- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Baton Rouge police submerged in flood recovery efforts also are grappling with a lawsuit filed by Black Lives Matter protesters claiming excessive use of force during demonstrations that left three officers dead last month.

Roy J. Rodney Jr., a Baton Rouge attorney for three Black Lives Matter activists, confirmed Tuesday that the complaint remains active even though all charges were dropped shortly after the mass arrests.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana also has filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction to stop officers from using “militarized tactics,” such as the deployment of armored vehicles, at protests.

“Right now, it’s kind of in a pending state,” said Marjorie Esman, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana. “But it’s very much an ongoing lawsuit. We don’t intend to drop it just because they dismissed charges against some of the people they arrested.”

Given that Black Lives Matter has already come under criticism for doing nothing in the wake of the flooding, however, the lawsuit “is not going to do anything to endear Black Lives Matter to local people,” said the American Conservative’s Rod Dreher, who lives in Louisiana.

“Half of the Baton Rouge Police Department’s officers lost their homes, and about a third of the sheriff’s deputies,” Mr. Dreher said. “Despite that, they have been working very hard doing flood relief, even though it has meant that in some cases they can’t get to their own houses to try to save them.”

The lawsuits coincide with a series of storms that flooded 20 parishes in what the Red Cross has described as the worst natural disaster since Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

Thirteen people died in the flooding, and more than 60,000 homes were damaged. Initial costs are estimated at more than $30 million.

“Police brutality is a real and serious issue, but it’s not the only real and serious issue in the world, and certainly not in Baton Rouge after the flood,” Mr. Dreher said. “Maybe I’ve missed them, but I haven’t seen any Black Lives Matter figures down here serving food in shelters. If DeRay Mckesson has been here helping people, black or otherwise, muck out their flooded houses, I haven’t seen it.”

“Obviously, the focus of the community right now is on the flooding, as it should be,” Ms. Esman said, but “at some point, the community’s going to return to the ability to do business as usual, at which point we still need the same protections from police that were needed before.”

She noted that the Black Lives Matter class-action complaint seeks monetary damages and the ACLU motion does not.

The plaintiffs in the Black Lives Matter complaint include prominent activist DeRay Mckesson and Socialist Party presidential candidate Gloria La Riva.

“Defendants used excessive force in attacking, battering, beating, and assaulting plaintiffs and class members without provocation or the need for defense,” says the lawsuit, filed Aug. 4.

The complaint says the plastic handcuffs placed on some protesters were “uniformly and consistently excessively too tight. Plaintiffs and class members experienced pain, swelling, bruising and numbness from the handcuffs.”

Louisiana State Police Superintendent Col. Michael Edmonson has defended the actions by law enforcement during the July 8-11 protests, sparked by the July 5 shooting death of Alton Sterling, 37. He told The Baltimore Sun that officers exercised “great restraint.”

“I didn’t witness any aggressive form of behavior by any police officer,” Col. Edmonson told The Associated Press.

East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar C. Moore III dismissed misdemeanor charges last month against about 100 of those arrested during the demonstrations, sparked by the fatal shooting of Sterling outside a Baton Rouge convenience store.

Three officers — Montrell Jackson, Brad Garafola and Matthew Gerald — were assassinated July 17 by a gunman at the height of the Baton Rouge demonstrations, which drew thousands of protesters.

Named in the lawsuit filed by the activists are Col. Edmonson, the city of Baton Rouge, Mayor Melvin “Kip” Holden, the East Baton Rouge Parish, the parish sheriff and the Baton Rouge police chief.

Damages sought by the protesters include reimbursement for bail money, lost wages, attorneys’ fees and the costs associated with expunging their arrests from the records. East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar C. Moore III said there is no charge for first-time offenders seeking to expunge misdemeanor arrests from their criminal histories.

The ACLU of Louisiana says police used “excessive force, physical and verbal abuse, and wrongful arrests to disperse protesters who were gathered peacefully to speak out against the police killing of Alton Sterling.”

“It was that whole kind of militarized response with armored vehicles and the gas masks, which suggests that they were intending to use all kinds of chemical weapons and that kind of militarized use of force without any kind of probable cause,” said Ms. Esman.

She said there is some urgency, given that the Justice Department is expected to release at any time the results of its investigation into the Sterling shooting.

“Because of the flooding right now, that has taken precedence, but still, we need to make sure we have protections in place,” Ms. Esman said. “Because the investigation will conclude at some point, the results will be released at any time, and when that happens, we need to make sure that what happened doesn’t happen again.”

Black Lives Matter activists also have filed protest-related lawsuits against authorities in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Berkeley, California.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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