City’s police force accused of mass arrests and violating constitutional rights during 2017 event
The government of Washington DC is paying out $1.6m (£1.1m) to protesters who were wrongly arrested at Donald Trump’s inauguration in 2017.
The city agreed to settling two lawsuits on Monday, brought by the the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and attorney Jeffrey Light, more than four years after the arrests and the inauguration of the former president.
It was alleged that the city of DC and the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia (MPD) falsely arrested over 200 people on the day of Mr Trump’s inauguration in a mass operation, and with force.
The department was accused of violating the constitutional rights of journalists, legal observers and protesters – and of violating the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments, and DC law.
“Pepper spray, flash-bang grenades, concussion grenades, and stingballs” were also allegedly targeted at anti-Trump protesters.
In the lawsuit filed by the ACLU of the District of Columbia, a group of six protesters was awarded $605,000 (£434,000) together, the ACLU said.
And in a class-action lawsuit brought by 100 others, almost $1m (£719,055) in damages was awarded after they were falsely arrested and detained for up to 16 hours without food or water during the 2017 inauguration.
ACLU legal director Scott Michelman said in a statement: “MPD’s unconstitutional guilt-by-association policing and excessive force, including the use of chemical weapons, not only injured our clients physically but also chilled their speech and the speech of countless others who wished to exercise their First Amendment rights but feared an unwarranted assault by DC police”.
Mr Light, who brought the class action lawsuit, added: “It speaks volumes that the District has chosen to settle rather than defend MPD’s obviously unconstitutional actions in court.”
“Today’s settlements provide some measure of compensation for all the people who were unconstitutionally arrested and confined for exercising their rights on Inauguration Day four years ago,” said Mr Light.
As part of the settlement, the MPD will “issue a formal directive modifying the procedures for processing of arrestees to avoid subjecting them to long waits for basic necessities such as access to restrooms and water”, the ACLU said.
Peter Newsham, the former MPD chief, told The Washington Post that the he believed the arrests were lawful and disagreed with the settlements.
“For those folks to get a financial windfall after legitimately getting arrested says something about our civil litigation in the courts,” said Mr Newsham.