The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana and other Louisiana organizations have filed a lawsuit against the Baton Rouge Police Department and other law enforcement agencies over their handling protests following last week’s shooting death of Alton Sterling, PEOPLE learns.
The suit, filed Wednesday, claims Baton Rouge officers violated the First Amendment rights of demonstrators whom the suit says were peacefully protesting.
Sterling was fatally shot on July 5 after officers responded to a 911 call that a man matching Sterling’s description had allegedly brandished a weapon at a convenience store.
Video of his shooting death, showing officers Howie Lake II and Blane Salamoni pinning Sterling to the ground in the parking lot before firing on him, circulated widely in the immediate aftermath, sparking widespread protests.
In addition to the police department, the suit names the city of Baton Rouge, Louisiana state police, and the East Baton Rouge sheriff’s office as defendants.
The lawsuit alleges that the police used excessive force, physical and verbal abuse, and wrongful arrests to disperse protestors who were gathered peacefully to speak out against Sterling’s death.
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“I witnessed firsthand as peaceful protestors were violently attacked and arrested, assault weapons pointed at them with fingers on the triggers, some dragged across the cement, their clothes ripped off of them,” Alison Renee McCrary, the president of the Louisiana Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, said in a press statement. “What I saw happening was an immediate threat to life. My and other demonstrators’ speech was chilled because of this event.”
Attorneys for the ACLU have filed filed for a temporary restraining order against the police force that would prevent them from interfering in peaceful protests.
“The police didn’t do their job in Baton Rouge, again,” added ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Marjorie Esman.
A spokesman for Baton Rouge tells PEOPLE the city does not comment on pending litigation.