Four demonstrators injured after a George Floyd protest in Boston last May filed a federal lawsuit against the city and three Boston police officers on Monday for allegedly using unnecessary force against them.
The demonstrators accuse the officers of carrying out unprovoked attacks as police were attempting to clear the protest, which had been largely peaceful before devolving into violence and looting.
The four plaintiffs are Jasmine Huffman, of Essex County; Justin Ackers and Caitlin Hall, both of Suffolk County; and Benjamin Chambers-Maher, of Middlesex County. The suit, which seeks unspecified financial damages, names the city of Boston and officers Michael Burke, Edward Joseph Nolan, and Michael J. McManus as defendants.
A Boston police spokesman said the department doesn’t comment on pending litigation. A spokesperson for Acting Mayor Kim Janey said her office was reviewing the lawsuit.
A spokesman for the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association declined to comment.
After the rally on Boston Common on May 31, 2020, crowds pelted police with bottles and cans, torched a police cruiser, damaged vehicles, and looted stores throughout Downtown Crossing and the Back Bay. Seven police officers were taken to the hospital, and 40 people were arrested.
The four plaintiffs had attended the protest but did not participate in the violence and were not arrested, according to the lawsuit.
Howard Friedman, a civil rights attorney who is representing the demonstrators, said police were unprepared for the aftermath of the protest and interfered with nonviolent activists who were only trying to go home.
”What we’ve alleged is that the City of Boston had policies that caused the confusion that resulted in excessive force on these people, and probably on others,” Friedman said. “Because there was no plan or supervision.”
Friedman said he hopes the lawsuit will put pressure on the police department “to develop proper policies for handling protests, and particularly for handling protests at Boston Common.”
According to the complaint, Ackers was recording the demonstration with his phone when an officer pepper-sprayed him “for no reason.” Ackers was then “blindsided and knocked off” his moped as he tried to leave the area shortly after 10 p.m.
“Officer Burke held his wooden riot baton in front of him with both hands and struck Mr. Ackers, knocking him off his moped,” the complaint stated. The complaint also contained a link to a YouTube upload that shows an officer’s baton striking Ackers behind his right shoulder.
Huffman, meanwhile, had placed herself between a police officer and an angry crowd in an effort to protect the officer — a move captured in a still photo — before Burke targeted her with unlawful force, according to the complaint.
“Ms. Huffman stood with her hands up as the officers approached,” the complaint said. “Officer Burke stepped forward and struck Ms. Huffman with his riot baton, hitting her just below her neck, knocking her to the pavement.”
Huffman’s head hit the pavement, and when she was on the ground “other Boston police officers walked over her. Some of these officers stepped on her hands,” the complaint alleged.
The filing also included a YouTube clip of an officer’s outstretched baton striking Huffman around the chin as she stands with her hands up.
Around 9:45 p.m. that night, Hall was standing in Downtown Crossing with other peaceful demonstrators and had her hands up when she saw Nolan preparing to “use his riot baton to strike a young man who was standing next to her recording the officer with his phone,” the complaint alleged.
That man had told Nolan, “You look like you want to hit me,” before Nolan allegedly struck his head with a baton, according to the complaint.
“Ms. Hall used her hands to protect the young man’s face from the blow,” the complaint said “Officer Nolan then turned to Ms. Hall. He held his riot baton in both hands and struck Ms. Hall in the face.”
Hall fell to the pavement and briefly lost consciousness, the complaint said. When she regained it, she showed Nolan that his blow had caused her “tooth to puncture her lip.”
“He responded by hitting her in the chest,” the complaint alleged. “As she walked away from him, he hit her on her back.”
A disabled veteran, Chambers-Maher was approached by McManus and a second officer around 9:40 p.m., according to the complaint.
“Officer McManus and another BPD officer had weapons pointed at Mr. Chambers-Maher, so he walked away backwards, keeping the officers in view,” the document said. “Mr. Chambers-Maher filmed the officers as he backed away from them. Officer McManus sprayed Mr. Chambers-Maher’s face with [pepper] spray. Then Officer McManus came back and sprayed Mr. Chambers-Maher again and called him names.”
McManus also hit Chambers-Maher in the legs with his bicycle, the complaint alleged. Chambers-Maher wasn’t arrested or charged with a crime.
“Mr. Chambers-Maher suffered injuries including bruises to his head, face and leg, a cut on his leg, and his eyes were swollen shut,” the complaint said.