‘Nashville 5’ Claim|Unlawful Detention

     (CN) – Five protesters claim the Tennessee Highway Patrol unlawfully detained them after they marched outside a governors’ meeting in Nashville last summer.
     Malaya Davis, Aaron Hayes, James Hayes, MarShawn McCarrel and Michael Sampson- who refer to themselves as “the Nashville Five” – sued Tennessee Highway Patrol employees in Davidson County court on Monday. They claim a protest they organized was infiltrated and disrupted by undercover highway patrol officers.
     The protesters allegedly planned a demonstration outside the National Governors Association conference at the Omni Hotel in downtown Nashville on July 12, 2014. Their message, according to the complaint: “Black Lives Matter.”
     The lawsuit’s introduction references the police-related deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott and Freddie Gray but says that the Nashville protest occurred before those incidents.
     The Nashville Five claim that the Tennessee Highway Patrol engaged in domestic surveillance of the demonstrators and that the protest was included in a threat brief.
     “Throughout their march, the peaceful protesters were surveilled for the Tennessee Highway Patrol by officer(s) Doe in real time. The Tennessee Highway Patrol referred to their surveillance of the protesters as ‘intelligence,'” the complaint states. “The ‘intelligence’ gathered about the protesters did not include any report that the peaceful political protesters were considered to be armed and dangerous. However, the plaintiffs were identified as organizers and specifically targeted for disruption by officer(s) Doe because they possessed red bandanas.”
     The protesters say their group was infiltrated by at least one trooper, who allegedly took photos and gathered intelligence. The Nashville Five asked to speak with a National Governors Association representative when they reached the Omni Hotel but their request was denied and they were arrested when they tried to enter the hotel, according to the complaint.
     “After being informed that a representative of the National Governors Association would not come out to speak with them, the plaintiffs attempted to enter the Omni Hotel to deliver a petition to the National Governors Association. The plaintiffs’ petition bore a single, simple message. It read: ‘We Matter,'” the lawsuit states. “Immediately after attempting to enter the Omni Hotel with their petition, each of the plaintiffs was arrested by a member of the Tennessee Highway Patrol, placed in flex cuffs, and loaded onto a transport bus.”
     The protesters were taken to the Davidson County jail where a commissioner refused to sign their arrest warrants due to a lack of probable cause, according to the complaint. The commissioner allegedly ordered their release but the demonstrators say they were detained for several hours while highway patrol officers unsuccessfully tried to establish probable cause.
     The Nashville Five were released after the commissioner again ordered it but they were monitored by undercover officers for several hours after their release, the lawsuit claims.
     The protesters allege violations of freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, right to petition and their right to be free from unreasonable seizure.
     “Plaintiffs and several social justice groups affiliated with plaintiffs wish to return to Nashville to protest. Based on defendants’ policy of armed, domestic spying on, infiltration of, and termination of peaceful protests, however, and based on [their] policy of conducting investigative arrests of peaceful protesters, plaintiffs’ constitutional right to protest has been and will continue to be chilled unless this court issues an immediate injunction prohibiting defendants from engaging in armed domestic spying of plaintiffs and other peaceful protesters,” the lawsuit states.
     The Nashville Five seek a declaration that their constitutional rights were violated and an order requiring Tennessee Highway Patrol officers to cease their alleged policy of surveillance and infiltration of peaceful political groups. They are represented by R. Andrew Free in Nashville. A similar lawsuit, with the same plaintiffs and attorney, was filed in Middle Tennessee Federal Court on Monday.
      Tennessee Highway Patrol spokesman Bill Miller told Courthouse News that the agency cannot comment on pending litigation.

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