Baton Rouge Council Appeases Protesters

The Baton Rouge Council voted to approve the settlement of $100,000 in the federal lawsuit initiated by arrested protesters during a demonstration of the shooting death of Alton Sterling.

After a Baton Rouge Police officer shot and killed Alton Sterling in July, hundreds took to the city’s streets in protest. Now, City Hall will pay out a few hundred dollars apiece to more than 90 protesters, including Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson, who sued the city after their arrests, The Advocate states.

The Metro Council voted Tuesday evening to approve the settlement in the federal class-action lawsuit. The settlement, about $100,000 in total, will be borne by four agencies paying no more than $25,000 each: the city government, Louisiana State Police, the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office.

Parish Attorney Lea Anne Batson said the city plans to pay $230 to each of the 92 plaintiffs in the lawsuit. The rest of the money under the $25,000 cap for the city-parish will go toward bonding fees, attorney’s fees and other costs, Batson said.

East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III had said his office will not prosecute Mckesson and the other protesters booked on misdemeanor counts of obstructing a highway. But the protesters’ lawsuit says Mckesson and the others were still required to post substantial bail, pay administrative fees and court costs in order to be released, and that they would have to pay more to have their arrests expunged.

Their lawsuit alleges police were militarized and aggressive in their response to the protesters, and that law enforcement used “unconstitutional tactics” to infringe upon the protesters’ First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and assembly.

Metro Councilman John Delgado was furious about the settlement payout, and was one of two on the 12-member body to vote against approving it.

To me, this encourages that type of behavior to happen in the future,” Delgado said. “I have no interest in paying $100,000 in taxpayer dollars to people who are coming into our city to protest.”

But Batson said the price is much smaller than what the city could be paying if just one of the 92 plaintiffs could prove that they had been wrongfully arrested. The protests and arrests came after cell phone videos emerged showing a Baton Rouge Police officer shooting and killing Sterling outside a convenience store in north Baton Rouge.

Their lawsuit claimed that cops became overly aggressive in response to the protesters and used “unconstitutional tactics” to infringe upon their rights to freedom of speech and peaceably assemble, the Daily News reported.

It was clear that the arrests were unconstitutional and the lawsuit aims to correct for the impact of the arrests on people’s lives,” Mckesson told the Daily News early Wednesday, adding that he hopes Baton Rouge police will aptly reform their arrest procedures.

McKesson and a few other protesters were initially being prosecuted by the East Baton Rouge district attorney for allegedly obstructing a highway and disorderly conduct. But, in light of the class-action settlement, the district attorney’s office announced that it would no longer pursue litigation against McKesson and his fellow protesters.

The Aug. 4 lawsuit says police advanced against protesters while wearing military gear and gas masks and brandishing assault weapons alongside armored vehicles, according to ABC NEWS. Officers threatened peaceful protesters by pointing weapons directly at them, the suit says.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has said the officers’ use of riot gear and weaponry was an appropriate response. The governor, a Democrat who comes from a family of sheriffs, also noted that a police officer had teeth knocked out by a rock during the protests.

This does not end the legal drama surrounding the Sterling shooting and ensuing protests. The Department of Justice is still investigating Sterling’s death. And an unnamed Baton Rouge police officer who claims he was injured during one of the protests is suing Mckesson as well as Black Lives Matter.

This is a piece of welcoming news for all activists. At least for once, the rule of law has been made to take it cause. Unwarranted arrests and any form of intimidation by the police during peaceful protests are unlawful. We must continue peacefully demonstrate against systematic racism in our country without any fear of being arrested or molested by the police.

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