LOS ANGELES - Four activist groups sued the city
of Los Angeles and its police department in federal court on
Thursday claiming that officers who clubbed and shot protesters
with pepper spray and rubber bullets at the Democratic National
Convention last year, violated their U.S. constitutional
``LAPD's unconstitutional use of force targets everyone and
anyone who dares to speak out about the injustices of our
society,'' James Lafferty, executive director of the Los Angeles
chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, said at a press
conference outside police headquarters Thursday.
``Its target is the right to dissent. Its target is
constitutional government as we know it.''
Los Angeles Police Department spokesman Sgt. John
Pasquariello, who attended the press conference as an observer,
told Reuters: ``We're against police brutality too.'' He refused
to comment further.
The suit, filed in federal district court by the Lawyers
Guild, the American Civil Liberties Union and two coalitions
against police brutality, seeks unspecified punitive and
compensatory damages as well as an end to alleged police
tactics it claims violated protesters' rights under the First,
Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
Among its claims the suit details a variety of measures --
some of them violent -- that officers allegedly used to
deliberately suppress free speech, and block protesters' rights
to peacefully assemble and petition the government at the DNC
last August and at a protest outside LAPD headquarters last
LAWYER SHOT BETWEEN EYES WITH BEAN BAG
``The central question that is raised by this lawsuit is
really very simple and straightforward,'' Lafferty said. ``Can we
as a people still peacefully, without fear of police violence,
assemble in the streets of Los Angeles and freely criticize our
government, or can't we?''
The suit states that people were prevented from freely
entering and exiting organized protests and were unlawfully
detained. Several were injured in a series of clubbings and
shootings by police officers who fired beanbags and rubber
bullets directly into nonviolent crowds.
One woman, an ACLU attorney who said she was peacefully
observing the DNC protests from a sidewalk, was shot between
the eyes with a beanbag by a police officer standing about 80
``The only way I could have been shot between the eyes is if
the officer aimed for my head,'' attorney Carol Sobel said.
Officers are supposed to aim for the ground when employing
''nonlethal'' methods of crowd control, she added.
The suit alleges that such supposedly ``nonlethal'' tactics
have ``a chilling effect'' on ``countless people who would
otherwise exercise their constitutional right to free speech in
public places within the city, were it not for fear of ... the
The suit seeks injunctions against four specific policies
it claims the LAPD routinely practices to suppress lawful
Those include ``improperly terminating'' legally permitted
political demonstrations without good reason; using ``excessive
force'' in a ``lethal manner'' against peaceful protesters;
preventing people from entering and exiting permitted marches
and rallies while they are in progress and detaining them after
those events have concluded; and flying police helicopters so
low to demonstrations that they drown out protesters' voices.
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