A federal judge has dismissed the bulk of a series of lawsuits against the federal government over the use of force to drive Black Lives Matter protesters out of Lafayette Park last year, but will allow protesters to continue to seek damages from Washington, D.C. and Arlington County, Va. over the actions of their police forces.

U.S. District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich rejected demonstrators’ claims for damages against former officials such as President Donald Trump, Attorney General William Barr and Defense Secretary Mark Esper, as well as some current federal officials.

Friedrich, a Trump appointee also declined to consider requests for an injunction barring similar uses of force against protesters in the future.

“The plaintiffs’ claims of impending future harm are too speculative to confer standing to seek an injunction,” Friedrich wrote in a 51-page decision released Monday afternoon.

“Such harm would require that plaintiffs again demonstrate in Lafayette Square; that agencies headed by the official-capacity defendants again respond to the demonstration; that federal officers again use that law enforcement response as cover to deliberately target non-violent peaceful demonstrators; and that one or more of the plaintiffs again be targeted. This hypothetical chain of events is simply too speculative to confer standing for injunctive relief.”

However, Friedrich said she would consider the plaintiffs’ First Amendment challenge to current restrictions on the use of the park located just to the north of the White House.

The judge rejected arguments that the handling of the protesters amounted to seizing or detaining them under federal law.

The suits claim that “the officers attacked and improperly dispersed the protesters—they did not restrain them or attempt to seize them in place,” the judge wrote. “Indeed, quite the opposite was true—the officers attempted to cause the protestors and fleeing crowd to leave their location, rather than cause them to remain there.”

The suits generally alleged that authorities used excessive force to disperse protesters gathered in the park last June, deploying tear gas and pepper balls and using shields to charge into the assembled crowd. Demonstrators also said officials acted in political retaliation on behalf of Trump, who had urged police across the country to be aggressive against demonstrators he said were engaged in violence and damage to property.

Some protesters also claimed that the effort to drive them out of the park was aimed at making way for Trump to walk through the park and conduct a photo-op he held that afternoon outside St. John’s Church just outside the square.

However, an Interior Department watchdog report issued earlier this month said Trump’s visit to the park a short time after the demonstrators were driven out came as a surprise to many of the law enforcement officials involved. The inspector general report did find several other flaws in the response. The review also was also generally limited to Interior Department personnel.

After coming under the leadership of President Joe Biden’s appointees earlier this year, the Justice Department pressed arguments to dismiss the case against the former federal officials. That triggered criticism from some liberals, who complained that DOJ was defending inappropriate conduct by Trump-era appointees.

In an apparent response to those criticisms, Justice Department attorneys filed a notice with the court last week reporting that “preliminary settlement discussions” had taken place in the case.

In a statement Monday, a lawyer for protesters expressed disappointment in the judge’s ruling.

“Today’s ruling essentially gives the federal government a green light to use violence, including lethal force against demonstrators, as long as federal officials claim to be protecting national security, said Scott Michelman of the American Civil Liberties Union’s District of Columbia chapter. “Under today’s decision, Lafayette Square is now a Constitution-free zone when it comes to the actions of federal officials. Not only is this decision a stunning rejection of our constitutional values and protesters’ First Amendment rights, but it effectively places federal officials above the law.”

Source: politico.com

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