Seven Charlotte, N.C. residents sued the city and its police department Friday over local law enforcement’s use of tear gas during protests held last month following the fatal officer-involved shooting of Keith Lamont Scott.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs filed the 21-page complaint in federal court late Friday a month and a day after Scott, 43, was shot and killed by a member of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department in a parking lot near the the University of North Carolina.
The lawsuit says the plaintiffs all participated in peaceful protests held in the wake of Scott’s passing, but are fearful of becoming involved in future demonstrations because of treatment they endured at the hands of police.
“Plaintiffs have engaged in speech, association, and protest on the streets, sidewalks and medians of Charlotte — traditional public fora where individuals’ First Amendment rights are at their zenith. Unfortunately, this exercise of constitutional rights has been met with a military-grade assault on protesters’ bodies and rights,” the attorneys wrote in Friday’s filing.
Protesters who attempted to exercise their constitutionals rights were subjected to being shot with tear gas, pepper spray and rubber pullets, as well as physical and verbal abuse from the police that has caused persistent problems, according to the lawsuit.
The police’s tactics were “designed to target and punish demonstrators and to deter them from continuing speech and assembly activities,” the lawsuit alleges, arguing that CMPD “persistently violated the constitutional rights of the named plaintiffs… in response to Plaintiffs’ exercise of their constitutional right to assemble and protest.”
“I never thought the police would attack civilians like this,” plaintiff Ashley Williams said Friday night statement, according to the Charlotte Observer.
“Rubber bullets, batons, smoke bombs, flashbangs — we’ve seen it all these last few weeks. I got burned when one of the tear gas canisters hit me at close range, but it’s what they’re doing to democracy that really hurts.”
Tear gas used by police caused at least two of the plaintiffs to vomit, and left one suffering from a burning sensation that prevented him from holding his own children for several days after, court documents claim.
The plaintiffs wrote a letter to CMPD officials earlier this week urging police to voluntarily agree to stop using force against protesters, and filed suit after conversations between sides early Friday were unfruitful, the Observer reported.
Police officials deferred commenting when reached by NBC Charlotte on Friday evening until they could review the specifics of the lawsuit, the network said.
In a statement, the City of Charlotte said the aftermath of Scott’s passing “has been and continues to be a difficult time for our community.”
“CMPD respects and strives to protect everyone’s constitutional right to peacefully assemble, demonstrate and protest. At the same time, our officers are charged with maintaining peace and order and protecting public safety. Chief Putney and the men and women of the department have and will continue to work toward achieving both of these goals,” the statement said.
City officials told the Observer separately Friday that protests waged following the Sept. 20 shooting have cost taxpayers roughly $4.6 million between damages to public property and overtime pay for police.