ACLU files lawsuit against police, City of Richmond on behalf of protesters

ACLU files lawsuit against police, City of Richmond on behalf of protesters
Tensions between police and protesters flared again, as Richmond police declare an unlawful assembly for the second consecutive night - this time in front of city hall. (Source: NBC12/Eric Everington)

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit Friday against the City of Richmond, the Richmond Police Department and the Virginia State Police on behalf of protesters who say their constitutional rights were violated.

The complaint alleges a violation of the right to assemble, right to free speech and of state code in declaring an unlawful assembly.

“Plaintiffs are seeking a declaration from the court that police have been operating unlawfully and an order prohibiting them from engaging in activities that violate protesters’ constitutional rights. Along with the complaint, plaintiffs filed a request for an immediate order to stop these violations,” the ACLU said in a release.

The ACLU cites the events on the night of June 22, where protesters gathered outside of City Hall and an unlawful assembly was declared. The ACLU says the unlawful assembly was declared without cause, and that tear gas, pepper spray, flash grenades and rubber bullets were used on the group.

Richmond police said they called the gathering an unlawful assembly due to sit-ins, sit-downs, blocking traffic and blocking entrances and exits to public buildings and told the group to disperse. According to police, the protesters also threw rocks and other objects at officers who were monitoring the situation starting at midnight.

“Since the tragic murder of George Floyd and the protests against police violence that have followed, state and local police operating in Richmond have shown a pattern of violence toward protesters who speak out against systemic and anti-Black racism,” said Eden Heilman, legal director for the ACLU of Virginia. “When these young people tried to educate their community about racism in Richmond and how to dismantle it, police stormed in and turned their positive space into a war zone. City leaders have a responsibility to protect our constitutional rights, instead they have encouraged the escalation of violence by police against protesters.”

The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Virginia Student Power Network - a hub project of New Virginia Majority.

“Black students and youth have been leading the movement for racial justice in Richmond. It’s imperative that the police’s excessive use of force and military-grade crowd control weapons are immediately curbed,” Ibby Han, director of VSPN, said.

The Richmond Police Department and the City of Richmond both said it’s policy not to comment on any pending litigation.

The City of Richmond also released this additional statement:

“While we don’t comment on pending litigation, it should be noted that there’s a difference between a protest and an attempt to create an autonomous zone with vehicle barricades - one that would impede Richmonders from accessing city and social services and block access to a hospital.”

For more information and to view the complaint, click here.

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