FOIA filing comes as D.C. Council moves to investigate police misconduct on January 20
DC National Lawyers Guild (DC NLG) and Defending Rights and Dissent, two groups who defend the right to protest, are demanding answers about the Metropolitan Police Department’s conduct during anti-Trump inauguration protests.
Earlier today, the two groups filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request asking for records pertaining to police use of force against protesters, including the deployment of chemical and projectile weapons, and the use of police infiltrators leading up to the January 20 protests.
“The police assault on the right to protest on January 20 is part of a broader trend of cracking down on dissent taking place across the nation,” said Maggie Ellinger-Locke, co-chair of the DC NLG Demonstration Support Committee. “We hope that shedding light on the MPD’s actions during the inauguration will be an important step to promoting real police accountability.”
In an unprecedented move, U.S. Attorney Channing Phillips indicted more than 200 people in April on eight felony charges each, punishable by up to 75 years in federal prison. Both the DC NLG and Defending Rights and Dissent have strongly condemned the charges as being an intimidation tactic meant to severely punish Inauguration Day protesters and deter people from participating in future activism.
As the FOIA Request describes, “This is one of the largest, and harshest en-mass prosecutions of political demonstrators in U.S. history.”
On January 19 and January 20 police repeatedly and indiscriminately used excessive force against protesters, including the use of pepper spray, tear gas, and new weaponry called stingers which have a combined pepper spray, tear gas, rubber bullets, and flash bang deployment. The police assaults included attacks on children, journalists, legal observers, medics, passersby, and protesters. On January 20 police entrapped, or “kettled,” over 200 people, holding them for eight hours and arresting everyone en masse.
The filing of today’s FOIA comes just a month after the District Council approved $150,000 for an investigation into police misconduct during the Inauguration Day protests. The Council’s action comes after the Mayor’s Office of Police Complaints issued a report in February critical of the MPD response to protests on January 20. Notably, the report found concerning multiple potential violations of the D.C. First Amendment Assemblies Act, and the indiscriminate use of weapons such as stingers without adequate warnings.
In addition to the use of force against protesters, both groups were deeply troubled by revelations that an undercover member of the MPD infiltrated organizing meetings ahead of the protests. Under D.C. law, infiltration of First Amendment activity requires prior written approval by a MPD commander or similarly ranked official. For authorization to be received the officer must submit a written memorandum. As part of the FOIA Request, both groups hope to obtain the memorandum requesting authorization, as well as, the authorization itself.
“There is a reason why the City Council imposed statutory restrictions on investigations involving First Amendment protected activity. History shows that such infiltrators oftentimes purposefully sow chaos. Even under the best of circumstances such agents chill speech and deter political participation,” said Chip Gibbons, Policy and Legislative Counsel for Defending Rights and Dissent.