Protesters who were forcibly cleared from an area near the White House to make way for a presidential photo-op sued President Donald Trump and other officials, arguing they violated the protesters’ constitutional rights, Politico reports.
The suit came as Trump approvingly tweeted a letter by his former lawyer John Dowd describing the protesters as “terrorists“ who were harassing law enforcement. The letter addressed to Trump’s former defense secretary Jim Mattis said, called the protesters massed at Lafayette Park Monday “phony,” and said they were”terrorists using idle hate-filled students to burn and destroy.”
“I thought this letter from respected retired Marine and Super Star lawyer, John Dowd, would be of interest to the American People,” the president said in his retweet message. “Read it!”
Mattis was among several senior Washington insiders and former Pentagon officials who condemned the president’s call to use the U.S. military during the protests over the death of George Floyd.
The protesters, with the Washington, D.C., chapter of Black Lives Matter, filed the suit against Trump, Attorney General William Barr, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, and the heads of law enforcement agencies that were involved in Monday’s events—when officers launched smoke canisters, chemical irritants and flash-bang shells and charged hundreds of peaceful protesters at Lafayette Square.
The suit alleges a violation of First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly, as well as Fourth Amendment rights to freedom from unreasonable seizure.
The protesters were expressing outrage at the death of George Floyd in Minnesota at the hands of a police officer. Recordings shared on social media showed unprovoked violence by police officers against peaceful protesters and journalists across the U.S. The D.C. protesters say that was the case Monday.
Law enforcement charged at the protesters before D.C.’s 7 p.m. curfew, which was put in place because looting and vandalism in parts of the city. Defendant include members of the U.S. Park Police, Arlington County, Va., police, Secret Service, D.C. National Guard and U.S. military police in their lawsuit. The episode caused a firestorm of criticism against the Trump administration and law enforcement as abusive, unprovoked police violence.
Kristen Clarke of Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which is helping represent the plaintiffs, said “these statements are abhorrent and a completely false characterization of the peacefully assembled demonstrators who were dispersed through state-sanctioned violence at the hands of government officials.”