By Andy Pyke
When black-clad marchers began smashing windows in Washington, D.C., on Inauguration Day, the city’s police force — reputedly the best in the country at upholding protesters’ rights during disruptive demonstrations — went nuclear.
Officers quickly deployed pepper spray, tear gas, and crowd-control grenades of various types. The Metropolitan Police Department opted to “kettle” everyone on the streets nearby the initial anarchist-driven property destruction, something it does not, by reputation, make a habit of doing during protests.
The mass round-up swept the “Antifa” rowdy types together with many peaceful protesters, journalists, and volunteer legal observers who turn out in bright green hats to help uphold First Amendment rights at such events in the capital. After hours of kettling, police arrested more than 200 people. All were initially charged with felonies by the United States Attorney’s office, which continues to pursue the vast majority of those cases.
“The events of the day show a high degree of coordination, suggesting the problems run deeper than the misconduct of a handful of officers.”
This is how the public has understood what happened in the District on Inauguration Day for the past five months. But that story undersells the full scope of the MPD’s violent conduct that day, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) alleges in a lawsuit filed Wednesday against the city, police department, police chief, and numerous yet-unnamed officers.
“Molestation and rape as punishment”
The “guilt by association” round-up and mass arrests, the liberal use of pepper spray, and the kettling itself would all be constitutionally dubious enough on their own, the ACLU’s Scott Michelman said Wednesday.
But the experiences of the lawsuit’s four plaintiffs — independent photojournalist Shay Horse, volunteer legal observer Judah Ariel, and peaceful protesters Elizabeth Legesse and Milo Gonzalez — suggest that MPD sought physical and emotional retribution on the hundreds of people kettled, the ACLU alleges.
An officer ordered Horse, fellow plaintiff Milo Gonzalez, and three others to take their pants off before grabbing their testicles and then inserting a finger into their anuses while “other officers laughed,” the complaint alleges. Horse is a photojournalist, one of six reporters initially arrested and charged whose cases have been dismissed.
“I felt like they were using molestation and rape as punishment. They used those tactics to inflict pain and misery on people who are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty,” Horse said. “It felt like they were trying to break me and the others — break us so that even if the charges didn’t stick, that night would be our punishment.”
In a statement responding to the lawsuit on Wednesday, the MPD defended its reputation and maintained that all its arrests were proper.
“Each year, the men and women of MPD protect the rights and ensure the safety of thousands of First Amendment assemblies, demonstrations and protests,” the department said. While thousands demonstrated peaceably on Inauguration Day, the statement went on, “there was another group of individuals who chose to engage in criminal acts, destroying property and hurling projectiles, injuring at least six officers. These individuals were ultimately arrested for their criminal actions.”
The department also pledged that “all…allegations of misconduct will be fully investigated.” Michelman said the ACLU welcomes that promise but doesn’t exactly trust it.
“We have significant concerns that that won’t be sufficient, in light of repeat problems MPD has had with arresting law-abiding demonstrators and responding…with excessive force,” Michelman said. …