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Occupy Kokomo protesters file suit against Howard County sheriff for civil rights violations

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Occupy Kokomo protesters filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the Howard County sheriff and members of the sheriff’s department, claiming violations of their civil rights.

The legal action stems from a melee in late 2011 that erupted after two of the protesters informed Sheriff Steve Rogers that the Occupy group would not be protesting at the Howard County Courthouse that day. In the complaint, the two protesters, Darren Burke and Gregory Lambert, both residents of Marion County, assert they were assaulted by the sheriff and his deputies and then falsely arrested and imprisoned.

Burke and Gregory claim the sheriff and his deputies violated their Fourth Amendment rights by employing excessive force in arresting them and by arresting and detaining them without probable cause.

The case, Darren Burke and Gregory Lambert v. Steve Rogers, et al., 1:13-CV-825, was filed by the ACLU of Indiana in the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Indiana.

“Most law enforcement officers serve bravely and admirably to protect us and preserve the peace,” ACLU of Indiana executive director Jane Henegar stated in a press release. “However, when these public servants abuse the trust and power, we, as a people have given them, the ACLU will stand up to correct the wrong. In a free and democratic society, no person should be subjected to brutality and abuse at the hands of our government.”

Members of Occupy Kokomo had been protesting at the county courthouse during the last week of 2011, generally staying on the east steps of the building and the lawn. On Dec. 30, 2011, Burke, Lambert and some other members entered the courthouse to tell Rogers and his staff that the protesters would not be demonstrating that day.

Burke and Lambert then turned to exist the building, and the sheriff began walking away. However, another protester, David Fox, asked the sheriff about a court order issued the previous day in Howard Superior Court that prohibited anyone wearing a mask from entering the courthouse.

As Fox was questioning Rogers, the sheriff told Burke to remove the dollar bill which he had taped over his mouth as a sign of protest. At this point, according to the complaint, Rogers attempted to remove the dollar bill from Burke’s face, then the sheriff deputies shoved Burke against the wall, tackling him to the ground and handcuffing him.

The complaint also asserts that Lambert was shoved so violently against a wall by Lt. Kurt Goerges of the Howard County Sheriff’s Department that Lambert suffered a concussion and lost consciousness.

A video was taken by the protesters of the incident. The complaint notes the picture becomes blurred and difficult to follow but the audio is still decipherable.

Lambert and Burke were retained for seven hours and 30 hours, respectively, at the Howard County Criminal Justice Center before being released on bail. Both were charged with resisting law enforcement as a Class A misdemeanor. Additionally, Burke was charged with false informing as a Class B misdemeanor.  

Charges remain pending, although both Burke and Lambert have entered into pretrial diversion agreements under which charges will be dismissed if they comply with the conditions for six months.

 

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