On January 20, when the then President-Elect Donald Trump was sworn into take office, there were numerous protests across the United States. The hotspot of the protest grounds was in Washington D.C., where Trump was taking the oath of office.
Protesters who identified themselves as Anti-Fascism (antifa) filled the streets, protesting that Trump is a Fascist, and that all Americans should resist the introduction of Fascism in the country.
However, during the protest, things went wrong. Officers were deployed to contain the situation when rowdy protesters started misbehaving. Police used pepper spray, tear gas, and crowd-control grenades to scare the protesters. As the chaos continued, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) of D.C. started making arrests.
More than 200 protesters were arrested. The majority of those arrested had nothing to do with the chaos. Some were even journalists, activists and independent observers who were there to monitor the event. However, the police still took them into custody.
All were initially charged with felonies by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Although they were freed and some had their charges dropped, the majority of them are still facing charges.
Some of those who have been freed are now seeking justice over what they described as appalling abuse by the police while they were in detention. In fact, these people claim officers used sexual assault, including rape and molestation, to punish them.
The D.C. chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has listened to the victims’ allegations, and has filed a lawsuit against the city of D.C., the MPD, the police chief, and many unnamed officers.
The ACLU said even apart from the sexual abuse, the use of pepper spray, and tear gas, among others, against the protesters, are enough grounds for the victims to bring charges against the MPD.
The lawsuit identified four plaintiffs — independent photojournalist Shay Horse, volunteer legal observer Judah Ariel, and peaceful protesters Elizabeth Lagesse and Milo Gonzalez as people who were molested and sexually assaulted by officers when they were detained.
Horse and Gonzalez allege in the lawsuit that the two of them and three others detained were ordered by officers to take their pants off. They claim the officers grabbed their testicles, and inserted a finger into their anuses. The other officers around laughed while this abuse happened.
“I felt like they were using molestation and rape as punishment. They used those tactics to inflict pain and misery on people who are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. It felt like they were trying to break me and the others — break us so that even if the charges didn’t stick, that night would be our punishment,” Horse said after the lawsuit was filed.
In a statement responding to the lawsuit, the MPD maintained that all its arrests on the day were proper. But the department said it would cooperate with investigators to identify names, ranks, and badge numbers of specific officers, in case the damning allegation is proven to be true.
Observers say the allegation against the MPD is shocking. The department reportedly has a good reputation as it rarely uses force against protesters, making what happened on Inauguration Day new, regarding the operation of the MPD.
The ACLU and the National Lawyers Guild representatives told ThinkProgress that the department’s actions break from a long pattern of sensible and calm response to protests. In the past, people have held radical protests that disrupted roads, businesses and private organization headquarters, but the MPD never reacted brutally like it did on Inauguration Day.