The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Indiana filed a lawsuit on Friday against the City of Fort Wayne and the Allen County Sheriff’s Department alleging the use of chemical agents, projectiles and drones on peaceful protesters violated their constitutional rights.
Protests against systemic racism in police departments erupted across the country after the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
The ACLU suit addresses protests in Fort Wayne “directed to institutional racism and policing practices” beginning May 29, and continuing with more protests to be held in the future.
It alleges the Fort Wayne defendants “engaged in a range of unreasonable and inappropriate behaviors designed to prevent the persons from engaging in lawful protest”.
The suit claims the “almost entirely peaceful protests” were “marred” by local law enforcement, which violated demonstrators’ rights under the First and Fourth Amendments of the United States Constitution by firing tear gas, rubber bullets, and pepper spray to disperse protests and used drones to identify protesters.
These events took place several times over the past month, the suit alleges.
BREAKING: We are suing the City of Fort Wayne and the Allen County Sheriff to immediately stop the use of chemical agents and projectiles on protesters.
Police must not respond to protesters speaking out against police brutality with yet more brutality.
— ACLU of Indiana (@ACLUIndiana) June 26, 2020
During the May 29 protest, police allegedly “indiscriminately” shot “dozens of tear gas canisters” at protesters, going on to use pepper spray on demonstrators who did not retreat.
The complaint also claims that protesters marching near Martin Luther King Bridge were blocked by police in both directions and then were shot with tear gas canisters by police that same day.
The First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the rights of free speech and assembly among others, and the Fourth Amendment protects from unreasonable searches and seizures and deals with privacy rights.
Members of Fort Wayne City Council reflect on the demonstrations and protests over the weekend for George Floyd. https://t.co/GvnOj44qj9
— Jentill Neal (@JNealFOX55) June 3, 2020
“Police must not respond to protesters speaking out against police brutality with yet more brutality. We will not let these violent attacks on our constitutional rights go unchecked,” Ken Falk, legal director at the ACLU of Indiana, said in a statement. “Excessive use of force against protesters chills free speech, and widens the rift of distrust between communities and the police that are sworn to serve them.”
In another incident on June 14, the ACLU alleges that police dragged protesters who had dispersed out of private businesses where they had sought shelter.
The ACLU seeks damages and an injunction in the lawsuit, which comes just a week after a similar lawsuit against the city of Indianapolis was filed by the group.
The ACLU of Virginia filed another similar suit on behalf of student protesters on Friday against the City of Richmond, the Richmond police department and the Virginia state police for “violating constitutional rights to free speech assembly and protest”, the group said in a statement.