BATON ROUGE (CN) – A federal judge approved a class-action settlement Friday that awards up to $1,000 in cash to each of nearly 70 protesters who claim police violated their civil rights and used excessive force in arresting them after the July 2016 shooting death of Alton Sterling.
Sterling, a black man, was killed by white law enforcement officers, touching off days of peaceful protests.
U.S. District Judge John de Gravelles on Friday said individual protesters will be awarded $500 to $1,000 out of total settlement amount of $136,000. The amount of the individual payments will be determined based on how long the individual was jailed.
The arrests were made between July 8-10, 2016. As part of the settlement, any amounts paid as for bail or other legal expenses will also be returned.
The settlement was preliminarily approved in May by U.S. Magistrate Judge Erin Wilder-Doomes. It also calls for expunging the protesters’ records, for free, of the charge of obstructing a highway.
The protesters, including high-profile Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson, who attended Friday’s hearing, according to an account from the Baton Rouge Advocate, accused Baton Rouge law enforcement officers and others of using excessive force and of violating their civil rights in attempting to prevent them from demonstrating Sterling’s death.
Nearly 200 protestors were arrested during the protests following Sterling’s July 5, 2016 death.
The class action, of which Mckesson was lead plaintiff, was filed a month later, in August, 2016.
In the lawsuit, Mckesson, a Baltimore resident, said he was arrested by Baton Rouge police July 9, 2016 as he peacefully protested. He was released the following day and charges against him were later dropped by Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore.
Kira Marrero, a New Orleans resident, and Gloria La Riva, a filmmaker from San Francisco, together with Mckesson, said that even though they received pro bon legal representation, they still had to post substantial bail and pay administrative fees to clear their criminal arrest records before charges against them were dropped.
“Defendants deprived plaintiffs and class members of their civil rights and selectively interpreted and enforced the laws, based upon the facts that plaintiffs and class members were protesting Defendants’ conduct and were seeking changes to Defendants’ policies, practices and procedures,” the lawsuit said.
Roy Rodney Jr., one of Mckesson and fellow plaintiffs’ attorneys, told deGravelles the settlement “prevents a stigma being attached to” the protestors, who were largely arrested while peacefully exercising their right to protest.
Sgt. Bryan Taylor, president of the union that represents Baton Rouge police officers, had previously called the proposed cash settlement with protestors “a slap in the face” and said it would set “a dangerous precedent,” according to the Advocate, a Baton Rouge newspaper.
“I would encourage that man to … hold his officers accountable,” Mckesson said outside the federal courthouse following the settlement approval Friday, according to the Advocate.
Mckesson, 32, was jailed for 17 hours. Marerro, 24, was imprisoned for a day.
Outside the courthouse the pair told reporters Friday that the lawsuit was not about money, but was instead about holding law enforcement accountable for their actions.
“The violence I saw that night was the violence of the police,” Mckesson said.
The settlement approved Friday was limited to protestors who were arrested solely on charges they had blocked a highway.
At least six other protest-related lawsuits are still pending in Baton Rouge federal court. At least one of the lawsuits, still pending, seeks much higher damages per plaintiff, de Gravelles indicated from the bench, the Advocate reported.
Nearly 200 people were arrested by police officers during protests in the days following the shooting death of Alton Sterling, 37, at the hands of white police officers outside of a Baton Rouge corner store in the early morning hours of July 5, 2016.
The U.S. Justice Department announced last May it will not bring criminal charges against the officers involved.
Following that announcement, the case was turned over to the Louisiana Attorney General’s office for further investigation over whether criminal charges should be brought by the state.
Federal authorities said a loaded gun was found in Sterling’s pocket after he was shot.
De Gravelles’ ruling Friday was from the bench. Documents pertaining to the settlement agreement were sealed Friday afternoon.
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