During the first week of demonstrations in response to George Floyd’s death, many protesters couldn’t express their right to assemble without the fear of being arrested, struck with a baton or shot with rubber bullets by LAPD.
More than 50 days of protests later, the frequency of harm at the hands of LAPD has seemingly decreased, but for many demonstrators the fear remains, some said.
Black Lives Matter LA, other protest groups and the lawyers representing them requested a temporary restraining order on June 24 that would have ordered the courts to step in and forbid the LAPD’s actions of unlawful arrests as well as the use of “less-than-lethal” weapons and baton strikes to disperse crowds.
U.S. District Judge Consuelo B. Marshall denied it in an order dated July 14, saying that because LAPD has not exercised any of these actions since June 3, the measure is not necessary.
Jorge Gonzalez, a lawyer representing protesters, said LAPD’s response to the demonstrations changed dramatically as daily protests became a new normal. Despite the temporary restraining order not being approved, the litigators and protesters somewhat got what they wanted—the LAPD to stop allegedly violating the protesters’ First Amendment rights.
“By the time the (temporary restraining order) got filed, the LAPD had curtailed its behavior that we were complaining of,” Gonzalez said. “In a way, we essentially obtained our purpose even without obtaining the TRO.”
While the litigators agreed that LAPD’s use of excessive force has decreased, they sought the temporary restraining order to assure that they did not start that behavior again on their own accord, he said.
There is still a possibility that the police could harm protesters again, but “the court was persuaded that that possibility was not enough,” Gonzalez said.
LAPD Cmdr. Michael Rimkunas was quoted in the opinion stating that although protests have continued, LAPD has not declared unlawful assemblies, ordered crowds to disperse, shot rubber bullets, used baton strikes or made mass arrests since June 3 at the latest.
The order argues that LAPD causing irreparable harm to protesters in the future is based on speculation, and that speculation alone does not warrant the need for the temporary restraining order.
“Although plaintiffs proffer evidence that they previously suffered irreparable harm while protesting and intend to continue those activities, the irreparable harm plaintiffs allege rests on the assumption that more protests will lead to more constitutional violations,” the order states.
LA Downtown News reached out to LAPD for comment via email. Its response was “NO COMMENT.”
The order also states that because there was a delay in filing the temporary restraining order, that shows that the need is not urgent enough for the courts to step in.
“Defendants argue plaintiffs were not diligent in seeking a temporary restraining order because they waited nineteen days to file this Application, which indicates there is a lack of urgency and irreparable harm,” the opinion stated.
For the most part, LA’s protesters are in the state of affairs that they wanted had the temporary restraining order been granted, Gonzalez said. However, they are still going forward with the lawsuit, which was filed June 5 against LAPD for the harm they have caused to protesters simply exercising their First Amendment right, he said.
The number of arrests that were made during the protests isn’t certain. The litigators behind the case are estimating that around 2,000 people were arrested; however, Gonzalez said he heard that an LAPD officer estimated the number is over 4,000.
“That’s a lot of people who were harmed in some way, either arrested on charges they shouldn’t have been arrested on or they were injured in some manner by the use of these different methods,” he said. “So that lawsuit continues.”
He said 90% of those arrests were for breaking curfew or failure to disperse, however noting that the city announced it will not press charges or fines for those violations.
Those who were arrested for unlawful assembly and breaking curfew should have never been detained, Gonzalez emphasized. Those charges are similar to a traffic ticket, where the person should receive a written ticket, he said, and after signing and agreeing to appear in court, they should be free to go.
However, “LAPD decided in their infinite wisdom” to arrest people to remove them from the area to keep them from continuing to demonstrate, Gonzalez said.
He also mentioned the harm that LAPD caused by not only unlawfully arresting the protesters but also tying their zip ties so tight it cut off their circulation; crowding them on cold, crowded buses with no respect for social distancing; and transporting them to faraway facilities with no way home during the curfew. The complaint mentioned how some protesters were forced to urinate themselves, as they had no access to bathrooms.
Those actions are the more minimal harm LAPD brought upon protesters, Gonzalez said, mentioning how he is representing multiple protesters who “suffered tremendous injuries.”
LAPD shot one of his clients in the face with a rubber bullet that fractured her jaw, he said, noting that she had to undergo surgery and have a steel plate installed. The screws were just removed earlier this week, he added.
Another one of his clients saw LAPD approaching a crowd of protesters “in a very aggressive manner,” to which he instructed the group to move back while holding his arms out in front of the protesters “in a protective capacity,” Gonzalez said.
Despite attempting to move back, LAPD shot the protester in the stomach with a rubber bullet, Gonzalez said.
These actions would have been justified had the protesters been more riotous, he said, but there is no evidence of this being the case.
The denial of the temporary restraining order will not affect its lawsuit against LAPD, Gonzalez said, noting that he is fairly certain the litigation team will still seek a preliminary injunction. The objective of the lawsuit and the preliminary injunction is for these actions to stop, he said.
The goal of the litigators now is to reach an agreement with the LAPD to prevent any further harm to protesters as well as seeking compensation for both the people who were injured as well as those who were unlawfully arrested, Gonzalez said.
“It appears that we’ve obtained our purpose because the city has to be thinking about what it’s going to cost them for the little mini exercise in fascism,” he said. “The fact of the matter is that if they continue doing it, it’s just going to pile on. It’s going to be worse.”