Partnership for Civil Justice Settles Landmark Lawsuit Against D.C. Police

Partnership for Civil Justice Settles Landmark Lawsuit Against D.C. Police

MPD to undertake changes in its police practices and training programs with regard to demonstrations.

This lawsuit uncovered and exposed the police department’s long-term domestic spying operation in which officers were sent undercover to infiltrate protest groups in the absence of any allegations of criminal activity. This led to a DC Council investigation and efforts to reign in police spying, incorporated into the First Amendment Rights and Police Standards Act which became effective last year. This lawsuit also revealed that felonious attacks on lawful protestors along the parade route who were beaten and pepper sprayed were carried out by MPD plain-clothed detectives on an undercover counter-intelligence detail. The MPD initially denied that these men were their officers until PCJ established it in the litigation. These attacks gained national attention including on NOW with Bill Moyers and in the movie Unconstitutional.

A critical change as a result of this litigation regards use of force against demonstrators. "This litigation uncovered the fact that the MPD had suspended use of force reporting requirements during demonstrations," stated Carl Messineo, attorney and co-founder of the Partnership for Civil Justice. "In other words, the police had been given a green light to assault protestors knowing that they would not have to report their actions or acknowledge that force had been used."

This shocking and unconscionable practice has now been brought to an end. The District of Columbia has now agreed that use of force reporting requirements will stay fully in force during mass demonstrations. Further the settlement agreement requires changes in police training to reflect this requirement. Additionally, the police training will now include restrictions and prohibitions on use of police lines against protestors and instruction to officers that parading without a permit is not an arrestable offense.

“This is a victory for the First Amendment rights of all people who seek to protest in the capital of the United States without police brutality and disruption of assembly,” stated attorney Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, co-founder of PCJ, and co-chair of the National Lawyers Guild Mass Defense Committee. “This agreement puts an end to the police department’s practice and policy of letting officers brutalize demonstrators without concern for accountability and makes clear that protestors cannot be swept off the streets regardless of whether they have permits.”

The District will also make a payment of $685,000 to encompass attorneys fees and costs incurred during this 5 1/2 years of litigation as well as damages, including to two people who were violently assaulted by plain-clothed MPD officers along the Inaugural route.

Yesterday, it was announced that Chief Ramsey would be leaving the MPD.  In addition to this lawsuit, he leaves in his wake additional mass violations of free speech rights and outstanding claims for over 1,000 false arrests of political protestors including two class actions that are still pending. The Partnership for Civil Justice is class counsel in these pending lawsuits.

The lawsuit, IAC, et al. v USA, et al. was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Additional plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Elizabeth Ayer, Brian Becker, Elizabeth Butler, Alix Davidson, Adam Eidinger, Lowell Fletcher, Larry Holmes, Michael Shinn and the Justice Action Movement.

More information on this lawsuit and other free speech cases can be found at