FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — The ACLU of Indiana is suing the City of Fort Wayne and the Allen County Sheriff for using tear gas and pepper spray on protesters during recent demonstrations in downtown Fort Wayne. The organization has filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction and damages.
“Police must not respond to protesters speaking out against police brutality with yet more brutality. We will not let these violent attacks on our constitutional rights go unchecked,” said Ken Falk, legal director at the ACLU of Indiana. “Excessive use of force against protesters chills free speech, and widens the rift of distrust between communities and the police that are sworn to serve them.”
According to the ACLU complaint, on May 29, protesters marched to the nearby Martin Luther King Bridge where police blocked protesters from leaving the bridge in either direction and then shot tear gas canisters at them. FWPD and members of the Sheriff’s Department have used force to prevent peaceful protesters from gathering on the Allen County Courthouse lawn and in other public places in Fort Wayne.
On Thursday, a criminal case was opened against Taylor Crane, one of the people named as a plaintiff in the ACLU lawsuit. He was charged with Obstructing Traffic and Disorderly Conduct on May 29, according to court records. Crane has been connected to a protest planned on Facebook, set to happen Sunday at the home of Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards.
WANE 15 reached out to the mayor’s office, FWPD and Allen County Sheriff’s Department for responses to the lawsuit. A FWPD spokesperson deferred to the city’s legal department. The mayor’s office does not comment on pending litigation.
On May 30, the Fort Wayne Police Department released the following statement regarding the previous day’s protests:
Yesterday evening a protest was scheduled from 5pm to 8pm at the courthouse square in downtown Fort Wayne. For a time, the protest was and remained peaceful. The crowd began spilling into the street around 7pm and at that point 10 Point Coalition was utilized to get people back onto the sidewalk and lawn. However, the crowd became hostile toward them and began making threats to them. The protest then became increasingly aggressive and police intervention began. Police made several announcements to leave the area, to disperse the crowd. The crowd refused. After several attempts and only after the crowd began jumping on cars and then began hurling rocks and water bottles at officers did the Public Safety Response Team deploy smoke and tear gas.Fort Wayne Police Department
The ACLU also cites another incident in its lawsuit where it claims on June 14, as protesters dispersed to get away from the weapons being deployed, police dragged protesters out of private businesses in which they were seeking shelter.
Filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, the lawsuit argues that the use of chemical agents and projectiles for crowd control violates the First and Fourth Amendments.
This lawsuit comes just a week after the ACLU of Indiana filed a similar lawsuit against the City of Indianapolis, and joins a number of legal actions the ACLU has been taking around the country in response to escalating law enforcement attacks on journalists and protesters.