The American Civil Liberties Union on Friday accused the Metropolitan Police Department of violating the rights of several hundreds of protesters after they were arrested by D.C. law enforcement last week on inauguration day.
Monica Hopkins-Maxwell, executive director of the ACLU of the District of Columbia, said in a press statement:
As more details emerge about the conduct of the Metropolitan Police Department on Inauguration Day, the ACLU of the District of Columbia is becoming concerned that law enforcement may have violated demonstrators’ rights in any of three ways: by indiscriminately corralling and detaining individuals, including journalists and legal observers, who were not involved in any criminal activity; by using pepper spray without justification on people who were not breaking the law or who had already been detained; and by holding individuals outdoors for excessive periods of time, in some cases up to eight hours, without access to food or bathroom facilities.
D.C. prosecutors told CBS News that 230 protesters would be charged with felony rioting charges, an offense that is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and fine of up to $250,000. The U.S. Attorney’s Office said that most of those arrested were released without posting bail but must come back to face a judge in February.
Maxwell claims the protesters were simply exercising their First Amendment rights, adding that local police used unreasonable force against the protesters “who pose no immediate threat to the officers or others.”
The arrests happened within a four-block area of downtown D.C. during President Trump’s swearing-in ceremony after several protesters smashed windows of businesses and bashed up an occupied limousine before setting it on fire. The injured driver escaped the burning vehicle in time, but protesters caused $100,00 worth of damage not covered by insurance.
Police utilized pepper spray and “sting balls” against the swarm of demonstrators thereafter, CBS noted, but the ACLU is not convinced.
“When using force and detaining citizens, police have a responsibility to use reasonable judgment to separate those who have committed a crime from those who are simply executing their constitutional rights, and when people are arrested, police have a responsibility to process them without undue delay. Under no circumstances should the police use pepper spray on arrestees who pose no immediate threat to the officers or others,” Maxwell said.