Black Lives Matter and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit Thursday against the Trump administration, saying it violated the constitutional rights of demonstrators who were cleared out of a park Monday so President Trump could walk to a historic church for a photo op.
The lawsuit accuses officers of attacking protesters without warning and using excessive force in an “unprovoked criminal attack.”
“Defendants had no legitimate basis to destroy the peaceable gathering. Defendants professed purpose - to clear the area to permit the President to walk to a photo opportunity at a nearby church — was a wholly illegal reason for abridging the constitutional rights of the Plaintiffs and others assembled in Lafayette Square,” the lawsuit said.
It is the first lawsuit filed over Monday’s events in Lafayette Square, which sits across the street from White House. Both Mr. Trump and Attorney General William Barr are named as defendants in the suit, which was filed in a D.C. federal court.
Demonstrators had gathered in the park as Mr. Trump began to deliver remarks from the White House about the need to keep peaceful the nationwide protests in the George Flood killing.
The U.S. Park Police and other federal law enforcement agencies deployed smoke canisters, tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd, according to the lawsuit.
After the crowd was cleared from the park, Mr. Trump walked from the White House to St. John’s Episcopal Church where he was photographed holding a Bible. The church had taken fire damage when it was burned by protestors over the weekend.
The U.S. Park Police has defended its methods for clearing the park, saying the demonstrators were unruly and throwing bricks and frozen water bottles at officers. It has also maintained that three warnings were given over a loudspeaker before officers took action.
But Black Lives Matter and the ACLU said that simply isn’t true.
“This case is about the President and Attorney General of the United States ordering the use of violence against peaceful demonstrators who were speaking out against discriminatory police brutality targeted at Black people,” the lawsuit said.
Mr. Barr on Thursday defended his directive to clear the park, alleging some of the protesters had become increasingly violent and government buildings had been set afire and vandalized the night before.
Rioters used crowbars to dig out pavement and throw it at federal officers, resulting in 114 injuries to federal law enforcement officers and 22 had to be hospitalized with serious head injuries or concussions, Mr. Barr said.
“I made the decision that we would try to move our perimeter northward by a block to provide additional protections,” he said.
Mr. Barr also told reporters that protesters were asked three times to move back before the authorities began to push them back. He said the rioting was interfering with the government’s functions.
The attorney general also defended Mr. Trump’s decision to walk across the park to St. John’s Church.
“The president should be able to walk outside the White House and walk across the street,” he said. “I don’t view it as a political act, I think it is entirely appropriate for him to do that.”
“There was no correlation between our tactical plan to move the perimeter out by one block and the president going over to the church,” Mr. Barr continued.