WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union sued the Trump administration Thursday, alleging officials violated the civil rights of protesters who were forcefully removed from a park near the White House by police using chemical agents before President Donald Trump walked to a nearby church to take a photo.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court on Washington, comes as Attorney General William Barr defended the decision to forcefully remove the peaceful protesters, saying it was necessary to protect officers and federal property.
The suit argues that Trump, Barr and other officials “unlawfully conspired to violate” the protesters’ rights when clearing Lafayette Park on Monday. Law enforcement officers aggressively forced the protesters back, firing smoke bombs and pepper balls into the crowd to disperse them from the park.
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The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the group Black Lives Matter D.C. and individual protesters who were present. It is filed by the ACLU of DC, Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the law firm of Arnold & Porter.
Barr said he had met with other law enforcement officials earlier Monday and decided they needed to extend a security perimeter around the White House to protect federal agents “who could be reached by projectiles from the street.” He expected the perimeter to be moved in the early afternoon, but when he arrived in the evening, shortly before Trump was set to speak at a news conference, he learned it wasn’t done and ordered law enforcement officials to take action.
After the crowd was dispersed, Trump, followed by an entourage of his most senior aides — including Barr — along with Secret Service agents and reporters, walked over to St. John’s Church, the landmark pale-yellow building where every president, including Trump, has prayed, that had been damaged Sunday night in a protest fire. Barr said Trump, as the nation’s chief executive, had every right to do so and claimed it wasn’t political.