are calling on our community to exercise those rights in peace and through non-violence.”
Representatives from Black Lives Matter LA could not be immediately reached for comment.