ACLU, NAACP sue LMPD, City of Louisville for alleged excessive force on protesters

ACLU, NAACP sue LMPD, City of Louisville for alleged excessive force on protesters
Demonstrators at a racial justice protest in downtown Louisville, Ky. (Source: Evershot)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - The Louisville Metro Police Department and the City of Louisville are under fire for using alleged excessive force against protesters, and they’re now facing a class-action lawsuit.

Filed Thursday by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Legal Defense Fund, the suit is calling for LMPD to stop using crowd control weapons like tear gas and pepper balls on demonstrators, claiming their response in the last few months has been excessive and unconstitutional.

“It’s all the more striking when we see these protests against police violence, that they’ve been met with more police violence,” Aaron Tucek with the ACLU said.

The plaintiffs allege the city “has chosen to forcibly silence them [protesters]—often using military-type weapons and tactics that resemble those used by authoritarian regimes.”

“LMPD, using this kind of force, where it’s completely unjustified is what cost Brianna Taylor her life, cost David McAfee his life, and it’s what’s keeping these protesters sort of from actually participating in the end of the public speech and debate process,” Ashok Chandran with LDF said.

Corbin Smith claims he thought he was going to die at the hands of LMPD when an officer allegedly knelt on his neck. State Representative Attica Scott claims she was tear-gassed without warning during a demonstration.

”Even though they’re called ‘less than lethal’ weapons, these are not things that are harmless,” Chandran said. “Tear gas can have really long-lasting consequences on people. Flashbangs can cause severe injury, death, loss of limbs. Pepper balls, when fired at the head and neck and face, which we have some evidence that LMPD has been doing, can actually cause people to lose eyes, can cause severe facial damage.”

There are several individual plaintiffs named in the lawsuit as well as the Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Oppression. Chandran says those plaintiffs are filing “on behalf of all protesters who have been taking part in the demonstrations in Louisville, and who had been subjected to these kinds of egregious abuses.”

The class-action suit claims violations of constitutional rights to peaceful protest and to be free from excessive force, like when officers used crowd-control weapons such as tear gas, pepper balls and batons on protesters.

“When police officers are firing pepper bullets indiscriminately into the crowd, when they’re firing tear gas that’s affecting hundreds of people all together in a crowd, that is not a tailored action in response to probable cause that a crime had been committed, which is what the law requires. That’s an excessive use of force that violates your constitutional rights,” Tucek said.

LMPD has said they use these methods when people in the crowd act unlawfully or dangerously.

”The appropriate response if someone has broken into a building or something like that is for police to deal with that particular individual. It’s not to unleash these weapons, these indiscriminate weapons on the entire crowd of people,” Tucek said. ”You’re making the entire area unsafe to occupy. You’re making anyone who’s just trying to speak out about how police use force and violence subject to that very same course of violence,” Chandran said.

The suit holds the entire chain of command responsible, even Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, and covers the entire timeline of events from the deaths of Breonna Taylor and David McAtee and ending with the Metro Council’s open investigation into the city’s response.

”We’re bringing this lawsuit to try and put some measure of legal protection to ensure that, going forward, whatever happens, that people are able to vindicate their rights, free from the violence at the hands of police officers,” Tucek said.

The groups are seeking a court order stopping LMPD from using these crowd control methods as well as a revision of their use of force policy. They are also seeking damages for the plaintiffs.

“What we’re seeing is that there’s not really any restriction on when LMPD feels like it can use tear gas or flashbangs or pepper balls,” Chandran said. “We want this lawsuit to be a real opportunity for both the city, but also Mayor Fischer, Interim Chief Schroeder, and all the other figures within LMPD to start thinking critically about what it means to use force for some people who are exercising their constitutional rights, particularly when it comes to a moment like now where we’re talking about police brutality as a nation.”

Jean Porter, a spokeswoman for the mayor’s office, addressed the lawsuit Friday.

“The complaint raises very important issues as we, as a city and a nation, work through the complexities of balancing personal and public safety with a person’s First Amendment right to protest,” Porter said. “We’ll work with the Jefferson County Attorney’s office on any further response.”

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