Federal judge dismisses lawsuits against federal officials over Lafayette Square protest

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Signs covered a fence blocking Lafayette Park near the White House in Washington during Black Lives Matter protests on June 25, 2020. File photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI

Signs covered a fence blocking Lafayette Park near the White House in Washington during Black Lives Matter protests on June 25, 2020. File photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo

June 21 (UPI) -- A federal judge on Monday dismissed a series of lawsuits filed against the federal government for its use of force to drive Black Lives Matter protesters out of Lafayette Square last year.

U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich ruled that claims filed against local officers involved in forcibly dispersing the crowd on June 1, 2020, could go forward, but rejected claims for damages against former officials including President Donald Trump, Attorney General William Barr and Defense Secretary Mark Esper along with some current officials.

"Here, the management of possible violence, enforcement of the impending curfew and policing of demonstrators in Lafayette Square in advance of the President's travel across the Square generate 'obvious alternative explanation[s]' ... for the defendants' communications and activities other than having formed an agreement to violate the plaintiffs' civil rights," Friedrich wrote.

The lawsuits, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Black Lives Matter D.C. and individual protesters alleged that protesters' First Amendment and Fourth Amendment rights were violated when U.S. law enforcement agents fired tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and flash bombs to force them and other peaceful protesters to disperse as Trump posed for photos at a nearby church.

Friedrich declined to consider requests for an injunction barring similar use of force against protesters in the future, stating that the claims of impending future harm were "too speculative."

"Such harm would require that plaintiffs again demonstrate in Lafayette Square; that agencies headed by the official-capacity defendants again respond to the demonstration; that federal officers again use that law enforcement response as cover to deliberately target non-violent peaceful demonstrators; and that one or more of the plaintiffs again be targeted," Friedrich wrote. "This hypothetical chain of events is simply too speculative to confer standing for injunctive relief."

Friedrich further dismissed claims that officers "attacked and improperly dispersed" the protesters and did not restrain them or attempt to seize them in place.

"Indeed, quite the opposite was true -- the officers attempted to cause the protesters and fleeing crowd to leave their location, rather than cause them to remain there," she wrote.

A report by an Interior Departments watchdog earlier this month said that U.S. Park Police cleared the protesters from the area to erect fencing and not to make way for Trump's photo.

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