BATON ROUGE, La. (CN) — Twenty more people have sued Baton Rouge police and sheriff’s officers for their use of force during protests of the death of Alton Sterling, a black man who was shot to death by two white police officers in a parking lot last summer.
Baton Rouge has agreed to settle a previous lawsuit from 90 protesters and pay them more than $45,000 in damages.
The plaintiffs in the new complaints, filed Sunday, say Baton Rouge police and sheriff’s officers are notoriously racist and used excessive force and intimidation to silence protesters who packed the state capital by the tens of thousands to express outrage over Sterling’s death.
Two videos of Sterling’s July 5, 2016 shooting death were widely circulated on social media, making worldwide news. The three new federal lawsuits claim that Baton Rouge city and parish officials met repeatedly from July 6 to 10 to discuss how to stymie protesters. They did it through violence, according to the complaints.
Nearly 200 people were arrested in Baton Rouge between those dates. At least one of them — plaintiff Lubin Gilbert, a black man who was bicycling near the protests — was not a protester at all, according to the first of the three new lawsuits, filed on behalf of Gilbert and three other plaintiffs by the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center.
Many of the activists and media sites during the protest days appeared calm and peaceful, even as Baton Rouge police and sheriff’s officers showed up in droves wearing gas masks and full combat gear, but as the weekend wore on, a small number of protesters got antsy and police enforcement became more aggressive.
According to the lawsuits, police aggression far outweighed any rowdiness from protesters.
Plaintiff A.R., then 16, suing through her mother, Shonta Jackson, in the second new lawsuit, said she joined a group of protesters outside of then-Mayor Kip Holden’s house. Protesters chanted and held signs asking for love and peace, until law enforcement arrived and told them to get down onto the ground. They did so, and were surrounded by officers pointing rifles at them.
“As she was lying on the lawn across the street from defendant Holden’s home, A.R. noticed that many of the defendant Does, Roes and Moes surrounding Holden’s home and standing on the roof were training their rifles on her and the other unarmed and prone protesters,” A.R. says in her complaint.
“Despite protesters’ peaceful methods, their demands for police accountability were perceived as a threat by the leadership of law enforcement agencies in Baton Rouge. To silence those demands, defendants entered into and executed a conspiracy to deny members of the black community of Baton Rouge their right to grieve, express their anger, and demand equal protection from law enforcement,” Gilbert’s lawsuit says.
Color photos included in the third lawsuit paint a picture of what were reported as peaceful protests. All three lawsuits were filed electronically on July 6.
In one photo, a young woman in braids, identified by caption as plaintiff Raae Pollard, holds a giant sign saying “Love,” while in the next photo, police officers in riot gear restrain her arms behind her back and hold her up by the throat.
“Law enforcement ordered the protesters out of the streets, and most of the protesters – including plaintiffs – complied, stepping back onto the sidewalks,” according to the lawsuit filed on behalf of Pollard and 14 others.
The lawsuits claim that Baton Rouge police have long been criticized for racial profiling and brutality against the city’s African American population.
For instance, in 2011, then-Police Chief Dewayne White said publicly that 10 percent of his officers “failed to exercise basic levels of professionalism, and that ‘it’s become so ingrained’ in the minds of some officers that they ‘believe that everybody they come across or most people they come across with that [black] color of skin is probably a criminal,’” according to Pollard’s lawsuit.
Mayor Holden fired Chief White in 2013 and he was replaced by Carl Dabadie, a defendant.
A series of racist text messages sent in September 2014 by a Baton Rouge police officer to a civilian are cited in Pollard’s complaint. In the messages, a 15-year veteran of the department referred to black colleagues and civilians with racial epithets, saying: “I wish someone would pull a Ferguson on them and take them out. I hate looking at those African monkeys at work … I enjoy arresting those thugs with their saggy pants
Numerous law enforcement officials, including the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, the Mayor’s Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness and the Louisiana Sheriff’s Association, in addition to Mayor Holden, Dabadie, Edmonson, Gautreaux and others gathered at the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness “on several occasions between July 6 and 10, 2016, in order to formulate and implement their agreement to suppress the protests,” according to A.R.’s lawsuit.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards and law enforcement officials have said police and sheriff’s officers’ handling of the protests was low-key and professional.
Baton Rouge has agreed to settle a previous lawsuit from 90 protesters, including Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKesson, who was arrested for obstruction of a highway and released the next day. The settlement awaits expected approval by a judge. Each plaintiff is to receive $500, reimbursement of bond fees and expungement of their arrest record.
Police Sgt. Bryan Taylor, the president of the Baton Rouge police union, has called the cash settlement a “dangerous precedent” and a “slap in the face.” On Monday, Taylor told the Baton Rouge Advocate the new lawsuits are “all B.S.”
The two lawsuits brought by the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center were filed by James Craig and Eric Foley of New Orleans, and by Gideon T. Carter of Baton Rouge. The lawsuit with 15 plaintiffs was filed by John Adcock of New Orleans.
Defendants include are the City of Baton Rouge, Mayor Holden, East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux, Carl Dabadie and others. Louisiana has parishes instead of counties.
Officials with the defendant agencies did not reply Tuesday to requests for comment.