More than a year after they were forcibly removed from an area near the White House, a number of Lafayette Square protesters are going to court in an effort to seek retribution.
Unfortunately for them, however, a federal judge dismissed most of their claims against former President Donald Trump and others, citing qualified immunity for federal officials and a lack of standing on the part of the protesters themselves.
Details of the lawsuits
The court did allow for claims involving the alleged violation of civil rights to move forward as well as a challenge against continued restrictions being imposed on the park by the Biden administration.
In a decision handed down on Monday, the U.S. District Court for Washington, D.C., weighed in on four separate lawsuits filed by the local Black Lives Matter organization and a number of individual protesters against current and former federal officials authorized to use force in dispersing the crowd.
Among the high-profile defendants named in the case are former President Donald Trump, former Attorney General William Barr, and former Defense Secretary Mark Esper. Several other officials and law enforcement officers from D.C. and Virginia are also named.
While the specific claims varied, plaintiffs generally sought damages and an injunction against similar reactions toward protesters in the park.
In his 51-page ruling, District Judge Dabney Friedrich rejected the claims for damages against federal officials due to the fact that even if the allegations presented were true, those officials are entitled to qualified immunity largely shielding them from such action.
Judge limits plaintiffs’ options
Friedrich also declined to issue the requested injunction, citing the unlikeliness that the same set of circumstances would play out the same way at some point in the future.
The judge did allow for a challenge against the continued restrictions on Lafayette Square on First Amendment grounds. As for the claims for damages against Arlington and D.C. police, she found that they did not enjoy the same level of qualified immunity afforded to the federal officials.
Interestingly, Friedrich made it clear at multiple points in her decision that she granted the plaintiffs every benefit of the doubt that their claims were true. Of course, recent reports essentially debunked the common allegation that Trump ordered the park to be cleared in pursuit of a staged photo-op at a nearby church.
Despite the judge’s willingness to take the claims before her at face value, she determined that they fell short of the bar that would need to be cleared in order for the lawsuits to proceed in full.
It remains to be seen whether the plaintiffs continue to pursue the remaining legal paths provided by Friedrich’s ruling, particularly since Trump and his former associates are no longer entangled in the case.