Black Lives Matter is getting an assist from a prominent Washington law firm in a new lawsuit against President Donald Trump by protesters who say they were violently dispersed from an event near the White House.
Trump, Attorney General William Barr, and Defense Secretary Mark Esper violated protestors’ constitutional rights by using tear gas, rubber bullets, and pepper spray to clear them from Lafayette Square, the group said in a lawsuit filed Thursday. The protests were among a wave of social unrest across the country in recent days, following the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minnesota.
Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer joined a number of civil rights organizations to bring the suit on behalf Black Lives Matter D.C. and five protesters who say they were injured in Monday’s clash, including a 9-year-old boy. The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, ACLU of the District of Columbia, and Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law are also representing the plaintiffs.
“This is an important case and it’s a pretty square fundamental question of whether senior government officials can completely trot over core constitutional rights without consequence,” said John Freedman, senior pro bono counsel, who is leading the firm’s efforts in the case.
A Justice Department spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to Bloomberg Law’s request for comment. A White House spokesman referred a comment request to DOJ.
As public outrage has escalated following the death of Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, law firms have pledged to push for social change. Freedman said it didn’t take long to get approval from the firm’s management to take on the case.
“I think recent events have really reminded the firm about how public spirited we are and how important these issues are,” he said.
Protesters were gathered peacefully in Lafayette Square on Monday, according to the complaint. Following President Trump’s speech in the Rose Garden that evening, officers of the National Guard, U.S. Park Police, U.S. Secret Service, D.C. National Guard and the U.S. Military Police were deployed to disperse the crowds.
The complaint alleges that “without provocation,” officers fired tear gas, pepper spray capsules, rubber bullets and flash bombs into the crowd in order to clear an area to permit the President to take a photo at nearby St. John’s Episcopal Church, which had been damaged in fires set the previous day.
“You look at what happened and its such a dramatic, stark illustration of how fundamental core constitutional rights were literally assaulted,” Freedman said.
In days following the incident, U.S. Park Police acknowledged its officers used smoke and irritating pepper agents to clear protesters, but have denied using “tear gas.”
“The President’s shameless, unconstitutional, and frankly criminal attack on peaceful protesters because he disagreed with their views shakes the foundation of our nation’s constitutional order,” Scott Michelman, legal director of the ACLU of the District of Columbia said in a statement.
Freedman is working on with a team of about 20 lawyers to identify witnesses and gathering evidence in the case.
Black Lives Matter also filed suit against Los Angeles and San Bernardino, Calif., on Thursday, alleging that curfews imposed by the cities in the wake of protests are unconstitutional.
The case is McDonald v. Trump, D. D.C. No. 20-cv-01469 6/4/20.