BATON ROUGE — The City of Baton Rouge and Parish of East Baton Rouge have yet to file an answer to a civil rights lawsuit filed in March by seven local residents who claim they were brutalized and unlawfully arrested last summer during peaceful protests of over the fatal shooting of a black man by police.
The city and parish are among named defendants in the lawsuit filed on March 23 in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana. Other named defendants include the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office, Louisiana Sheriff’s Association, former Baton Rouge Mayor Melvin “Kip” Holden, Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie Jr., East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid J. Gautreaux III and the superintendent of the Louisiana State Police. The lawsuit also names as defendants "Unknown Moes 1-100" and "Unknown Roes 1-100."
The plaintiffs in the case, represented by the New Orleans-based non-profit public interest law firm Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center, claim that law enforcement in the state's capital violated their rights and those of other the weekend of July 8-10, 2016. Thousands of mostly peaceful protestors gathered in Baton Rouge that weekend over the police-involved shooting of Alton Sterling earlier in the week.
Dozens were arrested and the Baton Rouge officials eventually referred the matter to the U.S. Department of Justice. Sterling's shooting has been cited as the driving force behind four bills in the Louisiana State House that were approved on Thursday. Meanwhile, a federal decision in the case is pending and expected soon.
The lawsuit classified the protestors who gathered spontaneously and peacefully on the streets, sidewalks and medians of Baton Rouge as law-abiding.
"Despite protesters' peaceful aims, defendants entered into and executed a conspiracy to deny members of the Black community of Baton Rouge their right to grieve, express their anger and demand equal protection from law enforcement," the lawsuit said. "In furtherance of this conspiracy, defendants arrested protesters without just cause, solely to suppress the protests and deny the protesters’ right to free expression. Defendants’ actions were particularly aimed to suppress dissent of black citizens of Baton Rouge."
The plaintiffs filed their complaint to vindicate their rights guaranteed by the First, Fourth and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and for claims under state laws, according to the lawsuit. The case lists 15 counts that involve conspiracy, arrest, false detention, manufactured evidence, excessive force, retaliatory incarceration, indifference to medical needs, free speech violations, emotional distress, assault, battery and failures to intervene.
The lawsuit asks the court for compensatory and punitive damages, the return of personal items seized from the plaintiffs, attorney fees and any additional relief the court may deem proper and just.