WASHINGTON — The ACLU has filed a lawsuit claiming that the D.C. police violated the rights of hundreds of people arrested on Inauguration Day.
The suit was filed on behalf of four people whose cases reflect abuses committed that day, said Scott Michelman, senior staff attorney for ACLU-DC. It asks for monetary compensation to be determined by a jury.
The lawsuit alleges that the D.C. police responded to protesters in the proximity of vandalism with indiscriminate pepper-spraying and detentions. The suit also claims those who were detained were treated inhumanely before formal arrests that included cavity searches.
“When there’s a little bit of lawbreaking — at a mostly peaceful demonstration — the response from MPD is massive, it’s excessive, it’s unjustified and it’s unconstitutional,” Michelman said.
A statement from the Metropolitan Police Department said all allegations of officer misconduct will be fully investigated, and that protester violence on Inauguration Day injured at least six officers and criminal cases against those responsible are moving forward.
“Each year, the men and women of MPD protect the rights and ensure the safety of thousands of First Amendment assemblies, demonstrations and protests,” the statement read in part. During the inauguration, “there were thousands of individuals who exercised their constitutional right to peacefully assemble and speak out for their cause. Unfortunately, there was another group of individuals who chose to engage in criminal acts, destroying property and hurling projectiles, injuring at least six officers.”
The plaintiffs in the ACLU case include legal observer Judah Ariel and activist Elizabeth Lagesse, who said they were indiscriminately pepper-sprayed without warning.
Lagesse described being handcuffed with zip ties so tightly one wrist was cut. Photojournalist Shay Horse and activist Milo Gonzalez said they experienced unlawful manual rectal probing while in police custody.
Horse and Lagesse also said that while detained by police they were denied access to water, food and a bathroom for several hours.