A lawsuit filed by a group of protesters, which captured the divisions of a city split apart by the September police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, was dismissed Wednesday, though the plaintiffs’ attorneys say they will continue to monitor how police treat peaceful demonstrators.
The complaint, which was filed in October, accused the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department of using excessive force against peaceful protestors who had gathered uptown to demonstrate after the Sept. 21 fatal shooting of Scott, who died after a confrontation with police outside his north Charlotte home. The Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office later ruled that the shooting was legally justified and that no charges would be brought against the officer who shot Scott.
The plaintiffs accused police of using tear gas, stun grenades, pepper spray and other aggressive measures to break up constitutionally protected rights to gather and protest, and asked a judge to block CMPD from using similar tactics in the future.
Yet, in an unusually detailed response, police painted a different portrait – of being stoned by the crowds that gathered near Scott’s home, to looting, assaults and other violence that broke out across uptown the next night.
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One man was fatally shot. Dozens more, including police, were injured from attacks or thrown objects. More than 100 people were arrested on charges ranging from failure to disperse to assault and murder. In many cases, the charges against the more peaceful demonstrators have been dropped.
In a statement released Wednesday, Charlotte attorneys Jake Sussman and Luke Largess said the goal of the lawsuit has been accomplished, at least temporarily.
“While concerns remain about arrests at recent protests, over the past 4 1/2 months the goal of reducing the aggressive, injurious tactics of law enforcement has been achieved,” the lawyers said. “As a result, the plaintiffs are voluntarily dismissing their original lawsuit. We will continue to monitor closely CMPD’s interactions with protesters and reserve the ability to refile this action is those goals are no longer met.”
In response, CMPD spokesman Rob Tufano said the department’s officers “used necessary force to manage a violent crowd that refused to follow several lawful orders to disperse,” he said. “Some of the violent demonstrators threw rocks and bottles that injured officers, set fires, damaged property and illegally obstructed traffic.”
Tufano credited both police and protestors for several recent demonstrations that he described as “vocal but peaceful.”
The demonstrations appear to have changed the way police and other authorities deal with potentially explosive events.
In the spirit of greater transparency, police no longer routinely oppose the release of videos showing police shooting. CMPD also has started a 50-officer “conversation” unit trained to engage with protesters during public demonstrations. The department also is in the midst of its first “transparency workshop,” a multi-week program in which residents learn more about CMPD, even as they share their opinions and ideas on how to improve police programs.
Meanwhile, District Attorney Andrew Murray has launched a “responsible transparency” approach to his office’s handling of police shootings and other high-profile cases. As part of his decisions not to bring charges in the Scott case and other recent police shootings, Murray has released lengthy reports that included detailed analyses of the evidence and other findings of the investigation.
Murray has credited the September demonstrations for the new approach.