Charges ruled out against arrested protesters, journalists
Baton Rouge prosecutors have ruled out criminal charges against several people who are suing over their arrests at protests after a deadly police shooting in Louisiana's capital two years ago.
The East Baton Rouge Parish district attorney's office notified plaintiffs' attorneys Wednesday that it won't prosecute five protesters and two journalists who were arrested on misdemeanor charges, according to a court filing. They were among nearly 200 people arrested at protests after a white police officer shot and killed a 37-year-old black man, Alton Sterling, outside a convenience store on July 5, 2016.
In January, lawyers for the Louisiana State Police asked a federal judge to dismiss or suspend plaintiffs' civil claims of free speech violations, excessive force and wrongful arrest because they still faced possible criminal charges.
But the court denied that request Thursday, allowing the case to proceed. A trial date for the lawsuit hasn't been set yet.
Fifteen people are named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the city of Baton Rouge, East Baton Rouge Parish and its elected sheriff, the State Police and others. The plaintiffs include Cherri Foytlin, a journalist and activist from Louisiana; and Karen Savage, a reporter with the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.
In a separate case, a federal judge last year approved a class-action settlement that awarded up to $1,000 in cash to dozens of protesters arrested in Baton Rouge after Sterling's shooting death, including Black Lives Matter movement leader DeRay Mckesson. That settlement's class was limited to protesters who were arrested only on charges of obstructing a highway.
William Most, a lawyer for the 15 plaintiffs who separately sued last July, said his clients weren't eligible for compensation through the settlement because they had been arrested on additional misdemeanor charges of resisting arrest.
District Attorney Hillar Moore III announced during the summer of 2016 that roughly 100 arrested protesters wouldn't be prosecuted on the charge of obstructing a highway. Moore said during a telephone interview Friday that his office has formally charged a handful of arrested protesters — fewer than a dozen — who were accused of carrying firearms or injuring somebody at a protest.
In an email to Most on Wednesday, an attorney from Moore's office said it declined to pursue charges against seven plaintiffs "due to police action being sufficient." The attorney didn't elaborate on that explanation. Moore's office already had ruled out charges against eight other plaintiffs before the State Police lawyers asked for the case to be thrown out or suspended.
The Justice Department and Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry's office both ruled out any criminal charges against the two white officers who struggled with Sterling before the shooting. However, Baton Rouge's police chief fired the officer who killed Sterling and suspended the other officer, who didn't fire his gun that night.