Protesters who demonstrated against the police-involved shooting death of Alton Sterling have filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Baton Rouge.
Attorneys from the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center in New Orleans filed Thursday’s lawsuit on behalf of several Baton Rouge residents who were arrested after Sterling’s death during an altercation with police.
The suit – at least the third to accuse police in Baton Rouge of violating protesters’ civil rights – claims the arrests were part of a pattern of “racist law enforcement” in the city.
Police arrested nearly 200 protesters following the July 5, 2016 shooting death of Alton Sterling, who was killed during a struggle with two White officers. Cellphone videos of the confrontation quickly spread on social media.
Sterling’s death, a day before another fatal police shooting in Minnesota, sparked widespread protests and inflamed racial tensions that were heightened by the fatal shooting of five police officers in Dallas by a Black sniper. The Justice Department is investigating Sterling’s death.
The city of Baton Rouge and other defendants already have agreed to a settlement with lawyers for other arrested protesters who sued in August, including Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson.
The deal calls for awarding $500 in cash payments to up to 90 protesters who were arrested only on charges of obstructing a highway.
The local district attorney announced in July that roughly 100 arrested protesters wouldn’t be prosecuted for that charge.
Attorneys asked a federal judge to approve the settlement agreement on Nov. 30, but they’re still waiting for a ruling. As recently as Tuesday, lawyers who brokered the agreement were still discussing its provisions with a magistrate judge, according to a court filing.
Jim Craig, one of the attorneys who filed Thursday’s suit on behalf of seven arrested protesters, said their clients don’t believe that the settlement of the other case will “hold the authorities accountable for the decisions they made in July 2016.”
“It’s as simple as that,” Craig said.
Roy Rodney Jr., a plaintiffs’ lawyer working on the settlement, said the deal focuses on compensating protesters and clearing their arrest records. Thursday’s suit, he added, is a broader effort to address “historical racial profiling” by police.
“Ours is a much narrower focus, allowing for a much more immediate resolution,” Rodney said.
The head of the union that represents Baton Rouge police officers has called the settlement agreement a “slap in the face” and a “dangerous precedent” that could lead to even larger crowds at future protests.
A separate settlement agreement last November resolved another lawsuit that accused police of violating protesters’ civil rights. That settlement, which didn’t include any monetary terms, resolved a suit filed by attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana and the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice.
The defendants named in Thursday’s suit include the city of Baton Rouge and its police chief, the elected sheriff of East Baton Rouge Parish and the head of the Louisiana State Police. A spokesman for the Baton Rouge Police Department said he couldn’t comment on pending litigation.
The suit says the Baton Rouge protests were “spontaneous and peaceful.” Police equipped with riot shields, armored vehicles and high-powered weapons arrested protesters “without just cause, solely to suppress the protests and deny the protesters’ right to free expression,” it adds.
“The long history of police mistreatment of residents of (Baton Rouge), and particularly its black residents, has been and continues to be an issue of great public concern,” the suit says.