A federal judge in Denver has barred police from using tear gas, plastic bullets, and any projectiles against demonstrators, saying the threat to protesters’ physical safety and free speech outweighs the threat to property.
R. Brooke Jackson, a US district court judge in Colorado, has granted a temporary restraining order against the Denver Police Department and those assisting local officers in suppressing the protests that have rocked the city in the case of four plaintiffs who accused the police force of violating their First and Fourth Amendment rights.
(1/2) #ALERT #Denver – A federal judge issued a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) clarifying #DPD use of non-lethal dispersant devices. In the meantime, we will comply with the judge’s directions, many of which are already in line with our community-consulted Use of Force Policy.
— Denver Police Dept. (@DenverPolice) June 6, 2020
In his ruling on Friday, the judge said that the court had reviewed the videos provided by protesters and concluded that although police had “ample time for reflection and were not dealing with dangerous conditions,” they nonetheless moved to “attack” them with “rubber bullets, tear gas” and other non-lethal means “solely on the basis of their presence at the demonstrations, their viewpoint, or their attempts to render treatment to injured protesters.”
These are peaceful demonstrators, journalists, and medics who have been targeted with extreme tactics meant to suppress riots, not to suppress demonstrations
Siding with the plaintiffs, the judge said that police will no longer be allowed to use “chemical weapons or projectiles” unless on direct orders from an “on-scene supervisor” ranked no lower than captain, and only in response to “specific acts of violence or destruction of property” that the officer in command has seen first-hand.
While the order still leaves a loophole for police to deploy non- or less-lethal means against protesters, the judge specifically stated that he believes that if there is a choice between property being damaged and a protester being hurt, the well-being of actual living humans should take precedence. “If a store’s windows must be broken to prevent a protestor’s facial bones from being broken or eye being permanently damaged, that is more than a fair trade. If a building must be graffiti-ed to prevent the suppression of free speech, that is a fair trade”
The threat to physical safety and free speech outweighs the threat to property.
In addition to effectively outlawing the use of most means of dispersal, the order expressly forbids officers from firing projectiles “indiscriminately” into the crowd as well as targeting the head, pelvis or back.
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The ruling follows an agreement between Minneapolis city officials and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights to not use chokeholds when restraining suspects. The restrictions on the use of force by police come in the wake of George Floyd’s death while in custody, which has sparked protests in US cities, marred by looting and violence.
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