FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — The City of Fort Wayne and the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana have announced “agreed principals” to the original lawsuit stemming from the way police responded to local protests over Minneapolis police brutality of George Floyd in May of 2020.
The lawsuit between the two sides continues but the ACLU has agreed to withdraw a motion for a preliminary injunction. They could still end up in court over monetary damage claims if not resolved by a mutual agreement.
“This was just sort of an understanding with them. So we worked with a neutral party, a mediator to come to an understanding about our policies, and that we have good policies, and that we will continue to respect people’s right to protest peacefully,” said Fort Wayne City Attorney, Carol Helton.
Protesters believe the city was unreasonable in its use of tear gas without sufficient warning which prevented protesters from leaving and prevented peaceful protesters from gathering. The group of 13 individuals claimed their First and Fourth Amendment rights were violated and asked the court to prohibit the city from taking any future actions designed to stop protests, such as tear gas or rubber bullets. They also sought monetary damages. One plaintiff later withdrew from the lawsuit and the ACLU voluntarily dismissed Allen County Sheriff David Gladieux as a defendant.
“I think the injunction was designed to get a formal order setting out certain standards,” said Ken Falk, legal director for the ACLU of Indiana. “I think these principles are not a court order. But they are a recognition by the city of how they’re going to view the constitutional rights of protesters in the future.”
The city denied any wrongdoing and said the use of force by Fort Wayne Police officers was reasonable.
While the two parties continue to have disagreements about certain legal standards that apply to actions made by the City of Fort Wayne, they agree this new statement does not mean the city, police or individual officers admit to any wrongdoing.
“There’s been no admission from the city that they did anything wrong, nor did we want admission at this point,” Falk said. “What we want at this point is to set it in place a framework so this does not happen again and as I said, I applaud the city in recognizing that we can go beyond finger-pointing and try and erect a structure that will prevent this from happening again.”
Thursday’s joint release also included eight points of agreement derived in part by a “neutral mediator”:
- People have the right to engage in non-violent protests in parks, sidewalks and streets that have been closed to traffic.
- When non-violent protests enter streets unlawfully, FWPD will take reasonable measures to close streets and/or divert traffic.
- FWPD will use force that is objectively reasonable and continue to make reasonable efforts to deescalate any potentially unlawful situation.
- Unlawful activities by protesters may require FWPD to declare an unlawful assembly or make dispersal orders. Police will make reasonable attempts to tell people routes to leave the area.
- In the absence of an unlawful assembly declaration, people not involved in unlawful activity will not be ordered to disperse.
- FWPD acknowledges use of any chemical agent is a use of force and its use must be reasonable.
- Prior to deploying crowd-control chemical agents, FWPD will take reasonable measure to announce its intention through a variety of methods to allow protesters to comply.
- Consistent with existing practices, FWPD will not fire impact munitions indiscriminately into crowds or use direct fired munitions against non-violent protesters.
“Going forward, there were learning things that we took away that we could do better that are consistent with our current policies but they’re within our consistent policy,” said Sgt. Jeremy Webb, a spokesperson for the FWPD. “Things are constantly evolving, our policies change and adapt as tactics and equipment change and adapt, and we try to stay on the cutting edge of that.”
Since the protests, the department has made the decision to invest in equipment to increase communication during tense situations. They plan on investing in loudspeakers as well as use drones to make announcements. However, Webb said they stand by how they handled the situation.
“Everything that we did, we currently do, was found to be pretty, pretty effective and within state and federal law,” Webb said. “If they don’t like our policies, they need to look at the law of the land. That’s what dictates our policies. Our policies don’t dictate law.”
As of now, the lawsuit will continue in the Hoosier courts, but the ACLU sees the injunction withdrawal as progress.
“I think the plaintiffs are very happy to have this resolved with taking some of the law and negotiation to get this far,” said Falk. “We may disagree as to where the fault lies, but anything that everyone can do to make sure this doesn’t happen, again, is a real plus.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version reported this agreement was a settlement to the lawsuit. The two sides have only announced “agreed principles” and the withdrawal of a preliminary injunction by the ACLU.