(CN) – Activists in Arizona filed a federal class action Tuesday claiming police officers fired indiscriminately into an anti-Trump protest at the Phoenix Convention Center in August 2017, using pepper spray, gas, pepper bullets, smoke grenades and tear gas on a crowd that included pregnant women and the elderly.
Puente and Poder in Action, both nonprofit organizations, planned the protest. They claim they were beset by a force of about 882 officers during a peaceful rally within the confines of a “free speech zone’ in downtown Phoenix starting around 7:00 p.m., about half an hour after President Donald Trump arrived at the convention center.
As attendees at the Trump rally began to leave around 8:30 p.m., the groups say, the police moved in on the protesters and Lt. Benjamin Moore and Sgt. Douglas McBride ordered officers to fire the pepper spray.
Both officers are named as defendants in the lawsuit, alongside Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams, seven other police officers and the city of Phoenix.
“Prior to the launch of the first pepper bullet and tear gas canisters by [Phoenix Police Department], the Trump protest was carried out by the thousands assembled in a lawful manner,” the groups say in the lawsuit. “Assuming some isolated incidents of throwing plastic water bottles by a few, these did not justify firing and harming the many. No Trump protester threw any dangerous objects, nor initiated use of the weapons used by the PPD; they did kick the gas canisters thrown by police away from anti-Trump protesters, or were near the shaking fence. Rather than isolating and dealing with the small number of people whose conduct it viewed as improper, PPD resorted to violence against all.”
The groups also claim “While breaking up the lawful demonstration, PPD officers shouted obscenities at the peaceful protesters. Contemporaneous with firing chemical and impact munitions at anti-Trump protesters, PPD officers yelled: ‘Stun-bag that guy, oh yeah, yep that’ll teach him,’ and ‘That’s right motherfuckers, you just smoked yourself, dumbasses.’”
In all, the groups say, police officers fired more than 590 projectiles at the crowd.
Cynthia Guillen, one of several individual plaintiffs in the lawsuit, was hit by a projectile on the breast, stomach and near her hip as she peacefully chanted and filmed the protest. The lawsuit says the wind was knocked out of her and she later contracted pancreatitis from the force.
Ira Yedlin, a 70-year-old, was gassed and hit in the face, legs and back by projectiles, and had to be treated at the emergency room.
“I’ve been at, over the last 50 years, dozens of protests,” he told the Arizona Republic a few days later. “Never have I seen a police reaction like that without any apparent provocation.” He had driven three hours from his home in Bisbee, Arizona, to attend the protest with his wife.
“Under the direction of Chief Williams, Phoenix police disregarded the constitutional rights of protesters that night,” ACLU of Arizona legal director Kathy Brody said in a statement emailed to Courthouse News.
“At the precise moment when anti-Trump protesters intended to deliver to the president and his supporters their messages renouncing his policies, Phoenix police – without warning – used incapacitating weaponry to silence and disperse hundreds of peaceful anti-Trump protesters, including children, elderly people, people with disabilities, and pregnant women.”
The groups are represented by the ACLU, the Los Angeles-based law firm Hadsell Stormer & Renick and civil rights attorney Dan Pochoda.
They seek financial compensation and have asked that the city be prohibited in the future from using excessive force against protesters.
Phoenix Police spokeswoman Mercedes Fortune said the department is aware of the lawsuit but cannot comment on pending litigation.