WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union sued D.C.’s police department this week for “manual rectal probing,” excessive force and other abuses they claim inauguration protesters endured at the hands of officers.
The Metropolitan Police Department, though, fired back that some of the protesters that day were “rioters” and many of those were indicted by a grand jury.
The ACLU lawsuit, filed in federal district court, also includes D.C.’s government and Police Chief Peter Newsham.
“During the course of demonstrations in the District of Columbia that day, several acts of vandalism occurred. In response, the District’s Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) rounded up and arrested hundreds of people, including people who engaged in no illegal activity, by chasing them and blocking streets so as to force them into a confined area,” the lawsuit states. “During the chase and then while detaining demonstrators for hours, police fired pepper spray, tear gas, and flash-bang grenades at crowds of demonstrators, journalists, and legal observers, frequently without warning or justification.”
“In the course of the roundup and subsequent processing of demonstrators, police held detainees for hours without food, water, or access to toilets; handcuffed detainees so tightly as to cause injury or loss of feeling; and subjected some detainees to manual rectal probing. Much of MPD’s misconduct has been independently documented by the District of Columbia’s Office of Police Complaints.”
The ACLU is representing photojournalist Shay Horse of New York, activist Elizabeth Lagesse of Baltimore and Milo Gonzalez of New York, and legal observer (as denoted by his hat at the scene) Judah Ariel of D.C.
All plaintiffs said they were pepper-sprayed by officers “without justification and without warning” while Horse and Gonzalez “were subjected to intrusive, humiliating, and unjustified manual rectal probing and grabbing of their testicles.” The lawsuit alleges that officers laughed at detainees during cavity searches and did not change gloves between rectal probes of different men.
“While Plaintiffs Lagesse, Horse, and Gonzalez were detained on a D.C. street corner and later in police transport vehicles, they were unreasonably denied food, water, and access to a toilet for periods ranging from 7 to 16 hours; arresting officers unnecessarily prolonged the arrest process in order to keep detainees in a state of anxiety, hunger, thirst, and other discomfort. Plaintiffs Lagesse and Horse were handcuffed so tightly that one of Plaintiff Lagesse’s wrists bled and Plaintiff Horse lost feeling in several fingers, some of which were numb for months afterward,” the complaint continues. None of the plaintiffs were engaged in unlawful activity, the suit emphasizes.
While the detainees were corralled by the police, the lawsuit charges, an officer allegedly told a detainee “that she should ‘shit [her] pants’ to prove she needed a toilet.”
“Having no other place to urinate, some of the demonstrators urinated on the street or against the side of buildings. Some demonstrators rummaged in the trash for empty bottles in which to urinate. At least one demonstrator crouched against the side of a building and defecated into a paper bag.” After about eight hours Lagesse, says the ACLU filing, was given access to a restroom but no toilet paper.
The ACLU charges that the department committed First, Fourth, and Fifth amendment violations and violated D.C.’s First Amendment Assemblies Act for surrounding protesters without probable cause to believe they were the ones committing unlawful acts that day.
D.C. police responded to the lawsuit in a statement, stressing that every year their officers “protect the right and ensure the safety of thousands of First Amendment assemblies, demonstrations and protests.”
“During the 58th presidential 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 statement continued. “These individuals were ultimately arrested for their criminal actions, and the bulk of them are pending prosecution after being indicted by a grand jury.”
“As with any pending criminal or civil matter, we will continue to support and respect the formal legal process. Moreover, all instances of use of force by officers and allegations of misconduct will be fully investigated.”