News / World

Pact resolves ACLU suit over protest arrests in Baton Rouge

BATON ROUGE, La. — A settlement agreement Tuesday resolves a federal lawsuit that accuses law enforcement of trampling on the civil rights of protesters in Baton Rouge following a black man's fatal shooting by police.

Plaintiffs' attorneys said their "memorandum of understanding" with state and local police officials affirms that people have the right to peacefully protest. The agreement doesn't include any monetary terms.

Police arrested nearly 200 protesters in Baton Rouge following the July 5 shooting death of Alton Sterling, who was killed in a struggle with two white officers outside a convenience store.

Cellphone videos of the confrontation quickly spread on social media. Sterling's death, a day before another fatal police shooting in Minnesota, sparked widespread protests and inflamed racial tensions that were heightened by the fatal shooting of five police officers in Dallas by a black sniper.

Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana and the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice filed the lawsuit, which accused police of using excessive force in a "military-grade assault" on protesters. Officers pointed high-powered weapons at protesters, physically and verbally abused them and threatened them with the use of pepper spray, the suit said.

Last week, the Baton Rouge Metro Council approved a settlement agreement to resolve a separate federal lawsuit filed on behalf of protesters who were arrested, including prominent Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson.

That deal calls for the city government, the Louisiana State Police, the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office and the local district attorney's office to pay no more than $25,000 apiece — for a total of about $100,000 — to compensate more than 90 of the arrested protesters, The Advocate newspaper reported.

Mckesson, a Baltimore resident, was arrested July 9 near Baton Rouge police headquarters on a charge of obstructing a highway. District Attorney Hillar Moore has said Mckesson is one of roughly 100 arrested protesters who will not be prosecuted by his office for the same charge.

The Justice Department is investigating Sterling's death. In the meantime, police are preparing for the possibility of more protests after the investigating is completed.

"We have to make sure that people's First Amendment rights are protected," said Marjorie Esman, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana.

The State Police, the sheriff's office and Baton Rouge's police chief and mayor are among the defendants named in the ACLU's suit.

"Law enforcement commits to use only that level of force that is objectively reasonable to bring an incident under control, while ensuring the safety of the officer and others," Tuesday's court filing says.

The pact also says permits may be required for gatherings that would block roads, allowing police to redirect traffic. Commands to disperse "will be given in a manner reasonably calculated to be communicated to all persons present," the filing adds.