A class action lawsuit claims Richmond, VA police used “intentional, unjustified, and inexcusable force and threats of force" against peaceful protestors demonstrating near the Lee Memorial on June 1, 2020.
Five plaintiffs allege the Richmond City Police Department (RCPD) used “intentional, unjustified, and inexcusable force and threats of force” to disperse those peacefully protesting near the Lee Memorial on June 1, 2020.
The 31-page proposed class action says the RCPD trained assault rifles and other firearms on the crowd and deployed tear gas and pepper spray to disperse those exercising their right to peaceful assembly by protesting the extra-judicial killings of George Floyd and countless other Black citizens at the hands of police.
The plaintiffs claim the RCPD’s conduct on June 1 was “motivated by actual malice against the assembly, and/or desiring to exact revenge” for what took place during “previous separate protests” in Richmond.
According to the suit, the RCPD, identified in the case as John/Jane Does 1-X, wielding batons and marching “with arms and armor” through the assembly area, violated proposed class members’ constitutional rights under the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. The lawsuit timestamps the RCPD’s allegedly unlawful use of force as occurring between roughly 7:32 and 7:42 p.m.
“At no time prior to the ambush was the assembly at the Lee Circle violent,” the complaint says. “At no time prior to the ambush at the Lee Circle commit [sic] any property destruction. At no time prior to the ambush did the assembly at the Lee Circle attempt to damage, deface, or destroy the memorial or other public or private property.”
Monday, June 1, saw a large number of demonstrators initiate a peaceful assembly that began at Richmond’s Monroe Park, the lawsuit says. According to the complaint, the assembly’s organizers “took extraordinary, public steps” to ensure the demonstration would be “peaceful, nonviolent, and nondestructive of private or public property.”
The organizers’ efforts included “repeated, explicit direction” during public speeches of the non-violent and non-destructive goals of the protest, as well as the use of self-policing among participants and chants to “redirect emotions away from anger” and toward non-violence and non-aggression, according to the suit. Generally, the demonstrators near Lee Memorial were “in agreement with the nonviolent and nondestructive goals” of the protest and complied with according directions, distinguishing the assembly from more destructive protests that took place on May 29 and 30, the lawsuit says.
The June 1 assembly was at no point violet or destructive as it made its way over the course of roughly one hour from Monroe Park to the Capitol, a trek accompanied by an RCPD escort, the lawsuit says.
After peacefully gathering around the General J.E.B. for roughly a half hour, the demonstration, surrounded by an RCPD escort, made its way to the General Robert E. Lee memorial at Lee Circle. Once arrived, the assembly was “peaceful” with “no threats of violence,” and no participants destroyed or attempted to destroy or deface any public or private property, the lawsuit says.
At approximately 7:31 p.m., almost a full half hour prior to Richmond’s curfew, members of the RCPD, without provocation or warning, appeared in a convoy of vehicles heading down Monument Avenue toward Lee Circle, establishing a “heavily armed and armored” skirmish line, the lawsuit alleges. Within a minute of arriving on the scene, several RCPD officers “assumed aggressive shooting stances,” aiming their rifles or sidearms at the assembly and causing many participants to fear that they were about to be fired upon, the complaint claims, leading many to leave the protest.
Some who did not leave the protest chose to move to the east side of the Lee Memorial, “maintaining a safe and respectful distance of tens of yards” from the skirmish line, and began to object to the “excessive show of force” with shouts and chants of “Hands-up—Don’t shoot,” according to the suit.
As more police arrived on the scene, tear gas canisters were soon deployed at Lee Circle without warning, causing demonstrators to disperse and terminate their constitutionally protected peaceful assembly, the lawsuit says. According to the lawsuit, the chemical irritant was used within minutes of Richmond police arriving on the scene and despite the fact that RCPD had ample time to assess the peaceful nature of the protest, to give directions or warnings to demonstrators, and to determine if any illegal conduct was occurring.
“Further, if more time was needed, they could have taken more time, as there was no emergent need to launch this attack,” the suit adds.
According to the lawsuit, the RCPD, “recognizing the grave illegality of their actions,” took to Twitter to spark a “disinformation campaign to create a false narrative.” Tweets issued in the wake of the June 1 protest and the RCPD’s actions were “patently false,” the plaintiffs allege.
The lawsuit looks to represent:
“Any individual, excluding on-duty law enforcement personnel, present at Lee Circle (to include the enclosed park, the street, and the immediately adjacent road verge and sidewalks) in Richmond, Virginia, on June 1, 2020, to engage in a protected, First Amendment activity, and who witnessed, and was injured by or threated [sic] by, the acts of violence or threats of violence perpetrated by Richmond Police officers, employees, or agents, at any time in the ten minute period beginning when Richmond Police openly trained firearms on the gathered assembly at approximately 7:32 p.m.”
The complaint can be found below.
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