In June of last year, when protesters surrounded the White House and blocked off Lafayette Square, police officers cleared the area using smoke bombs and pepper balls. This was done as part of an order to expand the security perimeter around the White House and to clear a path for President Trump and numerous members of his staff to inspect St. John’s church, which had undergone damage from arsonists in the mob. Some of the protesters signed on attorneys in an attempt to sue the President and Attorney General William Barr for allegedly violating their civil rights and blocking their ability to “peacefully protest.” This week a federal judge dismissed nearly all of the charges while allowing the case brought against some of the police officers to proceed. (Associated Press)
A federal judge dismissed most claims filed by activists and civil liberties groups who accused the Trump administration of violating the civil rights of protesters who were forcefully removed by police before then-President Donald Trump walked to a church near the White House for a photo op.
U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich said Monday the claims in the suit, which alleged that Trump and then-Attorney General William Barr had conspired to violate the rights of protesters last June, were speculative and it was premature for the court to conclude whether the actions of law enforcement officers were justified.
Friedrich dismissed the claims against Barr and other federal officials, including the acting U.S. Park Police chief, Gregory Monahan, finding there wasn’t sufficient evidence to prove there was any agreement or plan to violate the rights of the protesters. The judge also said the law gives them immunity in civil litigation.
This was always going to be a heavy lift for the people who were cleared from Lafayette Square. They needed to somehow prove that the President had “conspired” with the Attorney General to silence them or prevent them from demonstrating. As the subsequent investigation showed, Barr had already been working on plans to expand the security perimeter because of the ongoing damage being caused by the mobs. The case against both Trump and Barr was weak sauce from the beginning since there was little to no chance of showing intent.
Further, it was announced in advance that Trump and his entourage were going to be traveling by foot to St. John’s. The Secret Service does not allow the President to walk unimpeded through a crowd with no way to protect him from physical attacks. This is particularly true when the crowd is obviously angry and willing to engage in destructive behavior. The crowd was verbally ordered to clear the square and when they refused, law enforcement resorted to more forceful measures to move them out of the path.
The lawsuits against the Metropolitan Police Department and the Arlington Police Department are being allowed to move forward, but that doesn’t mean that victory for the plaintiffs is anywhere near assured. The officers had been ordered to clear Lafayette Square and those orders were clearly communicated to the crowd. The mob was collectively in violation of the law when they refused to follow instructions from the police. That meant that force was required to clear the area and both smoke bombs and pepper balls are recognized as tools of non-lethal force.
In order to prevail in the remaining suits, attorneys for the plaintiff will have to somehow demonstrate that the police were conspiring to silence the protesters and deprive them of their civil rights. Since they had been directed to move to adjacent areas where they could have continued protesting to their hearts’ content, that’s going to be a seriously heavy lift as well. In the end, this seems to boil down to yet another case of liberals who were angry at the Bad Orange Man and wanted to find a way to take him down in court using a nuisance lawsuit. Better luck next time, folks.