LOS ANGELES - Four Los Angeles area activist groups sued Los Angeles and its police department in federal court today to stop the LAPD's policies and customs that violate protesters' Constitutional rights. The four groups �_ National Lawyers Guild, Los Angeles Chapter; Los Angeles Coalition to Stop the Execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal; Los Angeles Chapter of the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation; and D2K Convention Planning Coalition �_ brought the suit as a result of free speech violations that took place at two major protest events in Los Angeles in the last year, the protests at the Democratic National Convention between August 14 and August 17, 2000, and the October 22, 2000, protest against police brutality at the Parker Center.
"Battles that the LAPD lost in court, it took to the street and fought with batons and missiles," said Dan Tokaji, staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California. "Last year the courts ordered the LAPD to allow protesters to exercise their Constitutionally guaranteed free speech rights. Officials and officers of the LAPD decided they knew better than the courts and shut down free speech anyway. It's time to reckon with that gross abuse of power and to change the policies and customs that the LAPD regularly employs to squelch our Constitutional rights."
The lawsuit, National Lawyers Guild v. City of Los Angeles, details an array of activities that the LAPD uses to suppress free speech and to intimidate those who attempt to exercise it in public venues in Los Angeles. These activities include surveillance, infiltration of protest groups, the imposition of no-speech zones, the use of excessive force, the use of inappropriate, pretextual administrative searches, the illegal dispersal of public free speech events, and the illegal blocking of pre-authorized, fully permitted marches.
"The LAPD is at war with the First Amendment," said Carol Sobel, ACLU/SC co-operating attorney. "Right now, people who decide to exercise their Constitutional rights have to fear for their lives."
The lawsuit also describes the LAPD's use of batons, concussion grenades, rubber bullets, and other projectiles to disperse and intimidate crowds. The suit describes multiple instances of deliberate misuse of these weapons, including the use of batons to hit people in the head and the firing of supposedly "nonlethal" projectiles such as "Stingers," "Multiple Batons," and "eXact iMpacts" directly at people, rather than shooting them to ricochet off the ground, a misuse which manufacturers warn could result in serious injury or death.
"LAPD's unconstitutional use of force targets everyone and anyone who dares to speak out about the injustices in our society," said James Lafferty, Executive Director of the Los Angeles Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild. "Its target is the right to dissent. Its target is constitutional government as we know it."
The plaintiffs are represented by the ACLU of Southern California and Carol Sobel, an ACLU/SC cooperating attorney and National Lawyers Guild volunteer counsel; Robert Myers, of the firm Newman. Aaronson. Vanaman. and volunteer counsel for the National Lawyers Guild; Prof. Karl Manheim (Loyola Law School), and Paul L. Hoffman, of Schonbrun, Desimone, Seplow, Harris & Hoffman.