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Lafayette Park Protesters Sue Trump, Barr, Esper, and Other Officials for ‘Violent Attack’ Near White House

US Park Police stand watch inside Lafayette Square near the White House in Washington, DC on June 1, 2020 as demonstrators protest the death of George Floyd. - Police fired tear gas outside the White House late Sunday as anti-racism protestors again took to the streets to voice fury at police brutality, and major US cities were put under curfew to suppress rioting.With the Trump administration branding instigators of six nights of rioting as domestic terrorists, there were more confrontations between protestors and police and fresh outbreaks of looting. Local US leaders appealed to citizens to give constructive outlet to their rage over the death of an unarmed black man in Minneapolis, while night-time curfews were imposed in cities including Washington, Los Angeles and Houston. (Photo by Olivier DOULIERY / AFP)

Protesters at Lafayette Square on June 1, 2020.

A group of three plaintiffs is suing President Donald Trump, Attorney General William Barr, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, D.C. National Guard Commanding General William Walker, U.S. Park Police Acting Chief Gregory Monahan, and Secret Service Director James Murray for actions taken by law enforcement on June 1 to remove protesters from Lafayette Park outside of the White House.

The plaintiffs, Radiya Buchanan, Ann Dagrin, and Lindsay Field, are represented by the major law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP.  The introduction to their complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., reads like a movie script:

This case concerns a day that will live in infamy. It’s the day that our federal executive branch unleashed a military and paramilitary force on a band of peaceful protesters assembled in historic Lafayette Park across from the White House. The officials, wielding batons, sprayed the crowd with tear gas, flash-bang grenades, smoke bombs, and rubber bullets, causing frightened protesters to flee, fearing for their lives and hobbled by their injuries. And what prompted this military attack on peaceful civilian targets? President Trump’s desire to walk through the park a few minutes later to stage a photo-op publicity stunt holding a bible as a political prop in front of a nearby church. It was a gross abuse of executive power that violated First Amendment free speech rights, Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable force, Fifth Amendment due process rights, and long-standing federal law prohibiting use of such military force on domestic targets. Yet since this horrific incident, the federal government fenced in this historic park. It only began reopening today. That must never happen again.

The lawsuit further described the June 1 incident this way: “Suddenly and without warning, this military force launched a vicious attack on the protesters that one witness, a military veteran, described as ‘like being back in combat.’

The plaintiffs’ attorneys also went head-first into the government’s back-and-forth claims about whether tear gas was used: “The police—wearing riot gear, wielding batons, carrying firearms, and displaying ‘Military Police’ shields—released a gaseous chemical irritant that the federal government later claimed wasn’t ‘tear gas,’ even though it caused tears.”

It also noted a tweet from Trump on Thursday, in which the president called his Bible photo op a “walk in the park” thanks to the “S.S.” The latter reference was immediately seen as an insensitively phrased abbreviation for the U.S. Secret Service. It further cited an apology from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley for even being present. Per the filing:

For his part, President Trump has “no regrets” about this attack on peaceful protesters in the shadow of the White House. In fact, the next day, he lauded the “domination” and “overwhelming force” that was used on these peaceful protesters, and he congratulated himself in the third person for deploying it, tweeting “thank you President Trump!” And just this morning, June 11, 2020, President Trump tweeted: “Our great National Guard Troops who took care of the area around the White House could hardly believe how easy it was. ‘A walk in the park’, one said. The protesters, agitators, anarchists (ANTIFA), and others, were handled VERY easily by the Guard, D.C. Police, & S.S. GREAT JOB!” Later this morning, though, General Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, publicly apologized for his role in the Lafayette Park incident: “I should not have been there. My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics. As a commissioned uniformed officer, it was a mistake that I have learned from, and I sincerely hope we all can learn from it.”

The plaintiffs describe themselves as D.C. residents who were “demonstrating peaceably.”  Radiya Buchanan is described as a black woman, age 27, who holds a master’s degree, works for an educational nonprofit, and who has suffered from racist attacks in her past.  After the events outside the White House, “[s]he has a heightened level of anxiety and has had considerable difficulty sleeping,” the lawsuit says.  “She is haunted by recurring memories of the attack, particularly the startling noise of the tear gas canisters exploding. She says that it felt kind of like being in a war zone.”

“However, Ms. Buchanan believes that the cause of racial justice is too important for her to stay silent,” the filing says.

Ann Dagrin is described as a black woman, age 26, who teaches at a charter school. The lawsuit says she “has experienced significant emotional distress,” several panic attacks, has “trouble sleeping,” has “felt jumpy and on-edge,” and believes she is suffering “early symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.”

Lindsay Field is described in the court papers as white woman, age 32, who teaches kindergarten. She was struck during the protests. According to Field, “muffled announcement over a megaphone” may have been a warning for protesters to move, but she could not hear it well, the documents say.  She also said law enforcement targeted one black protester and “beat him particularly hard until other protesters pulled him away.”

Apart from the defendants named above, the lawsuit also names “John and Jane Does Nos. 1–50” as “members of the federal law enforcement agencies who were present in Lafayette Park on the evening of June 1, 2020, and authorized, planned, and participated in the violent attack.” All of the defendants are sued in their official capacities and their personal capacities except for Trump, who is sued only in his official capacity.

The lawsuit weaves together pages of comments from federal officials concerning nationwide protests surrounding the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd.

The lawsuit alleges violations of the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments; Bivens damages (against officers acting unconstitutionally under color of law); and ultra vires conduct (that’s conduct undertaken beyond the scope of one’s legal authority) in violation of the Posse Comitatus Act.

The plaintiffs are asking for an injunction to allow protesters the continue to demonstrate; that access to Lafayette Park near the White House be restored for protests; damages (including punitive damages); a declaration that the weapons used are unconstitutional; and the reimbursement of costs and fees.  The case, no. 1:20-cv-01542, has not yet been assigned to a judge.

READ the full document below:

Radiya Buchanan, Ann Dagrin, and Lindsay Field v. Trump, et al. by Law&Crime on Scribd

[Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images.]

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Aaron Keller holds a juris doctor degree from the University of New Hampshire School of Law and a broadcast journalism degree from Syracuse University. He is a former anchor and executive producer for the Law&Crime Network and is now deputy editor-in-chief for the Law&Crime website. DISCLAIMER:  This website is for general informational purposes only. You should not rely on it for legal advice. Reading this site or interacting with the author via this site does not create an attorney-client relationship. This website is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney. Speak to a competent lawyer in your jurisdiction for legal advice and representation relevant to your situation.