The American Civil Liberties Union is suing over the actions of District of Columbia police on Inauguration Day, saying police acted improperly by using pepper spray and flash-bang grenades without warning or justification and holding demonstrators without food, water or access to toilets, among other actions.
The ACLU's lawsuit was filed on behalf of four people, including three who were arrested on Inauguration Day: Shay Horse, Elizabeth Lagesse and Milo Gonzalez. Lagesse and Gonzalez still face charges while charges against Horse, who was photographing the march as a photojournalist, have been dropped. The lawsuit also includes Judah Ariel, who was at the demonstration as a legal observer. Despite wearing a green hat identifying him as a legal observer, he was pepper-sprayed, the lawsuit said.
"They hand cuffed us with zip ties that were so tight, several fingers on both my hands went numb. When I asked an officer to loosen the ties, he replied, 'They're not supposed to be comfortable,'" Horse said at a news conference Wednesday.
Horse said police were indiscriminate in rounding up demonstrators and "targeting everyone in the area that wasn't them." Horse said that though he was working as a journalist he was arrested and subjected to an invasive search.
"I feel like I was raped," he said.
Horse said police could clearly see that he was a photographer.
"I was just doing my job," Horse said.
More than 200 people were charged with rioting after protesters broke windows and set fire to a limousine the day of President Donald Trump's inauguration. But ACLU attorney Scott Michelman says police attacked peaceful demonstrators without justification and used the actions of a few to punish many law-abiding demonstrators.
"The MPD’s extreme tactics against members of the public, including journalists, demonstrators, and observers, were unjustifiable and unconstitutional,” Michelman said in a statement. “People from all over the country come to the nation’s capital to exercise their constitutional right to protest. MPD’s wanton and vindictive conduct on January 20 chills free speech, which is a vital part of our democracy."
The lawsuit seeks monetary damages to be determined by a jury. The ACLU said it could add more plaintiffs to the case.
"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 Metropolitan Police Department said in a statement responding to the lawsuit. "All instances of use of force by officers and allegations of misconduct will be fully investigated."