Federal judge bans tear gas against nonviolent protesters in Columbus


A federal judge ordered police in Columbus, Ohio, to stop using tear gas, pepper spray, batons and rubber bullets against nonviolent protesters, writing a scathing 88-page advisory that comes up against hundreds of years of police tactics and that said officers had “ecstatic” with power.

Southern Ohio District Chief Justice Algenon L. Marbley issued an opinion Friday in the case, which began last year when protesters accused the Columbus Police Department of using excessive force during protests against police violence and the murder of George Floyd.

The order is effective immediately, according to the city attorney’s office, although as a temporary injunction, it is only valid until the case is resolved. Legal analysts were struck by Judge Marbley’s steadfast rebuke of police and the historic sweep of his opinion, which came as Columbus continued to grapple with charges of police misconduct.

Judge Marbley notice begins with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – “I read somewhere that the greatness of America is the right to demonstrate for its rights” – and his quick invocation of press rights, protest and of speech.

“Unfortunately, some members of the Columbus Police Department had no respect for the rights guaranteed by this fundamental principle of American democracy,” Judge Marbley wrote. “This case is the sad story of police officers, clothed in the awesome power of the state, go on a rampage.”

Judge Marbley then traced policing to colonial-era “citizen wardens”, who he said punished everything from allegations of witchcraft to petty offenses such as “extravagant boots”. He then explored the Slave Codes and the Southern War Patrol System and the Black Codes that followed the Civil War. “The two codes were so similar, it’s amazing that the copy-paste functionality was only invented more recently,” the judge wrote.

Rachel Moran, professor at St. Thomas University in Minneapolis School of Law, called the opinion “remarkable” and “unusual” in its scope.

“Historically, federal courts have been extremely reluctant to interfere with police decisions and policies,” she said. The decision, she added, was “unusual not only because it restricts the options for the police department to use force against protesters, but because it details the troubling history of police brutality. and unauthorized uses of force in this country as a backdrop to this ordinance.

A group of protesters filed a lawsuit in July, accusing the Columbus Police Department of using excessive force during protests the previous month. This trial, which seeks damages from the city and a permanent injunction on police tactics, cannot be concluded for two years, according to Fred Gittes, one of the lawyers representing the protesters.

The protesters asked for a temporary injunction “to ensure that future protests do not result in similar behavior on the part of the police while this trial is still ongoing,” said Sean Walton, another lawyer representing them. “The excessive use of force against the citizens of Columbus persists to this day, and while this order ensures the protection of the protesters, we must not lose sight of the reason for the protests and the urgent need to reform the police division of Columbus. “

It was not immediately clear how the ordinance would come into effect. The Columbus Police Division has been banned from using tear gas since the summer, a spokesperson for the city attorney said.

The preliminary injunction will stand until a jury rules on the potential damage to the protesters. At this point, a judge may decide to issue a more permanent injunction.

The Columbus Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday morning.

The opinion prohibits police from using a wide range of tactics against non-violent protesters, including “tear gas, pepper spray, flash-bang grenades, rubber bullets, wooden pellets, batons. , body shots, pushes or shots or hot water bottles ”. Nonviolent protesters are defined in the public opinion as people who “chant, verbally confront the police, sit down, raise their hands when approaching the police, occupy streets or sidewalks and / or passively resist orders. of the police ”.

The injunction also requires police officers to wear body cameras and have “working” dash cameras on their patrol vehicles.

The opinion comes as Columbus faces ongoing charges of police misconduct, including in police shootings of Ma’Khia Bryant, a 16-year-old black girl who police say was wielding a knife, and Miles Jackson, a black man was shot dead as officers tried to arrest him.

Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther underscored his commitment to police reform in a statement. “Last summer, the city faced extraordinary circumstances not seen in more than two decades,” he said. “Friday’s decision tells us we haven’t responded. We have already implemented changes that affect most, if not all, of the orders contained in the court decision so that residents can feel secure in expressing their First Amendment rights in a non-violent manner. “

Ms. Moran, the law professor, noted that Judge Marbley is one of many black judges over the past year who appear to be leading the way in protecting constitutional rights and condemning police abuse. In April, Wilhelmina Wright, a federal judge in Minnesota, issued an order Temporarily prohibit law enforcement from attacking or arresting journalists for covering protests. The move came in response to activity during protests against the fatal police shooting of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old black man, during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota on April 11.

In August, Carlton Reeves, federal judge of Mississippi, urged the Supreme Court to assess whether qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that prevents law enforcement from being held accountable for misconduct, should be tossed “in the dustbin of history.” Like Judge Marbley, Judge Reeves delved into the history of racism in the US police force, in his opinion, which arose in a case involving a white policeman who arrested a black man while driving a Mercedes. convertible.

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