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PCJF Files Federal Lawsuit Against DC for MPD’s Indiscriminate and Violent Use of Less Lethal Weapons Against Racial Justice Protests

The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF), and its Center for Protest Law & Litigation, filed a federal lawsuit against the District of Columbia challenging the Metropolitan Police Department’s “repressive and violent tactics including the authorized indiscriminate use of ‘less lethal’ projectile weapons against peaceful protestors and bystanders, gratuitously and without notice or warning and in order to intentionally retaliate against and inflict pain upon protestors challenging policing in our society.”

The lawsuit seeks to end the MPD’s unconstitutional and punitive tactics of indiscriminately deploying less lethal weapons, including maiming projectiles, into crowds of persons engaged in First Amendment protected activities, in particular those challenging racist police violence. 

The constitutional rights complaint is brought on behalf of protestors who were peacefully present at various racial justice demonstrations held in Washington, D.C., during 2020 in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, and whose injuries inflicted by the D.C. MPD included wounds consistent with stinger grenades, foam or rubber bullets, and flash bang devices. Two plaintiffs were subject to munitions that exploded many pieces of shrapnel into their legs causing bloody shredding, punctures, lacerations, and other mutilation.

“The D.C. MPD has operated with impunity, violently attacking peaceful protestors demanding police reform,” said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, constitutional rights lawyer and executive director of the PCJF. “The MPD will continue to injure the residents of and visitors to the nation’s capital as long as they think there are no consequences. People engaged in free speech activities in D.C. remain at high risk. This lawsuit exposes a pattern of violent, cruel, and indiscriminate use of weapons against peaceful protesters clearly indicating that the MPD saw their ‘targets’ as ‘enemy combatants’ rather than people engaged in First Amendment protected activity in pursuit of police reform.” 

“People sworn to uphold the Constitution, which enshrines the right to protest, should not be attacking and injuring us,” said Elizabeth Ferris, plaintiff in the complaint. “We were there to challenge the institutionalized police violence perpetrated against Black and Brown people in the U.S. In response, the D.C. police doubled down, trampling rights and inflicting injuries on those who would challenge their impunity. It is crucial that an end be put to these harmful practices.”

“My hope with this lawsuit is to stop the police from carrying out these violent, vicious, and biased attacks,” said Katherine Crowder, plaintiff in the complaint. “After I was injured, I witnessed police launching indiscriminate attacks for months, over and over, injuring people standing up against racist police violence in Washington, D.C., and across the country. These assaults have to stop in order to protect the next wave of people taking a stand, or a knee, for justice that the police don’t like.” 

The lawsuit [Ferris et al v District of Columbia, Case 1:23-cv-00481] is filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. Co-counsel on the litigation is Bruckheim & Patel, LLC.