NLG LA Chapter News on 2000 DNC Lawsuit

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Democratic Convention Protesters Sue Los Angeles
Over Police Tactics

B.J. Palermo
The National Law Journal

August 24, 2001

The National Lawyers Guild and three other activist groups involved in demonstrations at the Democratic National Convention last August have sued the city over police tactics.

The federal complaint, filed in Los Angeles on Aug. 9, alleges that the Los Angeles Police Department has established policies to interfere with such political marches and rallies, including the use of force against peaceful demonstrators. National Lawyers Guild v. City of Los Angeles, CV-01-06877 (C.D. Calif.).

The lawsuit, filed by attorneys for the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, describes the four alleged policies: to end or bar lawful demonstrations, to attack harmless protesters with nonlethal weapons, to prevent people from joining or leaving marches and rallies and to circle low-flying helicopters over demonstrations to silence political expression.

Despite a federal court ruling against the city's effort to restrict protests to an area far removed from the Democratic National Convention, the police still engaged in tactics designed to intimidate participants, the complaint alleges. Among those activities were surveillance of activists at their headquarters and attempts to close the building.

During the convention, the demonstrators were met by "lines of police officers in full riot gear, heavily armed with weapons capable of firing rubber bullets, rubber slugs, bean bags, tear gas and pepper spray," alleges the complaint, which also names as defendants Police Chief Bernard Parks and five other officers.

When a few protesters threw objects at some officers in an isolated area, the police ordered the dispersal of more than 10,000 demonstrators.

"Even as demonstrators, legal observers and the media were attempting to leave the area, the police attacked them -- trampling people with horses, showering them with chemical weapons, and shooting rubber bullets," states the complaint, which was signed by ACLU attorney Dan Tokaji.

The document cites similar police tactics during a rally in October at police headquarters. The plaintiffs include the Los Angeles chapter of the Oct. 22 Coalition to Stop Police Brutality.

The LAPD has denied the allegations contained in the suit, saying the procedures they used were necessary to maintain order.