September 27, 2019


WASHINGTON – The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has ruled the ACLU of the District of Columbia’s lawsuit on behalf of six individuals who claim violations of their rights by D.C. police on Inauguration Day 2017 may proceed. The lawsuit charges the District, 28 Metropolitan Police Department officers, and police Chief Peter Newsham with indiscriminate pepper-spraying; making improper arrests; denying detainees food, water, and access to toilets; and violating the First Amendment rights of protestors on January 20, 2017. The plaintiffs in the case are a photojournalist, a legal observer, and four demonstrators, including one who was just 10 years old at the time of the protest.

“Today’s ruling is a significant victory for the Constitution and the rule of law. The core of our case is moving forward, including at least one claim about each of the types of misconduct our clients experienced that day: mass arrest, excessive force, injurious handcuffing, denial of detainees’ basic needs, and an intrusive search,” said Scott Michelman, Legal Co-Director, ACLU-DC, and lead counsel for the plaintiffs. “D.C. police not only arrested and attacked scores of law-abiding demonstrators on Inauguration Day, but also cast a chill over the exercise of First Amendment rights in the nation’s capital.”

“I’m pleased the judge is allowing our case to proceed,” said Elizabeth Lagesse, an Inauguration Day demonstrator and one of the plaintiffs in the case. “I think about what happened that day every time I consider participating in a protest. The abusive actions of the police that day conflict with the basic principles of a free society, and this case is about making sure that dissent is respected and protected in the future.”

First filed in June 2017, the lawsuit was amended in January 2018 to add two new plaintiffs and identify 27 of the 28 MPD officers named only as “John Doe” or “Jane Doe” in the original complaint. In March 2018, the government filed its motion to dismiss the case; briefing on that motion concluded in July 2018, with one claim receiving additional briefing in January 2019. Today’s decision was ruling on that motion.

The Court allowed plaintiffs to proceed with multiple claims under the Fourth Amendment along with claims for violations of due process, assault and battery, false arrest, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The Court dismissed claims under the First Amendment and First Amendment Assemblies Act, as well as claims related to one plaintiff’s assault.

“One disappointing aspect of today’s decision was the court’s dismissal of claims under D.C.’s First Amendment Assemblies Act, which the Council passed specifically to protect free speech activity,” added Michelman. “The court’s conclusion that the law cannot be enforced renders it largely toothless in protecting demonstrators’ rights.”

A written decision will not be issued; plaintiffs will be ordering a transcript of the oral ruling.

Legal documents and a summary of this case can be found at