ACLU Sues Baton Rouge Police for 'Military-Grade Assault on Protesters' Bodies and Rights'

by | July 14, 2016 AT 12:00 PM

By Joe Gyan Jr.

Local and state law enforcement agencies have run roughshod over the First Amendment in dealing with protesters in the wake of Alton Sterling's July 5 shooting death at the hands of Baton Rouge police, Louisiana's leading civil liberties organization and local organizing groups alleged Wednesday in a federal lawsuit.

The suit claims the Baton Rouge Police Department, East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office and Louisiana State Police have used excessive force, physical and verbal abuse, and wrongful arrests to disperse protesters who have gathered to speak out against Sterling's death.

Citizens "have engaged in this peaceful speech, association, and protest on the streets, sidewalks, and medians of Baton Rouge -- traditional public for a where individuals' First Amendment rights are at their zenith," the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Louisiana and other groups state in the suit. "Unfortunately, this exercise of constitutional rights has been met with a military-grade assault on protesters' bodies and rights."

The suit, filed in Baton Rouge federal court and assigned to U.S. District Judge John deGravelles, seeks a temporary restraining order against local and state law enforcement agencies to prevent authorities from interfering with the constitutionally protected right to gather peacefully in the days ahead.

"The police didn't do their job in Baton Rouge, again," said Marjorie Esman, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana. "They are bound to protect us from harm, to keep us safe, to do everything possible before throwing someone to the ground or pulling the trigger."

Esman said protests of Sterling's killing "have turned into circuses of violence where the First Amendment is tossed aside."

Dozens of protesters were arrested in Baton Rouge over the weekend as police donned riot gear and carried assault rifles. Most of the arrests were for obstructing roadways.

In addition to BRPD, defendants are the City of Baton Rouge; Police Chief Carl Dabadie, Jr., Louisiana Department of Public Safety; Louisiana State Police and Col. Michael Edmonson, the superintendent of State Police; East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office and Sheriff Sid J. Gautreaux III; Mayor President Kip Holden; and District Attorney Hillar C. Moore, III.

Joining the ACLU in the suit are North Baton Rouge Matters; Black Youth Project 100; New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice; and the Louisiana Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.

(c)2016 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.