Civil rights organizations representing racial justice protesters attacked in June 2020 at Lafayette Square, across the street from the White House, will present oral arguments in the consolidated Buchanan v. Barr / Black Lives Matter D.C. v. Barr case before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. The protesters are pursuing constitutional claims seeking compensation from federal officials who ordered or carried out the attack, including former attorney general William Barr, Park Police Incident Commander Mark Adamchik, and line-level officers from the U.S. Park Police.
The Black Lives Matter D.C. class action lawsuit was brought by the ACLU of the District of Columbia, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, the 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 who were attacked without warning by officers using tear gas, rubber bullets, and flash bang grenades. The protest occurred in the wake of former Minneapolis Police Department officer Derek Chauvin’s murder of George Floyd, and it called for an end to police brutality and racism. .
WHEN AND WHERE:
April 4, 2023
U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit
333 Constitution Ave., NW Washington, DC 20001
Audio live stream online: Watch Here
Scott Michelman, Legal Director of the ACLU of the District of Columbia, will present oral arguments as counsel for Black Lives Matter D.C. plaintiffs. Lee Crain of Gibson, Dunn, & Crutcher LLP will present oral arguments as counsel for the Buchanan plaintiffs.
A federal judge previously 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 protesters at Lafayette Square Park. That 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.
The same 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.
The plaintiffs appealed the dismissal of the federal defendants, and the Black Lives Matter D.C. case was consolidated with the Buchanan case, which has similar claims against the same defendants.
“What’s at stake in this appeal is a question testing our nation’s commitment to the rule of law: whether civil rights demonstrators, brutally attacked by federal officers without provocation across the street from the White House, can sue to vindicate their constitutional rights,” said Scott Michelman, Legal Director, ACLU of the District of Columbia, counsel for plaintiffs Black Lives Matter D.C. and eight individual demonstrators.
“On June 1, 2020, federal government officials launched a brutal attack on our clients and other peaceful protesters in Lafayette Park, in violation of the U.S. Constitution. The government is now trying to block our clients from seeking redress for these constitutional violations. If they succeed, Lafayette Park will be transformed from one of the country’s most important venues for public expression into a forum where federal officials can violate the constitution with impunity.” said Lee Crain, lawyer with Gibson, Dunn, & Crutcher LLP.
In April 2022, as part of a settlement of a different portion of the case, the federal government agreed to change the United States Park Police and the Secret Service policies relating to demonstrations. Those changes include (among others): raising the standard for Park Police to revoke demonstration permits; requiring Park Police to enable the safe withdrawal of demonstrators if a protest is being dispersed; requiring Park Police to provide audible warnings before dispersing a crowd; requiring Park Police to wear clearly visible identification; and reducing the opportunity for guilt-by-association policing by modifying Secret Service policy to make clear that uses of force and dispersals are not normally justified by the unlawful conduct of some individuals in a crowd.
Additional information about the Black Lives Matter D.C. v. Barr case (previously known as Black Lives Matter D.C. v. Trump) can be found here.