Apr 26, 2021 - Politics & Policy

D.C. settles lawsuits over Trump inauguration protest arrests

Police officers pepper spray a group of protestors before the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC.

Police officers pepper spray a group of protestors before the inauguration of then-President elect Trump Jan. 20, 2017 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Zach Gibson/AFP via Getty Images

The D.C. government agreed Monday to a $1.6 million settlement in two lawsuits that alleged police unlawfully detained over 200 protesters and other constitutional violations during former President Trump's January 2017 inauguration.

Driving the news: The suits accuse Metropolitan Police Department officers and then-Police Chief Peter Newsham of being responsible for the "mass arrests of demonstrators without probable cause, unlawful conditions of confinement for detainees, and/or use of excessive force," per a statement from the ACLU.

  • The civil cases, brought by the ACLU and attorney Jefferey Light on behalf of protesters, allege that police violated the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments, as well as D.C. law.
  • They accuse police of rounding up and detaining 200-plus protesters "without access to food, water, or restrooms for up to 16 hours," despite only a small number of demonstrators causing damage during the protests.
"Officers also deployed pepper spray, flash-bang grenades, concussion grenades, and stingballs — explosive devices that release smoke, rubber pellets, and a chemical irritant within a radius of approximately 50 feet—against protesters and others both on the street ... without warning and in circumstances where there was no threat of harm to officers or the public."
— Excerpt from ACLU's statement

Of note: The city's Police Complaints Board stated in a February 2017 report to Mayor Muriel Bowser on the conduct of police on Trump's Inauguration Day that "while in many instances MPD conducted activities in a constitutional manner, there are several instances where the observations made by [the Office of Police Complaints] cause concern and raise questions."

  • The only convictions that eventuated from the 234 Inauguration Day arrests were for 21 people who pleaded guilty before trial, the Washington Post reports.

The other side: When asked at a news conference to comment on the settlement, Bowser said: "We settled the matter."

  • Representatives for Bowser and the MPD did not immediately respond to Axios' requests for comment.
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