At the heart of every fight for justice there have always been brave individuals who have been willing to stand in opposition and demand change.
Even though the right to peaceful protest is constitutionally guaranteed, lawful protesters are sometimes harassed, jailed and prosecuted. These civil rights violations continue in the Trump era, as growing numbers of individuals take to the streets to exercise their First Amendment rights.
We take on cases to protect the rights of individual protesters and hold law enforcement accountable for unlawful tactics deployed during protests, particularly protests targeting police misconduct.
Standing With Protesters Of Police Violence
Following the killing of Alton Sterling, a Black father of five, by Baton Rouge police officers, thousands of protesters, overwhelmingly Black residents of Baton Rouge, came out to protest against the police violence and racially discriminatory law enforcement typified by Mr. Sterling’s killing. Together with civil rights lawyers Emily Faye Ratner, Mandisa Moore-O’Neal, and Mauricio Sierra of New Orleans and Gideon T. Carter of Baton Rouge, our office represents fifteen people, almost all of them lifelong residents of the Baton Rouge area, who were abused and/or arrested during the mass protests the weekend.
Meet our Baton Rouge Clients
Five of our clients – Leroy Tennart and his son Deon, Eddie Harris and his daughter Godavari, and Elcide Harris – spoke on video about the reasons for their protests, what they faced on the streets by militarized law enforcement officers, and their motivation for prosecuting civil rights lawsuits against the officers, deputies and troopers who terrorized them for speaking out against injustice.
Eddie and Godavari Hughes
Godavari Hughes, a 16 year old high school student, had become passionate about social justice in the summer of 2016. Her father Eddie Hughes, a librarian at Southern University, was proud of his daughter’s growing interest and took her to the protests against police violence and the killing of Alton Sterling in July 2016. On July 9, both were arrested on the grass alongside Airline Highway. This brave father and daughter duo are still fighting for justice through their lawsuit against the law enforcement agencies who tried to intimidate them.
Christopher and Brachell Brown
Christopher Brown, 22 years old, and his sister Brachell, 20, were two of the hundreds protesting the murder of Alton Sterling by police. While participating peacefully, the Browns were suddenly rushed by law enforcement who threw them to the ground, guns drawn. Christopher was tased three times. Brachell was kneed in the back, breaking a blood vessel in her eye. Both then spent over 36 hours in jail, without treatment.
Thomas Hutcherson, a lifelong resident of Baton Rouge who teaches at a local elementary school, joined the gathering at the Baton Rouge Police Department to protest racist police violence and the routine harassment he and others had suffered by local law enforcement. During the protest, law enforcement instructed him to move from the grass where he was standing and cross the street. When he entered the street, officers grabbed him from behind, yanked him backward, struck him with a riot baton, pushed him down, and arrested him for Simple Obstruction of a Highway. He was jailed at the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison for just over 24 hours. The jailors ignored his requests for access to his prescribed heart medication. They also ignored the symptoms of the concussion Thomas had just suffered. Thomas Hutcherson broke no law. The “affidavit of probable cause” in his case was a pre-printed form identical to 87 others signed by officers that day.
Travis Day is another resident of Baton Rouge. At the July 9 protest, was instructed by law enforcement officers to stay on the grass alongside the street. Although he obeyed this order, Mr. Day was grabbed from behind by an officer. The officer’s arm was around Mr. Day’s neck, choking him, as he was dragged to the ground. He was struck multiple times with a hard object, causing bleeding and scarring. He was then dragged through the grass and repeatedly kicked for a long distance while being manhandled toward the Police Headquarters driveway, where he was eventually handcuffed and jailed. He was falsely charged with Simple Obstruction of a Highway and lost his job as a result. His handwritten legal complaint asked the Court, “Give me justice.” We are proud that he has now joined our group of protester-plaintiffs.
Lisa Batiste-Swilley was raised in Louisiana and moved to Baton Rouge in 2008. On the evening of Sunday, July 10, 2016, Lisa came home from shopping to see a large number of law enforcement officers in riot gear and with gas masks on her street, accompanied by a military-type vehicle. A group of unarmed protesters were trapped by the officers on the corner of East Boulevard and France Street, in front of her home. Lisa recognized some of them as students she had taught. She invited the protesters onto her front lawn. After a long standoff, the law enforcement officers stormed into her property to grab protesters. People were screaming in her front yard as they were being taken away. Lisa was traumatized by the invasion of her property. We are suing Baton Rouge area law enforcement for this invasion.
Challenging Trump's Attack on the First Amendment
During his campaign for president, Donald Trump repeatedly used his rallies and events to attack political dissent —attacks which often turned violent against protesters.
On March 11, 2016, Rodney Brown, a St.Louis activist and organizer, attended the Trump rally at the Peabody Opera House in St. Louis. At one point during the event, he laughed in response to a comment made by Trump.
In response, Trump ordered his removal, to the enthusiastic cheers of his supporters, and then remarked to the crowd that individuals such as Mr. Brown “are the people that are destroying our country”.
Following Trump’s demand to remove Mr. Brown, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD) escorted him out and arrested him. Because of the City’s “no drop” policy towards prosecuting protesters, Mr. Brown was made to stand trial before he was eventually acquitted.
The MacArthur Justice Center represents Mr. Brown in his lawsuit against Donald Trump and the SLMPD.
Whitt v. City of St. Louis
Rights of Protesters
David Whitt, co-founded the St. Louis CopWatch, after Michael Brown was killed in 2014 by an on-duty police officer and there was no video evidence of the incident. He has provided CopWatch training in communities across the country. In August 2016, he was arrested while recording a video of police activity despite maintaining a reasonable...
Brown v. Trump
Rights of Protesters
The MacArthur Justice Center represents Mr. Brown in his federal lawsuit against President Donald J. Trump, the City of St. Louis and several St. Louis Metropolitan Police District (SLMPD) police officers after he was falsely arrested, detained and made to stand trial simply because he laughed during a Trump campaign rally.
Alton Sterling Protesters
Rights of Protesters
The MacArthur Justice Center represents fourteen Baton Rouge area residents who were arrested during the protests following the murder of Alton Sterling by police. The suit alleges violations of their constitutional rights, physical injury and denial of necessary medical treatment while in jail; all experience ongoing trauma as a result of their unlawful arrest and brutal treatment by law enforcement officer
Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach
Rights of Protesters
In Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach, the MacArthur Justice Center stood up for the rights of protesters in an amicus brief, showing that the mere existence of probably cause does not justify an arrest in retaliation for speech. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed, holding 8-1 that at least in some circumstances, probable cause does not excuse a retaliatory arrest.
In the news
Law enforcement seeks dismissal of DAPL excessive force lawsuitGrand Forks Herald October 7, 2019
St. Louis CopWatch Co-Founder Arrested for Filming Police Files SuitRiverfront Times August 9, 2018
‘Apparently in the Trump era laughing is a crime’ | St. Louis activist sues President TrumpKSDK March 11, 2018
Local Activist Sues Trump, St. Louis Police After Being Arrested for Laughing at 2016 Campaign EventPress Release