FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WASHINGTON – A federal judge today dismissed constitutional claims against former attorney general William Barr and other federal officials who ordered or participated in the violent June 1, 2020, attack on civil rights protestors at Lafayette Square Park near the White House. Today's decision held that federal officials cannot be sued for monetary compensation for violating constitutional rights whenever they do so against a crowd near the White House. Following the attack, President Trump staged a photo op of himself holding a Bible in front of a church.
The ruling permitted First Amendment claims to proceed against District of Columbia officers who deployed tear gas against demonstrators fleeing the federal attack because the D.C. officers were local rather than federal. But the Court also ruled that the Fourth Amendment does not protect against excessive force used to disperse people rather than to detain them.
The case was brought by the ACLU of the District of Columbia, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and the law firm of Arnold & Porter on behalf of Black Lives Matter D.C. and eight civil rights demonstrators, including two children, who were attacked without provocation or warning by officers using tear gas, rubber bullets, and flash bang grenades. The protest occurred in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and called for an end to police brutality and racism.
“Today’s ruling essentially gives the federal government a green light to use violence, including lethal force against demonstrators, as long as federal officials claim to be protecting national security, said Scott Michelman, Legal Director, ACLU of the District of Columbia. “Under today’s decision, Lafayette Square is now a Constitution-free zone when it comes to the actions of federal officials. Not only is this decision a stunning rejection of our constitutional values and protestors’ First Amendment rights, but it effectively places federal officials above the law.
“We plan to evaluate all our legal options to ensure that protestors cannot be wantonly attacked at the whim of a federal official. The blitzkrieg unleashed against civil rights demonstrators in Lafayette Square is a stain on our nation’s commitment to the Constitution, and slamming the courthouse doors in the face of the demonstrators because the defendants are federal, rather than state or local officials, sends exactly the wrong message about what our country stands for. Congress should plug this dangerous gap in our system of constitutional remedies by legislating that federal officers, no less than state and local ones, can be sued when they violate individuals’ rights.”
More information about the lawsuit, Black Lives Matter D.C. v. Trump, can be found here.