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Man suing Richmond Police, alleging officers used excessive force with tear gas

Posted at 9:18 AM, Jun 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-06 09:24:23-04

RICHMOND, Va. — A lawsuit has been filed agains the Richmond police officers who fired tear gas into a crowd of peaceful protesters at the Lee Monument roughly thirty minutes before a city-wide curfew went into effect on Monday night.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a plaintiff who said he was among that crowd and alleges that the officers involved, among other things, violated his First and Fourth Amendment rights in the United States Constitution and used excessive force.

“No one likes being gassed, it’s really uncomfortable,” Jonathan Arthur, the plaintiff, told CBS 6.

Arthur is being represented by the Civil Rights law firm of Thomas H. Roberts & Associates, PC, where he also works as an attorney.

The lawsuit states it is unaware of the names and identities of the defendants, but lists them as John/Jane Does 1-X and are being “sued in their personal capacities.”

The lawsuit alleged that on Monday, June 1, 2020 Arthur was a part of an assembly that started at Monroe Park at 5:00 p.m. and marched through parts of Richmond before ending up at the Robert E. Lee Monument. It added the protest was accompanied by a “full police escort” and at no time was the assembly “violent or destructive of public or private property”.

“They did so in a peaceful manner, in a lawful manner,” said Arthur’s attorney Tom Roberts. “And disrupting that speech, chilling that speech, the Richmond police force, who had led them to this spot, used a military tactical maneuver called an “L-shaped” ambush tactic to disrupt them and to remove and chill their speech. This is not going to be tolerated.”

RELATED: Richmond woman on Lee monument chaos: 'It was unprovoked'

The lawsuit said on or around 7:32 p.m., “prior to the curfew, unprovoked, and without warning given to the assembly” a group of “heavily armed” Richmond police officers not involved in the escort “gathered and stormed the assembly” from the west along Monument Avenue and established “a skirmish line along the western portion of the General Robert E. Lee Memorial”.

It alleged that at the same time, another group of Richmond police officers approached the crowd from the north along Allen Avenue, which it said was “a variation of the classic ‘L’ shaped ambush tactic”.

The lawsuit said then, while many in the crowd were kneeling and chanting “hands-up don’t shoot,” the officers (or Does) in the Skirmish Line fired tear gas canisters into the assembly. It added that after the tear gas was fired, other police officers from the Skirmish Line “stormed toward the assembly attacking members of the assembly with OC pepper spray and batons”.

RELATED: Police launch tear gas to disperse crowd on Broad Street

“It was absolutely infuriating to see a military equipment, military tactics…being deployed against a peaceful civilian population. That's not something I would expect or even have countenance, really, in the United States in such a large formation against such a peaceful demonstration,” said Arthur. “Maybe, we have to thank RPD for making our point. We were protesting peacefully about, among other things, hyper-militarization and police brutality, for the police to respond with military force against a peaceful civilian demonstration, I think says just about all of it.”

After the incident, the Richmond Police Department tweeted out that some “RPD officers in that area were cut off by violent protesters. The gas was necessary to get them to safety.”

The lawsuit alleges described this as a the start of a “disinformation campaign to create a false narrative”.

Over an hour-and-a-half after that initial tweet, RPD tweeted that Chief William Smith had reviewed video of the incident and said it was an “unwarranted action” and that the officers have been pulled from the field.

Richmond Mayor also tweeted an apology to those that were tear gassed that evening and the next day he and Chief Smith met with protesters in person to apologize.

Arthur said those apologies are not enough. He said they are seeking, among other things, a declaration that his First and Fourth Amendment rights were violated and $50,000 in damages.

“Money makes the world go round and that's a sad truth. But, one of the better ways to affect change with the tools that we are given, and we fight with the tools we are given, is to hit the powers that be in their pocketbooks,” said Arthur. “Things will change.”

Roberts said that since the lawsuit has been filed he has been contacted by a number of individuals and they will be filing a class-action lawsuit.

CBS 6 has reached out to the Richmond Police Department for comment. A spokesperson said they would reach out to the department’s general counsel regarding the lawsuit.

A spokesperson for the mayor’s office told CBS 6 they do not comment on pending litigation.