A lawsuit was filed today on behalf of protesters and the youth activists of the Virginia Student Power Network (VSPN) against the City of Richmond, the Richmond Police Department (RPD) and the Virginia State Police (VSP) for violating their constitutional rights to free speech, assembly and protest.
The complaint alleges violation of right to assemble, violation of right to freedom of speech, and violation of state code in declaring an unlawful assembly. Plaintiffs are seeking a declaration from the court that police have been operating unlawfully and an order prohibiting them from engaging in activities that violate protesters’ constitutional rights. Along with the complaint, plaintiffs filed a request for an immediate order to stop these violations.
On the night of June 22, a group of local university students hosted a “teach-in” in front of City Hall, attended by about 150 people with the intent to gather overnight, learn more about police brutality and racial inequality, hear from community advocates and participate in workshops. Without cause, police declared the event an unlawful assembly after midnight and attacked the group using tear gas, pepper spray, flash grenades and rubber bullets. Many people were injured during the unprovoked use of force.
“Since the tragic murder of George Floyd and the protests against police violence that have followed, state and local police operating in Richmond have shown a pattern of violence toward protesters who speak out against systemic and anti-Black racism,” said Eden Heilman, legal director for the ACLU of Virginia. “When these young people tried to educate their community about racism in Richmond and how to dismantle it, police stormed in and turned their positive space into a war zone. City leaders have a responsibility to protect our constitutional rights, instead they have encouraged the escalation of violence by police against protesters.”
Taylor Maloney, a senior at Virginia Commonwealth University that is named in an affidavit said, “This suit is important because it’s taking an even bigger stand against the unchecked violent and outright malicious behavior exhibited by the Richmond Police. I want space for us to mourn and be angry at the system we didn’t ask to live in.”
Ibby Han, director of VSPN said, “Black students and youth have been leading the movement for racial justice in Richmond. It’s imperative that the police’s excessive use of force and military-grade crowd control weapons are immediately curbed.”
The lawsuit was filed June 26 in the Circuit Court for the City of Richmond by co-counsels ACLU of Virginia, Covington & Burling LLC and local attorney Charlie Schmidt. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of VSPN (a “hub” project of New Virginia Majority) and individual plaintiffs Noah Smith, Diamante Patterson and Devin Caines.