Judge tosses out lawsuits seeking claims for BLM demonstrators in Lafayette Park

A majority of lawsuits filed against the federal government by protesters who were driven from Lafayette Park last summer following clashes with police and uniformed Secret Service personnel near the White House were dismissed by a federal judge, though he has still allowed them to seek damages from Arlington, Va., and Washington, D.C., over police actions.

U.S. District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich, a Trump appointee, tossed out Black Lives Matter protesters’ damage claims against former officials including President Donald Trump, Attorney General Bill Barr, and Defense Secretary Mark Esper, along with some current U.S. officials, Politico reported.

In addition, Friedrich turned down requests to issue an injunction that would ban similar police actions against raucous protesters during future demonstrations.

“Such harm would require that plaintiffs again demonstrate in Lafayette Square; that agencies headed by the official-capacity defendants again respond to the demonstration; that federal officers again use that law enforcement response as cover to deliberately target non-violent peaceful demonstrators; and that one or more of the plaintiffs again be targeted,” Friedrich added.

“This hypothetical chain of events is simply too speculative to confer standing for injunctive relief.”

She did agree, however, to consider demonstrators’ arguments that their First Amendment rights were violated when they were driven from the park, which is close to the White House. But she dismissed claims that demonstrators were detained in any way under federal law.

In their suit, though plaintiffs argued that “the officers attacked and improperly dispersed the protesters — they did not restrain them or attempt to seize them in place,” Friedrich wrote.

“Indeed, quite the opposite was true—the officers attempted to cause the protestors and fleeing crowd to leave their location, rather than cause them to remain there,” she noted.

Generally speaking, the suits claimed that police engaged in excessive force to disperse protesters who had gathered in the park in the days after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. The suits say that police used pepper balls and tear gas as well as shields to charge into and disperse the crowds.

The suits also alleged that officers engaged in political retribution on behalf of the former president who had been urging authorities around the country to crack down on violent protesters who were also damaging private and public property, another accusation dismissed by Friedrich.

In early June 2020, U.S. Park Police officers deployed to Lafayette Park to stop rowdy protesters from toppling a statue of President Andrew Jackson. After they arrived, officers came under assault by protesters who pelted them with frozen water bottles, rocks, and other objects, causing them to react and defend themselves by pushing protesters out of the park after demonstrators were repeatedly warned to disperse.

Trump was accused of ordering the crowd physically disbanded so he could walk to nearby St. John’s Church, which had been set ablaze the night before, to engage in a photo op. Administration officials pushed back on the accusation but were ignored, as most major media ran with the false narrative.

Acting Park Police Chief Gregory Monahan issued a statement June 2, 2020, amid ongoing protests in the city near the White House that his officers were under assault when they moved to push demonstrators out of the park. Then-White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany also told reporters at the time that the order to push the crowd back had actually been given several hours earlier by AG Barr, who was surprised when he came to work that morning that it had not yet been done.

To the accusation that Trump sought a photo op, a recent Interior Department inspector general report vindicated the prior administration, finding that police were not directed by the White House or the former president to clear protesters from the park.

There was also concern that protesters would overwhelm uniformed Secret Service officers and Park Police and storm the White House — so much so, that for a short while, Trump was ushered into an underground bunker used for terrorist attacks.

“Nervous for his safety, Secret Service agents abruptly rushed the president to the underground bunker used in the past during terrorist attacks,” The New York Times reported then.

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Jon Dougherty

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