Lawsuit Challenges D.C. MPD’s December 12, 2020, Attack on Peaceful BLM Demonstrators While Proud Boys Were Allowed to Maraud Throughout D.C.
March 23, 2023
The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) and its Center for Protest Law & Litigation filed a federal lawsuit against officers with the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) for violating the constitutional rights of Ross LaFontaine. Mr. LaFontaine, a Navy veteran who was present at the Black Lives Matter (BLM) Plaza in Washington, D.C., to show solidarity and alliance with the BLM movement as a member of Vets for BLM, was falsely arrested during a peaceful demonstration on December 12, 2020.
Just before nightfall on December 12, 2020, the D.C. MPD undertook a massive and forceful assault with dozens of officers into those peaceably assembled at BLM Plaza, using the false arrest of Mr. LaFontaine as a thin excuse to storm the space while creating widespread disarray and disruption of otherwise peaceful First Amendment activities. This police attack and disruption of peaceful BLM activists in the Plaza occurred at the very time that, in contrast, the MPD was allowing the Proud Boys to maraud through the District in what was a precursor event and test of police response prior to the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
The incident also revealed that the U.S. Secret Service had deployed an undercover plainclothes officer into those peacefully assembled at BLM Plaza to conduct “counter-surveillance” on BLM activists.
As the events unfolded, the MPD provoked violent chaos to indiscriminately grab peaceful protestors and falsely arrest them. The lawsuit alleges that in an effort to cover up the unlawful arrest of Mr. LaFontaine and justify the baseless attack by MPD on the peaceful assembly, an officer swore out a statement under penalty of perjury to further the prosecution of Mr. LaFontaine and backfilled the document to match Mr. LaFontaine’s description.
“Black Lives Matter Plaza was supposed to be a safe space for anti-racist activists to assemble and speak out, but time and again the police violated protestors’ rights in this critical and symbolic public forum,” stated Carl Messineo, constitutional rights lawyer and legal director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund.
“The police conduct in this case is emblematic of the complete disregard of First Amendment rights, the hostility towards those challenging police violence and significantly, the casual nature with which officers use their extraordinary power to deprive civilians of their liberty, taking innocent people into custody and pursuing false prosecutions regardless of the devastating effects it could have on someone’s life,” said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, constitutional rights lawyer and executive director of the Center for Protest Law & Litigation at the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund. “Further, on December 12, 2020, the contrast between the police handling of Proud Boys who were violently attacking people throughout D.C. and the police's massive array of forces at, and focus on, BLM Plaza is defining of their endemic hostility and bias.”
The full complaint of LaFontaine v. Rudolph et al, Case No. 1:23-cv-779 (DDC), can be found here or read below.