Decide Narrows Fits Over Clearing of Protesters Earlier than Trump Picture Op

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WASHINGTON – A federal judge on Monday partially dismissed claims by Black Lives Matter, the American Civil Liberties Union and others who accused the Trump administration of abusing power to forcibly disperse a protest outside the White House last year.

The lawsuits alleged that the government violated the civil rights of protesters and pledged to vacate Lafayette Square so President Donald J. Trump could go to a church near the White House where he had a Bible outside for a photo op held.

But in the 51-page verdict, US District Judge Dabney L. Friedrich said federal conspiracy claims were “just too speculative” to continue those parts of the lawsuit. She also ruled that the then federal officials named as defendants, such as Attorney General William P. Barr and Gregory T. Monahan, the acting chief of the U.S. Park Police, were entitled to qualified immunity and could not be sued for damage over the episode.

Judge Friedrich, however, allowed lawsuits against continued restrictions on protesters’ access to Lafayette Square and against local police departments in Washington and Arlington Counties, Virginia, to continue.

Scott Michelman, the legal director of the District of Columbia Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement that the decision to dismiss was an “astounding rejection of our constitutional values ​​and the rights of the First Amendment protesters.” He added that the decision put federal officials above the law.

“Today’s ruling essentially gives the federal government the green light to use force, including deadly force, against protesters while federal officials claim to protect national security,” Michelman said.

Protesters had gathered in Lafayette Square last June to protest the police murder of George Floyd when police officers and the National Guard flocked to the park to disperse the crowd.

The violence that followed became one of the defining moments of the Trump presidency. Mounted police and riot officers used stun grenades, tear gas, batons and clubs to forcibly remove the crowd from the park and historic St. John’s Episcopal Church, which had been damaged in a fire the night before.

Minutes later, Mr. Trump appeared at the church – flanked by aides and intelligence agents. The president posed with a Bible, made no formal remarks, and then went to the White House.