BATON ROUGE, La. -- The ACLU of Louisiana and other local groups filed a lawsuit against the Baton Rouge Police Department and other local law enforcement agencies Wednesday, CBS affiliate WAFB reported.
The lawsuit claims that police violated the First Amendment rights of the demonstrators who were peacefully protesting. Several protests were held across Baton Rouge following the death of 37-year-old Alton Sterling.
The police have come under fire for tactics they used on protesters over the weekend. Over a three-day period, police arrested about 200 people.
The suit alleges that officers used excessive force, wrongful arrests, and both physical and verbal abuse to break up the protests.
The groups have reportedly collected eyewitness accounts that describe the actions of police in full riot gear with assault rifles. The reports claim that the police lunged and grabbed at protesters, throwing them down to the ground.
"[The police response] made me afraid to protest. Seeing the way the police were manhandling folks caused me to hide, scream out of fear, and finally flee for my safety. I had to run. A peaceful demonstration should never be like that," expressed Crystal Williams, local resident and organizer with North Baton Rouge Matters. "I feel like speech is my most powerful tool to ensure my community and my family are safe. But now I feel totally silenced."
The governor has defended the police, calling their response "moderate."
Alison Renee McCrary, the president of the Louisiana Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, stated in a news release that she witnessed the demonstrators being attacked and arrested firsthand. She said that she saw "assault weapons pointed at [the protestors] with fingers on the triggers, some dragged across the cement, their clothes ripped off of them."
"What I saw happening was an immediate threat to life," McCrary said in the release. "My and other demonstrators' speech was chilled because of this event."
The lawyers for the plaintiffs in the suit filed for a temporary restraining order against the defendants, which includes the city of Baton Rouge, BRPD, Louisiana State Police, the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office, and several law enforcement officials.
The temporary restraining order would prevent those parties from interfering with demonstrators' constitutionally protected right to peacefully protest in the future.
"The police didn't do their job in Baton Rouge, again. They are bound to protect us from harm, to keep us safe, to do everything possible before throwing someone to the ground or pulling the trigger. Yet Alton Sterling is on the long list of Black people killed needlessly by our nation's police, and protests in his honor have turned into circuses of violence where the First Amendment is tossed aside," said ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Marjorie Esman. "We can't bring Alton Sterling back but at minimum, the police can stop blocking our right to protest in his name."
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