The Baton Rouge Police Department and state law enforcement officials were sued in federal court on Wednesday for violating the First Amendment rights of dozens of protesters detained at demonstrations in the city last weekend.
The suit, which asks for a restraining order to prohibit officers from arresting or intimidating protesters rallying to express their anger at the killing of Alton Sterling, was filed by a coalition of rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Lawyers Guild.
The lawyers note that a litany of violations can be seen in video recorded by protesters and journalists as more than 180 arrests were made over the weekend by heavily armed police officers, including:
a. Excluding lawful protestors from public forum space, including sidewalks, neutral ground, and public property;
b. Engaging with peaceful protestors in a militarized fashion, including full body gear, threatening the use of chemical agents, and keeping live automatic weapons trained on peaceful crowds;
c. Arresting protestors for “obstruction” of a highway in the absence of any impact on traffic or vehicle safety;
d. Giving contradictory and confusing ad hoc orders to protestors, then arresting individuals for noncompliance;
e. Arresting legal observers and members of the press without probable cause;
As The Intercept reported previously, images of officers dressed for battle confronting and arresting peaceful protesters in Baton Rouge provoked sharp reactions on social networks over the weekend.
More video has come to light in the days since, along with firsthand accounts from protesters and journalists who were detained.
Among the activists arrested on Sunday were Blair Imani, 22, a former student at Louisiana State University who now works for Planned Parenthood, and her partner, Akeem Muhammad, 24, who is also a former student at LSU.