PHOENIX—The ACLU of Arizona, renowned Los Angeles-based civil rights firm Hadsell Stormer & Renick LLP, and civil rights attorney Dan Pochoda filed a class action lawsuit today against the City of Phoenix, Chief of Phoenix Police Jeri Williams, and a number of Phoenix police officers for violating the rights of thousands of peaceful anti-Trump protesters who were gathered during and after a rally the president held on August 22, 2017, at the Phoenix Convention Center.
“Under the direction of Chief Williams, Phoenix police disregarded the constitutional rights of protestors that night,” said ACLU of Arizona Legal Director Kathy Brody. “At the precise moment when anti-Trump protesters intended to deliver to the president and his supporters their messages renouncing his policies, Phoenix police—without warning—used incapacitating weaponry to silence and disperse hundreds of peaceful anti-Trump protestors, including children, elderly people, people with disabilities, and pregnant women.”
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the community organizations Puente and Poder in Action and four individuals who will represent a class of people whose First Amendment protected viewpoints critical of the president were violently suppressed by Phoenix police. The plaintiff organizations, named individual plaintiffs, and putative class members were injured by Phoenix police that night when officers used excessive force to disperse people unlawfully and discriminated against anti-Trump demonstrators.
Phoenix police officers ended the peaceful protest when they began attacking protesters with heavy weaponry including pepper balls, tear gas canisters, and foam batons. Phoenix police fired more than 590 projectiles indiscriminately and many Arizonans went home from the protest with physical and emotional trauma because of police actions.
“It took Phoenix police 30 minutes from the time they started unlawfully shooting at protesters to issue a dispersal order. Even as protestors ran away from the attack, officers continued firing projectiles into the crowds,” said Cindy Pánuco, an attorney with Hadsell Stormer Renick LLP, co-counsel for the plaintiffs. “Protestors wanted to convey the message that the racist and anti-immigrant policies of the Trump administration must end. The Phoenix Police Department used violence to stop this message from being conveyed, injuring hundreds of people in the process.”
A Phoenix police officer was heard advising other officers to stay away from anti-Trump protestors and near Trump supporters because “[they are] more pro-police.” Another Phoenix officer described Trump supporters as being “calm” relative to the anti-Trump protesters and said, without basis, that the anti-Trump protestors were paid to be there.
“We worked tirelessly to make certain that the protest would be peaceful and safe. Public protest is one of the few avenues marginalized communities, including immigrants and people of color, have to make their voices heard,” said Carlos Garcia, executive director of Puente Arizona. “How will our members and supporters feel safe engaging in free speech activities in the future, when they know what violence Phoenix police are capable of? We cannot let our speech be chilled by unlawful police behavior.”
The plaintiffs are asking the court to prohibit Phoenix police from using excessive force against protesters in the future and are seeking financial damages for all persons whose First Amendment rights of protest and assembly were violated by the Phoenix Police Department’s violent dispersal of protesters.
“The Phoenix Police Department’s epidemic of violence is a crisis in our community,” said Viri Hernandez, executive director of Poder in Action. “The police violence we saw at the anti-Trump protest is the same police violence that has caused Phoenix to lead the nation in officer-involved shootings. The lack of accountability for police violence by the Mayor, City Council, and Chief Williams is inexcusable.”
In addition to Brody, Pánuco, and Pochoda, counsel for plaintiffs include Dan Stormer and Joshua Piovia-Scott of Hadsell Stormer & Renick LLP and Darrell Hill of the ACLU of Arizona.
The class action lawsuit (complaint) is available here, along with Exhibits 1-7 and Exhibits 8-14.