Crime & Courts

CMPD sued over use of tear gas, smoke bombs during street protests

Police fire tear gas as protestors converge in uptown Charlotte after the fatal shooting by a police officer of Keith Lamont Scott.
Police fire tear gas as protestors converge in uptown Charlotte after the fatal shooting by a police officer of Keith Lamont Scott. AP

Seven Charlotte residents said Friday they filed a federal lawsuit over the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s use of tear gas and smoke bombs during what residents said were nonviolent protests after the fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott.

The residents want a judge to issue a temporary restraining order to prevent CMPD from using force against nonviolent protesters in future protests.

The filing occurred after the residents said CMPD officials failed to respond to a letter sent Tuesday asking police to voluntarily commit to not using force against nonviolent protesters in future protests.

Late Friday, they corrected that to say their lawyers had heard back from the city’s lawyers on Friday morning. After exchanges between lawyers for both sides, the plaintiffs’ lawyers determined that no voluntary agreement could be reached to satisfy the plaintiffs’ concerns. They then filed the lawsuit.

Filing the complaint were lawyers from the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, N.C. Central University’s Civil Litigation Clinic and the Charlotte law firm Tin Fulton Walker & Owen.

The plaintiffs said they represent a cross-section of residents, including leaders of Charlotte Uprising, a coalition of organizations and individuals raising awareness about police violence and transparency.

“I never thought the police would attack civilians like this,” Ashley Williams, a plaintiff and organizer for Charlotte Uprising, said Friday night in a statement announcing the lawsuit. “Rubber bullets, batons, smoke bombs, flashbangs — we’ve seen it all these last few weeks. I got burned when one of the tear gas canisters hit me at close range, but it’s what they’re doing to democracy that really hurts.”

Several nights of protests erupted after Scott’s death on Sept. 20 in a northeast Charlotte apartment parking lot. He was black, as is the officer who police said shot him.

Some protests turned violent, and vandalism and looting occurred in uptown Charlotte. After the death of protester Justin Carr in uptown, Gov. Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency. CMPD made 82 arrests related to property damage and violent crime during protests Sept. 20-27.

Residents in the lawsuit said police use of force against nonviolent protesters was unconstitutional.

“Everyone deserves to have their constitutional rights protected by the police, not violated by them,” Loan Tran, a member of Charlotte Uprising, said in a statement. “The way the police have responded to past protests with violence leads us to believe they will do the same for future protests.”

The city issued a statement late Friday saying: “This has been and continues to be a difficult time for our community. CMPD respects and strives to protect everyone’s constitutional right to peacefully assemble, demonstrate and protest.

“At the same time, our officers are charged with maintaining peace and order and protecting public safety. Chief (Kerr) Putney and the men and women of the department have and will continue to work toward achieving both of these goals.”

Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067, @jmarusak