ACLU, other groups sue Baton Rouge police over treatment of shooting protesters

A protester is grabbed by police officers in riot gear after she refused to leave the street in front of Baton Rouge, La., police headquarters July 9.
(Max Becherer / Associated Press)

Civil rights groups and activists have sued Baton Rouge law enforcement agencies over their treatment of protesters rallying against the police shooting death of a black man, saying officers used excessive force and physically and verbally abused peaceful demonstrators.

The lawsuit, announced Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, came hours after 15-year-old Cameron Sterling spoke publicly for the first time since the death at police hands of his father, Alton Sterling. 37.

Sterling was shot to death July 5 as two white officers pinned him to the pavement outside a convenience store. The killing was captured on cellphone video and circulated widely on the Internet, sparking widespread protests across the capital city and elsewhere in the U.S.

Authorities in Baton Rouge arrested about 200 demonstrators over a three-day period, often taking to the streets in riot gear or riding in military-style vehicles. The arrests come amid heightened tensions in the city since Sterling’s death, the fatal police shooting of a black motorist in Minnesota and the killings of five police officers in Dallas last week.


Louisiana’s governor and the Baton Rouge police chief have defended the response, with the chief saying Tuesday that authorities discovered an alleged plot against police while responding to a weekend burglary at a pawn shop.

“We have been questioned repeatedly over the last several days about our show of force and why we have the tactics that we have. Well, this is the reason, because we had credible threats against the lives of law enforcement in this city,” Police Chief Carl Dabadie said.

The lawsuit blames law enforcement for escalating the situation.

“Plaintiffs have engaged in this peaceful speech, association, and protest on the streets, sidewalks and medians of Baton Rouge,” the lawsuit read. “Unfortunately, this exercise of constitutional rights has been met with a military-grade assault on protesters’ bodies and rights.”

Cameron Sterling spoke of the protests while addressing reporters Wednesday morning. Calling his father a good man, he urged protesters not to resort to violence.

“I feel that people in general, no matter what their race is, should come together as one united family,” Cameron Sterling told reporters outside the store where his father died. The teen remained composed as he spoke, a contrast from a week ago when he broke down in sobs and had to be led away as his mother talked in front of television cameras about his father’s death.

In the first few days after Sterling’s death, police took a reserved approach to enforcement, keeping a low profile as hundreds gathered outside the convenience store where Sterling was fatally shot.

But tensions escalated during the weekend as protesters moved away from the store and into other parts of the city, marked by a show of force by law enforcement that included police wielding batons, carrying long guns and holding shields.

The Justice Department opened a federal investigation into Sterling’s death, but Justin Bamberg, an attorney for Cameron and his mother, Quinyetta McMillon, said the family also hopes state Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry’s office “one day” will get involved.

Landry said in a statement Monday he won’t have access to details of the federal investigation until it’s completed and a decision has been made on potential federal charges.


Son of slain Louisiana man speaks out for first time

It’s not just Dallas — police officers have been killed across the country

From Ferguson to Baton Rouge: Deaths of black men and women at the hands of police


2:29 p.m.: This article was updated throughout with more details about the lawsuit.

This article was originally published at 2:13 p.m.