Fort Wayne protesters sue police for ‘violent and inappropriate actions’

Protesters claiming Fort Wayne law enforcement fired teargas canisters, flashbang grenades and rubber bullets into peaceful demonstrations filed a lawsuit Friday in federal court seeking to stop the use of chemical agents and projectiles.

The legal action comes after members of the public protested in downtown Fort Wayne following the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody. At protests May 29, 30, and 31 as well as June 14 and 15, they claim Fort Wayne Police Department officers and Allen County Sheriff deputies “took violent and inappropriate actions against peaceful protesters” on public property.

Filed by the ACLU of Indiana in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, the complaint, Taylor Raymond Crane, Kendall Dimond, Matt Carmer v. City of Fort Wayne, Allen County Sheriff, in his official capacity, 1:20-cv-00240,  claims the actions taken by law enforcement violated the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution. Plaintiffs are seeking damages as well as declaratory and injunctive relief barring police from using “objectively unreasonable force,” including tear gas, rubber bullets, pepper balls and stun grenades, against protesters.

“Police must not respond to protesters speaking out against police brutality with yet more brutality,” said Ken Falk, legal director of the ACLU of Indiana. “… Excessive use of force against protesters chills free speech, and widens the rift of distrust between communities and the police that are sworn to serve them.”

The city of Fort Wayne said it could not comment on pending litigation. The Allen County Sheriff’s Department did not respond to a request for comment by IL deadline.

This is the second lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana has filed against on behalf of protesters. About a week ago, the ACLU and Indy 10 Black Lives Matter sued the city of Indianapolis to stop the use of chemical weapons and projectiles.

Like protests that have recently erupted around the country, people gathered in Fort Wayne to demonstrate against institutional racism and policing practices. The protests, located at and around the Allen County Courthouse, had been mostly peaceful but were met with “unreasonable force” from law enforcement.

According to the complaint, protesters have been teargassed, pepper sprayed, attacked with rubber bullets and pushed away from public areas by police authorities using “inappropriate shows of force.” Also, officers have used flashbang grenades to force protesters to disperse.

May 30, police pinned in a group of protesters on the Martin Luther King Bridge and started shooting teargas into the crowd, the lawsuit states. Protesters were not given the chance or the time to safely disperse.

June 14, officers shot rubber bullets into a group of protesters who were blocking the street, according to the lawsuit. As the crowd dispersed, police pursued, continuing to shoot rubber bullets. Some protesters entered private businesses to get away from the projectiles but police entered the establishment and dragged out the individuals.

Plaintiffs claim the defendants have, without lawful justification, prevented peaceful protests in public spaces. They assert the defendants’ attempts to stop lawful protests with the use of chemical agents and projectiles violate the First and Fourth Amendments.

“The violate response to peaceful protests by officers, agents, and employees of the defendants has led to person being unwilling to exercise their rights to engage in peaceful protest,” the complaint states.    

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