‘Excessive force’: Protesters sue Minneapolis police

Police officers move the protesters back as they confront the crowd in front of a north Minneapolis police precinct, during a protest in response of Sunday's shooting death of Jamar Clark by police officers, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, November 18, 2015 © Craig Lassig
Two women are suing the police in Minneapolis, Minnesota for excessive force and battery during a November protest over the death of Jamar Clark. A mother and daughter say the officers hit them in the face with batons and broke their phone.

Clark was shot on November 15, after police say he attacked the first responders attempting to help his battered girlfriend. Police also said that Clark reached for an officer’s weapon. Several bystanders have countered that Clark had been in handcuffs when he was shot in the head. Protesters demanding to see video footage of the shooting camped outside the Minneapolis police department’s 4th precinct, where they clashed with officers on November 18.

That evening, Carrie Athanasselis and her daughter, Camille Williams, were standing in an alley near the side entrance to the precinct, with about ten other protesters. According to their lawsuit, the police told them to move back so a van could pass through. Officers then began forcibly moving the protesters, hitting Williams and Athanasselis in the face with their nightsticks, the lawsuit claims, adding that one officer took Williams’ phone, threw it on the ground and broke it with a nightstick.

The video Camille Williams was recording on her phone ends as the police begin using force, Joshua Williams, an attorney for the pair and no relation to the plaintiffs, told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

“The officers in this case said, ‘We need you to move,’ ” said Williams. “And my clients and the group were compliant. And for whatever reason, the cops decided that they weren’t moving fast enough, and decided to start pushing and beating them.”

Using any kind of force in that situation “simply wasn’t justified,” the attorney added.

The city of Minneapolis has filed a response to the lawsuit, contesting the claims of the plaintiffs that the alley protest was peaceful, that the police van was deliberately positioned to block the view of the incident from other protesters and the media, and that the two women had complied with police orders.

“Plaintiffs’ injuries, if any, are caused by Plaintiffs’ unlawful, unreasonable, or illegal acts,” the city’s response said, according to the Star-Tribune.

Though Athanasselis and her daughter are seeking more than $50,000 in damages, a standard clause in civil complaints, they say the case is more about the MPD trampling their First Amendment right to free speech than about bodily harm.

“The case really isn’t about the physical injuries here,” said Williams, the women’s attorney. “It’s about police officers thinking that they can use excessive force with impunity.”

After the November 18 confrontation, protesters remained camped outside the 4th precinct for two more weeks. Minneapolis police forcibly dismantled the camp on December 3, arresting 8 people.

Black Lives Matter activists have vowed to continue the protests until the video of Clark’s death is released, attempting a demonstration at Mall of America on December 23 and briefly shutting down a terminal at the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (MSP) later that day.