COLUMBUS, Ohio – A federal judge granted a preliminary injunction against Columbus police on Friday, prohibiting police from using tear gas, pepper spray, wooden bullets and other so-called “non-lethal force” against non-violent protesters.
In a ruling in favor of 26 protesters who claimed to have been brutalized by officers during protests last year, U.S. District Chief Justice Algenon L. Marbley wrote that some officers “had no respect for rights guaranteed by this fundamental principle of American democracy. This affair is the sad story of police officers, clothed in the awesome power of the state, go on a rampage. “
Marbley, who opened his 88-page decision on Friday with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr., also banned police from inflicting “pain or punishment to deter non-violent protesters” – those who “chant, verbally confront the police, seated, holding hands. approaching the police, occupation of streets or sidewalks and / or passive resistance to police orders. “
The ruling requires Columbus Police to ensure body and vehicle cameras “are in good working order and used in every interaction” with non-violent protesters, and that badge numbers and / or officers’ ID cards are clearly displayed “even when riot gear is worn.”
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John Marshall, lead plaintiffs’ attorney in the case, said the decision “will have a significant impact on the ability of the Columbus police to inflict violence on legitimate protesters.”
“We captured through eyewitness testimony and browsing thousands of hours of video, including body cameras, what actually happened on the streets of Columbus during the Black Lives Matter protests,” Marshall said. . “And what really happened was that the police vindictively attacked legitimate and peaceful protesters, we believe, because they were protesting the very violence that the police have long inflicted on communities of color. “
Protesters sued the city in U.S. District Court in Columbus, alleging they were brutalized by police during protests over the death of George Floyd on May 25 at the hands of former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin recently. convicted of murder in this case.
Protests against racial injustice over Floyd’s death began in Columbus on May 28 and continued into July.
The plaintiffs said in court documents that they were “dedicated to nonviolent protest, including civil disobedience to traffic, parade and mass assembly regulations, in order to garner urgent and widespread public attention on the Overwhelmingly directed historic and continuing police violence against communities and people of color tolerated by most white police supervisors and administrators, ”according to documents.
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Much of the amended 118-page complaint, filed in September, detailed incidents of what complainants call police brutality against non-violent protesters. The file included photos of bloody gashes, broken bones and large bruises caused by wooden bullets or by protesters thrown to the ground by officers, the plaintiffs said.
Lawyers for the officers and other defendants retorted that the city supports peaceful and legal protests and “already prohibits unfair or prejudicial treatment based on race or color as well as the use of excessive or punitive force.”
They reiterated in court that policies and procedures were in place to protect and prioritize the right of citizens to “demonstrate peacefully and legally” and “prohibit police from retaliating against protesters because of their speech and use excessive and punitive force ”.
They also noted that the city had revised its policies to address the issues raised in the trial and that “major protests regarding allegations of police brutality” had taken place in Columbus “without any use of force.”
The plaintiffs asked the court to issue an injunction prohibiting the Columbus police from using pepper spray, wooden bullets and other non-lethal weapons against non-violent protesters, as well as compensation for the manner in which they were treated by the police.
Similar lawsuits have been filed elsewhere. A federal judge has banned Los Angeles Police from using projectile launchers against protesters. A similar decision was rendered by a federal judge in Oregon.
More than 800 complaints related to police actions during the Columbus protests have been submitted to the city. A subsequent investigation by BakerHostetler, the law firm hired by the city, resulted in 49 reports, although only eight involved substantiated allegations and one resulted in disciplinary action. This agent received documented advice for not completing the correct paperwork.
The city has also hired a retired FBI agent to investigate any potential criminal misconduct by agents during protests last year. To date, no charges have been laid.
In addition, the city has commissioned a $ 250,000 review of police response to protests last year by former US prosecutor Carter Stewart and the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at Ohio State University.
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