Journalists and activists are suing the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia over alleged sexual abuse, use of excessive force and illegal arrests during protests against the inauguration of President Donald Trump.
A small number of alleged “Antifa” demonstrators vandalized properties and started fires on Jan. 20. In response, the Metropolitan Police Department — known as the best in the country — went berserk and arrested anyone and everyone, including peaceful protesters and even those who were not protesting at all, said ACLU, which filed the suit on behalf of plaintiffs.
The cops deployed pepper spray, teargas, and smoke bombs and then after several hours of “kettling” or corralling, arrested more than 200 people, all of whom were later charged with felonies by the United States Attorney’s office.
The indiscriminate mass arrest and the copious use of harsh riot-control tactics are reasons enough to raise concerns over abuse of power. However, the four plaintiffs believe the MPD also sought physical and emotional payback from the hundreds of arrested people.
New York photojournalist Shay Horse, who covers protests around the world, reported an officer maced him from behind even though he was not part of any protest and his camera identified him as a member of the press.
He also said an officer ordered him, a fellow plaintiff Milo Gonzalez and three others to take off their pants. Horse claimed the cop grabbed their genitals and forcefully pushed his finger inside their rectums while the other officers watched and laughed.
“I felt like they were using molestation and rape as punishment. They used those tactics to inflict pain and misery on people who are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty,” Horse said. “It felt like they were trying to break me and the others — break us so that even if the charges didn’t stick, that night would be our punishment.”
Fellow plaintiff Elizabeth Lagesse still faces felony charges from her arrest on Inauguration Day. She stated she was herded along with the violent protesters, cuffed with zip ties so tight they cut her wrists and cut off blood circulation to her hands. She was then thrown into a holding cell with 20 other inmates and denied food, water and a toilet throughout the night.
The lawsuit would let plaintiffs identify the names, badge numbers and ranks of the cops who allegedly abused then. However, they also think it’s important that accountability should also be taken to supervisors and other senior officials of the police department.
“The events of the day show a high degree of coordination, suggesting the problems run deeper than the misconduct of a handful of officers,” said ACLU-D.C.’s Scott Michelman.
The Metropolitan Police Department responds to many more demonstrations than any other police department. Protesters often chain themselves to structure and block streets without prompting the sort of crackdown that happened on Jan. 20.
However, cases like this are not unheard of. In 2002, the MPD reacted in the same way to a World Bank protest. The city later paid $8.25 million settlement money after 400 protesters brought lawsuits.
Thumbnail credit: Reuters