Amid a nationwide crackdown on dissent by President Donald Trump and the Republican Party, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on Wednesday filed a lawsuit (pdf) against the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department alleging officers violated the rights of protestors and journalists attending Trump's inauguration in January.
"It is clear to me that the Metropolitan police came out on Inauguration Day intent on teaching demonstrators a lesson and chilling political speech in the nation's capital."
—Scott Michelman, ACLU senior attorney
The suit claims D.C. police unlawfully arrested peaceful demonstrators and indiscriminately deployed tear gas and flash-bang grenades against journalists, legal observers, and crowds of protesters.
"In the course of the roundup and subsequent processing of demonstrators," the organization claims, "police held detainees for hours without food, water, or access to toilets; handcuffed detainees so tightly as to cause injury or loss of feeling; and subjected some detainees to manual rectal probing. Much of MPD's misconduct has been independently documented by the District of Columbia's Office of Police Complaints."
While more than 200 people were arrested during the inauguration protests, this particular lawsuit was filed on behalf of "two individuals who came to the District to express their views concerning the inauguration, a photojournalist who covered the demonstrations, and a legal observer who was present at the scene."
"Pepper spray and tear gas were used against all plaintiffs without justification and without warning," the suit alleges, painting a broader picture of what the plaintiffs argue amounts to excessive use of force.
At a press conference on Wednesday, photojournalist Shay Horse, a plaintiff in the suit, said he was taking photos of the inauguration protests when he was pepper sprayed by police, Buzzfeed's Zoe Tillman reported.
Tillman further reports how Judah Ariel, a legal observer, said he observed a police officer "indiscriminately spraying pepper spray without warning at a crowd of people who were not threatening police, comparing it to Al Pacino with a machine gun in the movie 'Scarface.'"
"It probably couldn't have turned out much worse," Ariel told the Washington Post. "It also shows that it's important to have people out there observing and documenting any abuses and violations of people's rights."
Scott Michelman, a senior attorney for the ACLU in D.C., argued the mass arrests were not the accidental result of a chaotic situation, but rather a coordinated effort to forcefully quell dissent.
"It is clear to me that the Metropolitan police came out on Inauguration Day intent on teaching demonstrators a lesson and chilling political speech in the nation's capital," Michelman told the Post.