Judge asked to approve settlement over protest arrests
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BATON ROUGE, La. — Attorneys have asked a federal judge to approve a settlement that awards up to $45,000 in cash payments to dozens of protesters arrested in Baton Rouge following a black man's fatal shooting by police.
Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson and two other protesters sued over their arrests, accusing police of using excessive force. A court filing Wednesday spells out details of their settlement agreement with the city, the local sheriff and district attorney and the head of the Louisiana State Police.
The deal includes $500 payments to approximately 90 protesters who were arrested only on charges of obstructing a highway. Those charges will be expunged at no cost to protesters under the settlement. Protesters also will be reimbursed for bond fees they paid to get freed from jail.
Police arrested nearly 200 protesters following the July 5 shooting death of Alton Sterling, who was killed during a struggle with two white officers. 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.
The lawsuit claims police responded to Baton Rouge protests "in a militarized and aggressive manner," brandishing assault weapons alongside heavy military vehicles. Plaintiffs' attorney Roy Rodney, Jr. said many of the arrested protesters were Louisiana college students.
"This case was about protecting the futures of young people who decided to exercise their First Amendment right to protest," Rodney said Thursday. "We wanted to make sure that the records of those arrests were expunged because they did nothing wrong."
The defendants also agreed to pay attorneys' fees and costs, which aren't specified in Wednesday's court filing. However, The Advocate newspaper reported that the city and parish government, the State Police, the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office and District Attorney Hillar Moore's office each agreed to pay no more than $25,000 apiece — for a total of about $100,000 — to resolve the case.
The head of the union that represents Baton Rouge police officers said the settlement was a "slap in the face" and a "dangerous precedent" that could lead to even larger crowds at future protests.
"Was this even a consideration prior to handing out this 'ransom' money?" Sgt. C. Bryan Taylor wrote in a statement.
Mckesson said Taylor should focus on encouraging officers to "follow both the law and the constitution."
"It's clear that the only people who violated the law that night were the Baton Rouge police officers," he said.
Earlier this week, a separate settlement agreement resolved another lawsuit that accused police of violating protesters' civil rights. Tuesday's settlement, which didn't include any monetary terms, resolved a suit filed by attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana and the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice.
Mckesson, a 31-year-old Baltimore resident, was arrested July 9 near Baton Rouge police headquarters. Moore, the district attorney, previously announced that Mckesson was among roughly 100 arrested protesters who will not be prosecuted.
Mckesson said the settlement will "make us as whole as possible for the unconstitutional arrests," something he's still waiting for himself. He said his backpack was taken from him following his arrest and still hasn't been returned to him, even though his first name is embroidered on it.
"It's probably a trophy on somebody's wall," Mckesson said.