ACLU announces the filing of a lawsuit against the city of Omaha

Today, the Nebraska ACLU will take legal action in U.S. District Court, challenging constitutional violations in law enforcement response to Omaha Black Lives Matter protests and seeking court orders to protect future events.

The lawsuit names the city of Omaha, Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer and Omaha Police Captain Mark Matuza as the accused.

On behalf of the Omaha organization ProBLAC and a diverse group of citizens calling for racial justice, the ACLU of Nebraska is seeking relief on two main fronts. The lawsuit alleges that the Omaha Police Department used excessive force and forcefully retaliated against peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters. He also questions the vagueness and scope of the orders used in the arrests. In short, the lawsuit argues that the Omaha Police’s aggressive application of unconstitutionally vague city codes violated the rights of protesters under the U.S. Constitution, chilling freedom of peaceful expression and subjecting protesters to harassment. unreasonable arrests and excessive force resulting in injury and trauma.

The litigation centers on the Omaha Police’s suspicious policies and practices during the Farnam Street March in July and this summer’s initial Black Lives Matter protests outside the Crossroads Mall from late May to early June. At each scene, police encountered peaceful protesters with militarized force and carried out mass arrests to enforce petty crime charges.

ACLU Nebraska Executive Director Danielle Conrad said the retrial is an important tactic in the organization’s overall efforts to promote police accountability and racial justice.

“The response to protests against police brutality shouldn’t be more brutal,” Conrad said. “The Omaha police have placed black Omahans and all Omahans calling for justice in the unacceptable position of deciding between their constitutional rights and their own health and safety. We call on the courts to intervene, to reaffirm the rights of peaceful protesters and to prevent irreparable damage caused by excessive force from being brought under control.

The lawsuit names a diverse group of eight plaintiffs, including protesters, bystanders, a legal observer and a journalist. All were detained or arrested in the Farnam Street March.

Despite the non-violent nature of the march, police shot a protester at point blank range with pepper guns. They fired pepperballs at a group of protesters trapped on the sidewalk of a bridge. And they arrested 125 people, tied their hands, made them sit for hours in a parking lot with no water or toilets, and ultimately reserved them at Douglas County Jail, a facility that is not equipped to handle such an influx safely. during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of those arrested said they heard law enforcement and correctional officials suggest the arrests were intended to discourage future participation in protests. Weeks later, the Omaha city prosecutor dismissed the vast majority of charges due to lack of evidence.

Police engaged in similar tactics during the Crossroads protests, issuing statements of “illegal assembly” almost immediately before deploying chemical agents to disperse protesters – including those peacefully demonstrating on sidewalks.

Nebraska ACLU Legal Director Adam Sipple said all of the evidence suggested the protected activities of protesters was a motivator in police misconduct.

“The excessive force of the officers served the intended purpose of restraining, frustrating and frightening the protesters who called for police reform not to exercise their First Amendment rights,” Sipple said.

The arrested protesters were charged under section 20-44 of the Omaha City Code, which prohibits obstructing public roads. The city code defines obstruction as causing unreasonable inconvenience or danger. A similar order, 20-45, prohibits failure to follow an official request or order to move to avoid obstruction.

The lawsuit targets a statement that the two orders are too broad because they restrict freedom of expression more protected than necessary, give law enforcement too much discretion over when and how to apply them and create an undue risk of paralyzing participation in a legal expression activity.

The lawsuit calls for a full hearing of the evidence and seeks two injunctions: one prohibiting police from relying on traffic regulations to end peaceful street protests, and the other prohibiting police from relying on traffic regulations. use chemical agents to disperse peaceful protesters. The lawsuit also seeks a judgment that the defendants violated the constitutional rights of each plaintiff, as well as any damage proven at the lawsuit.

Experiences of protesters and complainants

The following quotes tell of the experiences of protesters and other complainants, recorded in preparation for litigation.

“I kept repeating, ‘We are protesting peacefully!’ using my megaphone. I also encouraged the participants to “Have no fear” and “Keep your cameras out of range”. While doing so, an officer suddenly attacked me from behind, placed his hands on my neck, and threw me to the ground as other officers jumped in, repeatedly bringing me to my knees in the section. median. They then zipped me up and ordered me to stay near the concrete divider separating the street from the sidewalk from the bridge. When the police arrested me, the crowd got angry and started yelling at the police. Some of the police officers present responded by shooting pepper balls at them. “
Alexander (Bear) Matthews, complainant and organizer of the Farnam protest

“After the police trapped us on the bridge, I saw a person on a bicycle being pushed out of his bicycle by the police, then a number of police officers shot him with pepperballs, rushed him. and attacked him. I also saw officers rushing at his butt, “Bear” Matthews, throwing him to the ground. At this point, I was towards the front of the group and on the north side of the bridge when officers randomly fired pepperballs at me and other submissive protesters on the sidewalk.
Jordan Corbin, complainant and protester of Farnam

“As I stood on the north sidewalk, carrying my backpack and taking notes with my notepad and legal pen, an officer approached and ordered me to ‘Get down.’ Seconds after his command, and just before the officer was in immediate range, I politely said, “I am a legal observer.” The officer immediately grabbed my shoulder and kicked me to the ground.
Riley Wilson, Complainant and Legal Observer at the Farnam Protest

“While I was filming, an Omaha policeman violently pushed me to the ground, stealing my phone. I got up and continued to film the arrests taking place in the street. The officer pushed me again. In response to our repeated statements that I was an accredited journalist, an officer claimed that they had “information” that our badges were “fake”. I am not aware of any circumstance on which this assertion could be based. “
Melanie Buer, complainant and journalist at the Farnam protest

“I didn’t hear any dispersal orders until the police started using chemical agents and force to move us towards the intersection. I watched my friend, who is about 5 feet tall and under 100 pounds, ask an officer for help only to be pushed to the ground. She was then grazed by a tear gas canister. I watched a woman standing still with her hands up when an officer told her to go back to [the] group. When she remained in her seat, the policeman grabbed her very aggressively, handcuffed her, and took her away. As I watched another friend, asking an officer questions like “Why are you killing us?” the officer looked her straight in the face and fired a tear gas canister at her. Two others were seriously suffering from the stinging tear gas in their eyes. Another friend was having a panic attack. At one point, I was standing on the street facing a skirmish line. When we all turned to run, I was hit in the leg by an exploding object, presumably a flash-bang grenade.
Isabella Tarr, Crossroads protester

Injury image available for download [].

“Based on my observations of their behavior, I concluded that the police appreciated what they were doing. I found it disgusting. They appeared to have intentionally brutalized young women for no other reason than their speech. I finally couldn’t bear to watch him go on so I walked between the row of officers and these young women and started to address words to the officers, objecting to what the officers were doing to these young women. . Then the officers started shooting me directly with pepper balls hitting me several times on my legs, torso, torso, shoulders, neck and head.Mahmud Fitil, Crossroads protester

“I am afraid that the Omaha police will continue to disperse or arrest peaceful protesters in future peaceful demonstrations of solidarity and support for the Justice for James Scurlock group and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Josh Augustine, Complainant and Farnam Protester

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