Protected Speech | Protest

Protesters File Class Action Against Richmond Police

Richmond Police
A photograph of a Richmond Police Car. Edward Kimmel via Flickr.

By Soraya Ferdman

Five protesters are suing unidentified police officers for excessive use of force during a June 1st demonstration.

Filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on June 16th, the complaint also claims the officers violated the protesters First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. 

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of five Richmond residents, some of whom were sprayed with tear gas, and others who were forced to leave the protest early after seeing the police deploy chemical weapons. 

The plaintiffs are suing individually and on behalf of a class, which the suit defines as anyone who was at the June 1st protest at the time officers are reported to have used chemical weapons on the crowd.

“This class action will bring justice for all those peaceful protesters by giving them the last word despite the police officers’ attempts to silence them! This lawsuit is the essence of protected activity under the 1st Amendment – a petition to the government asking the judiciary to bring into check the police who fall into the executive branch of our government,” Civil Rights attorney Thomas Roberts said in a statement.

In an email to First Amendment Watch, Roberts said his legal team is trying to get the department to release the names of the officers who used tear gas on demonstrators during the June 1st protest. 

“We have filed a motion with the federal court asking the court to permit initial limited discovery to ascertain the identities of the defendant officers and have reached out informally to the attorney for the Richmond Police Department regarding that motion and the suit,” Roberts wrote.

Richmond Police Chief William Smith initially defended the officers’ behavior, but later changed his position and said their actions were “unwarranted.” He also said that the officers involved would be disciplined. Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney asked Smith to step down after repeated accounts of officers using chemical gas and rubber bullets against demonstrators. Smith agreed to resign.

Official Statement Richmond Times-Dispatch