BATON ROUGE, La. – Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson sued the city of Baton Rouge and police officials on Thursday, saying officers responded in a “militarized and aggressive manner” in arresting him and other people protesting a police shooting death.
Mckesson was among nearly 200 protesters arrested in Baton Rouge following the July 5 shooting death of 37-year-old Alton Sterling, a black man who was shot during a struggle with two white police officers. The federal class-action lawsuit, which names two other arrested protesters as plaintiffs, accuses police of using excessive force and violating the protesters’ constitutional rights.
The suit said police advanced against protesters while wearing military gear and gas masks and brandishing assault weapons alongside armoured vehicles. Officers threatened peaceful protesters by pointing their weapons directly at them, the suit said.
“Defendants used excessive force in attacking, battering, beating, and assaulting plaintiffs and class members without provocation or the need for defence,” the suit said.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has defended the police response to the protests, saying their use of riot gear and weaponry was appropriate. The governor, a Democrat who comes from a family of sheriffs, also noted that a police officer had teeth knocked out by a rock during protests.
Sterling’s shooting was captured on cellphone video and circulated widely on the internet. His death, along with another fatal police shooting in Minnesota, sparked widespread protests in Baton rouge and beyond. The Justice Department is investigating Sterling’s death.
Mckesson, a Baltimore resident, was arrested July 9 near Baton Rouge police headquarters on a charge of obstructing a highway. East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore has said Mckesson is one of roughly 100 arrested protesters who will not be prosecuted by his office for the same charge.
But the lawsuit said Mckesson and other arrested protesters had to pay administrative and court fees to be released from jail and will have to pay more to have their arrest records expunged.
“All class members now have criminal arrest records, which in this digital age could adversely affect their future employment, education, reputations, and professional licensing,” according to the suit, which seeks unspecified compensation for lost wages, court costs and other expenses related to the arrests.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana and other groups also filed a lawsuit last month over the treatment of protesters by police.
East Baton Rouge Parish, the mayor, the head of the state police, the city’s police chief and the local sheriff are also named as defendants.
State Police Col. Mike Edmonson, who hadn’t seen the lawsuit, said he believes police “exercised great restraint” in response to the protests.
“I didn’t witness any aggressive form of behaviour by any police officer,” he said.
On July 13, after the protests began to abate, police announced that they had arrested three suspects accused of stealing several handguns from a pawn shop as part of an alleged plot to harm police officers in the Baton Rouge area. Police Chief Carl Dabadie Jr. cited those “credible threats” as the reason for police officers’ tactics and their “show of force” during the protests.
Four days later, a lone gunman, Gavin Long, shot and killed three law enforcement officers and wounded three others outside a Baton Rouge convenience store. Long, a black military veteran from Kansas City, Missouri, had posted rambling internet videos calling for violence in response to what he considered oppression.