Minneapolis activists file civil rights lawsuit against city arguing excessive force used during protests

Minneapolis community activists have filed a lawsuit against the city and members of the police department, arguing authorities used excessive force against protesters following the death of George Floyd.

The civil rights lawsuit was filed by attorney Nekima Levy Armstrong, Marques Armstrong, Terry Hempfling and Rachel Clark. It was filed against the City of Minneapolis, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, Lt. Robert Kroll, Minnesota Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington and Minnesota State Patrol Col. Matthew Langer.

The lawsuit states that officials retaliated against people engaging in First Amendment-protected activities and applied excessive force. It also alleges that authorities violated procedural due process rights by firing chemical irritants and other less-lethal munitions for the purpose of intimidation without a constitutionally-sufficient warning. The lawsuit mainly focuses on the events of May 26, 27 and 29 and not the night the Third Precinct was burned.

According to the lawsuit, on May 27, Nekima Levy Armstrong and Marques Armstrong were at the Third Precinct protests, which they say were largely peaceful.

"Because they witnessed the MPD’s use of crowd control tactics the previous night, they came prepared with protective gear like goggles and helmets, in case law enforcement targeted them with less-lethal munitions," the lawsuit states. "When protesters, including Plaintiffs Nekima Levy Armstrong and Marques Armstrong, arrived at the Third Precinct in the early evening, MPD officers were standing on the roof of the precinct. Officers were dressed in riot gear, holding impact weapons and canisters of tear gas."

The lawsuit states that "without issuing orders to disperse or warnings of tear-gassing, police sprayed tear gas into the crowd."

Marques Armstrong said he saw MPD officers take aim and fire less-lethal munitions at a number of individuals who were protesting peacefully. He then witnessed the MPD "blanket the crowd of peaceful protesters with tear gas."

On May 26, activist Rachel Clark attended a demonstration that began on 38th Street and Chicago Avenue.

On May 27 activist Terry Hempfling joined protesters who were demonstrating near the Third Precinct. She brought medical supplies with her to provide support to any protesters who might need them. 

According to the lawsuit, Hempfling was approximately 30-40 feet away from the barricades set up in front of the Third Precinct. Without warning or an order to disperse, MPD officers began firing tear gas at the protesters sitting and standing peacefully in front of the MPD barricades, the lawsuit states. Hempfling was hit in the back of her right arm by the ricochet of a rubber bullet and/or less-lethal munition fired by the MPD.

On May 29, Hempfling and Clark together joined protests happening near the Fifth Precinct, located at the corner of Nicollet Avenue and East 31st Street.

The lawsuit states that at about 11:30 p.m., they heard an announcement notifying the protesters that they were out past curfew and must disperse. The two then began to disperse and went to collect their bikes on E. 31st Street, across from the Fifth Precinct.

As they approached their bikes, they "noticed two rows of MPD officers approaching them from opposite directions, leaving them no means of escape, in a tactic known as 'kettling.'" The two said they did not observe anyone else on the street, other than one woman and the MPD officers moving towards them.

According to the lawsuit, within one to two minutes of the dispersal announcement, and without further warning, the MPD began to fire tear gas and rubber bullets and/or less-lethal munitions at them.