This case challenges two forms of abuse that the District’s Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) regularly inflicts on the people it polices. The first is the use of chemical irritants and explosive munitions, such as flash bang grenades, to break up protests. These tactics can cause demonstrators severe pain and long-term trauma. In July 2020, the D.C. Council banned MPD from using these weapons to disperse demonstrations. Yet on August 29, 2020, MPD officers sprayed chemical irritants and deployed flash grenades against a crowd of people near Black Lives Matter Plaza (near 16th Street NW and H Street NW) who were protesting brutality and racism in policing. Journalists Oyoma Asinor and Bryan Dozier, who were present to cover the event, were hit by the irritants and terrified by the explosions. They suffered searing pain and significant emotional distress as a result.
The second tactic at issue is MPD’s practice of retaining cell phones seized from arrestees long after the law enforcement need for the phones has ended. Since 2017, there have been hundreds of instances where MPD took phones from arrestees and retained them for months after prosecutors declined to charge the owner, charges against the owner were dropped, or the time reasonably needed to obtain and execute a warrant expired. For instance, in this case, when Mr. Asinor covered another protest against unjust policing that occurred near Black Lives Matter Plaza on August 30, MPD arrested him (even though he broke no laws), seized his phone and camera, and held these items for more than eleven months after prosecutors declined to charge him with any crimes.
On behalf of Mr. Asinor and Mr. Dozier, we filed this lawsuit to challenge these practices, which violated their rights under D.C. law and the Constitution.
On August 29, 2022, the district court dismissed the plaintiffs’ complaint. The plaintiffs have filed a notice of appeal with the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. We argued the case before the D.C. Circuit in September 2023.