Class-action lawsuit filed against officers who tear-gassed peaceful protesters near Lee monument

FILE - This Tuesday June 27, 2017 file photo shows the statue of Confederate General Robert E....
FILE - This Tuesday June 27, 2017 file photo shows the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee that stands in the middle of a traffic circle on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Va. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is expected to announce plans Thursday, June 4, 2020 for the removal of an iconic statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from Richmond's prominent Monument Avenue. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, file)(Steve Helber | AP)
Updated: Jun. 16, 2020 at 2:53 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - A class-action lawsuit has been filed by a group of people who say their civil rights were violated after Richmond police officers tear-gassed peaceful protesters near the Robert. E Lee monument earlier in June.

The lawsuit is filed in connection to June 1, 2020, when police deployed tear gas on peaceful protesters before a curfew went into effect. Crowds have gathered downtown for several weeks in response to the death of George Floyd and police brutality.

The lawsuit was filed by Virginia residents Jarrod Blackwood, Megan Blackwood, Ryan Tagg, Christopher Gayler and Keenan Angel - who sue individually and on behalf of a class similarly situated individuals - and names “John/Jane Does 1-X” as defendants because the officers’ identities have not been released and it is unclear how many officers fired off tear gas.

“The force and threats of force used by the police to disperse this assembly included but were not limited to training assault rifles and other firearms on the assembly, deploying tear gas and pepper spray against the assembly, use of batons, and marching with arms and armor through the assembly area,” the lawsuit said.

The suit alleges that sometime between 7:32 p.m. and 7:42 p.m. on June 1, after marching miles from Monroe Park in the city to the Robert E. Lee monument, demonstrators were stormed by members of Richmond police, who established a skirmish line along a portion of the monument traffic circle.

The suit goes on to say that the skirmish line was heavily armed, wearing body armor, masks, with assault-style weaponry and sidearms trained and pointed on the assembly.

The suit alleges that a member from the Richmond Police Department threw a tear-gas canister into the crowd, which was quickly followed by other officers as protesters were kneeling with their hands in the air chanting “hands-up don’t shoot.”

“Many remaining in the assembly were affected by the tear gas, which causes severe irritation of the skin, eyes, mouth, throat, and lungs. Others, feared injury from the police, including but not limited to the tear case. As a result, many in assembly withdrew, terminating their exercise of their First Amendment rights,” the suit went on to say.

The plaintiffs claim their first, fourth and fourteenth amendment rights were violated, as well as state-law tort claims of assault, battery and gross negligence. They are seeking "declaratory relief, compensatory damages as well as punitive and exemplary damages for the defendants’ violations of these Constitutional rights, and compensatory and punitive damages for the tortious conduct.

On the day of the incident, Richmond Police said that Chief Will Smith reviewed video footage of police officers spraying peaceful protesters in the face and apologized for the actions of the officers.

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney also tweeted an apology regarding the incident before addressing protesters the following day.

This new class-action suit comes after the same law firm filed a separate lawsuit against the Richmond Police Department and officers involved. That lawsuit was filed just a few days following the June 1 event.

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