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Salt Lake City accused of civil rights violations during Floyd protest

FILE: Police and protesters clash near Library Square in Salt Lake City on Saturday, May 30, 2020. Protesters joined others across the nation to decry the death of George Floyd, a Black man, who died while being taken into custody by police in Minneapolis earlier this week. Photo credit: Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A new lawsuit alleges Salt Lake City mishandled a protest for George Floyd in downtown Salt Lake on May 30, 2020, and violated protestors’ civil rights. 

Lawsuit points a finger at Salt Lake City and its police department

Infringement of First Amendment rights

The lawsuit involving 14 plaintiffs makes accusations of unlawful orders, excessive use of force, and unjustified arrests. 

Brian Jackson is a civil rights attorney in Salt Lake City and filed the suit on his clients’ behalf. He also helped a number of protestors in their criminal cases after the state pressed charges. 

“On behalf of my clients, what they’re looking for is justice,” said Jackson. “Specifically, to their rights, First Amendment, and how those rights were infringed.” 

The plaintiffs claim that the curfew order enacted by Mayor Erin Mendenhall was unconstitutional. They said the curfew was too broad. Further, they said it violated everyone’s civil rights, even those nowhere near Washington Square where the protest occurred.

“The First Amendment is a very powerful Constitutional right,” Jackson said. 

The citywide curfew took effect at 8:00 p.m. and was in place on May 30 and 31. 

Shortly after the curfew was announced, the Salt Lake City Police Department posted a Tweet saying too many of its resources were focused on the protest. Because of that, they said the order for the entire city was justified. 

Physical altercations with Salt Lake City police

Next, the suit says protestors were not given enough time to disperse between the time the curfew was ordered and when police began to enforce it. Some plaintiffs claim to have been pushed, shot at with rubber bullets, or arrested within minutes of learning about the curfew. 

Others claimed they were arrested for simply being in the area at the time and having no involvement in the protest. One plaintiff claims to have been knocked unconscious by police who were attempting to arrest him. 

The curfew order did make exceptions for law enforcement, paramedics, medical personnel, and others. One plaintiff was arrested trying to administer medical aid to protestors. 

“I think the actions of the city specifically show they had a purpose to move people, which infringes on liberty and free speech as well,” said Jackson. 

The 27-page suit seeks damages for the claimed violation of First and 14th amendment rights. It also seeks punitive damages. 

The city responds

Salt Lake City maintains that it handled the protest correctly and lawfully. 

“We believe the City’s curfew and actions were proper and lawful given the nature of events on May 30 and June 1, 2020,” said a city spokesperson. 

“We are confident that the Mayor acted within her legal authority to issue the emergency curfew and the Salt Lake City Police Department acted appropriately during the civil unrest of May 30 and June 1.”

Neither Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall nor Salt Lake Police Chief Mike Brown have issued individual statements or commented on the lawsuit. 

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