ACLU of Minnesota sues city, state leaders on behalf of protesters

The lawsuit alleges law enforcement violated protesters' constitutional rights during the unrest following the killing of George Floyd.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota has filed a class action lawsuit against city and state officials on behalf of protesters injured during the George Floyd demonstrations in Minneapolis.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court, listing the City of Minneapolis, Minneapolis Police Department Chief Medaria Arradondo, MPD union head Bob Kroll, Minnesota Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington and Minnesota State Patrol Colonel Matthew Langer as defendants.

The lawsuit alleges that the city used excessive force to violate the rights of protesters following the police killing of George Floyd. It seeks unspecified damages and attorney’s fees, as well as a declaration that police violated protesters’ Fifth Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights during the demonstrations.

“No one should face tear gassing, foam bullets or pepper spray while exercising their right to peacefully protest,” said ACLU-MN Legal Director Teresa Nelson in a statement.

"That law enforcement here followed their typical pattern of using indiscriminate force rather than respecting the First Amendment, especially following the brutal murder of George Floyd by four of their own, is disgraceful and an affront to our Constitution.

The lawsuit lists four named plaintiffs. Two are Minneapolis civil rights lawyer and activist Nekima Levy Armstrong and her husband Marques Armstrong. The other two are Terry Hempfling, and Rachel Clark.

The four named plaintiffs were injured during protests in late May, according to the lawsuit. Nekima Levy Armstrong and Marques Armstrong attended protests on May 27, the second day following Floyd’s killing, at MPD’s Third Precinct.

According to the lawsuit, protests started largely peaceful but escalated when police used tear gas and less lethal ammunition. The Third Precinct eventually was overrun by protesters and set on fire.

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The two Armstrongs said they had been to many protests before and had not experienced tear gas as strong as that used on May 27. The two are still suffering effects from the tear gas, the lawsuit claims.

“It is deeply disturbing that the MPD chose to respond to protests – and to the justifiable frustration and outrage that people feel over George Floyd’s murder by MPD – with violence,” said Nekima Levy Armstrong in a statement.

Both Hempfling and Clark also attended protests in the days following Floyd’s killing. According to the lawsuit, both were injured by less lethal ammunition, causing significant bruising.

The lawsuit cites criticism from local officials, including Minneapolis City Council Member Steve Fletcher, of the methods used by law enforcement during the unrest. 

There were several instances of protesters and those observing the protests – including journalists – being injured as a result of police counter-measures, with at least two blinded after being struck with less-lethal rounds.

On Tuesday, it was revealed in a search warrant affidavit that the unrest outside the 3rd Police Precinct on May 27 was escalated by the actions of the "umbrella man," who police say they've identified as a biker gang member whose plan was to "sow discord" and "incite violence."

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