COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A group of anti-racism protesters has filed a federal lawsuit in Ohio seeking monetary damages for injuries sustained in clashes with police after the death of George Floyd.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Columbus, describes peaceful demonstrators and bystanders being beaten, fired on with wooden and rubber bullets and unlawfully arrested during protests in Ohio’s capital city in late May and June. One plaintiff said a tear gas canister fractured his fibula.
The legal action asserts that the physical harm resulted from gross negligence, under-trained personnel and violations of protesters’ constitutional rights, including those guaranteed by the First Amendment.
City Attorney Zach Klein said he couldn’t comment directly on the complaint, which also seeks 17 police and racial justice policy changes by the city.
“Overall, we need to transform the culture of justice in Columbus,” he said in an emailed statement. “That’s why I’ve been working diligently on reforms to address the city’s response to the ongoing protests as well as systemic changes needed to improve police-community relations.”
According to the lawsuit, Tammy Fournier Alsaada, lead plaintiff in the case, was pepper-sprayed without provocation after receiving permission to walk through a line of police to discuss the arrests of some protesters.
Fournier Alsaada is an organizer for the People’s Justice Project, as well as a member of Democratic Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther’s Safety Advisory Commission.
Another plaintiff, Randy Kaigler, said he was the one who appeared in a photo being pepper-sprayed at close range by a Columbus officer. Raigler said police didn’t audibly warn him before he was sprayed while standing with his hands up in Columbus’ main intersection, next to the Ohio Statehouse.
A third plaintiff, Heather Wise, said Columbus police officers poured vials of an unknown brown liquid on hers and other protesters’ eyes and faces.
Unnamed in the suit is the late Sarah Grossman, a 22-year-old recent Ohio State University graduate who had participated in Columbus protests before her death May 30. Autopsy results confirming or ruling out any connection to the protests have not yet been released.
A board that oversees the property on Tuesday placed an estimated price tag for repairing damage from the protests to the Statehouse and surrounding Capitol Square at about $158,000.
That tally from protests between May 28 and June 18 doesn’t include repairs for damage on other state property or expenses for the Ohio State Highway Patrol, according to the Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board.
Windows broken at the Statehouse have been boarded up since protests in late May. In June, the Statehouse was defaced with red hand prints and the phrase “hands up, don’t shoot” in protest of police brutality. Lights, trash cans and a bench also were damaged, according to a statement from the Capitol Square board.
It said it hired a professional service to remove graffiti from the limestone building and monuments on the property.
Associated Press reporter Kantele Franko contributed to this report.