Columbus, OH – A federal judge on Friday said that police officers had “run amok” and ordered the Columbus Division of Police to stop using basic tactics and equipment, impact munitions, and chemical irritants that are widely-accepted standard practice for unruly crowd control.
Protesters filed the civil rights lawsuit in July of 2020 and claimed the Columbus police had used excessive force against protesters a month earlier, The New York Times reported.
The lawsuit sought a permanent injunction of the tactics Columbus police were using to manage the civil unrest that followed the death of George Floyd in the custody of the Minneapolis police.
The suit also called for damages from the city for the protesters whose rights were violated.
Sean Walton, one of the attorneys representing the protesters, said his clients had requested a temporary injunction “to ensure that future protests do not result in similar behavior by officers while this lawsuit is still ongoing,” The New York Times reported.
Fred Gittes, another attorney for the protesters, said it could take up to two years to conclude the lawsuit.
“The use of excessive force against Columbus citizens persists to this day, and while this order ensures that protesters are protected, we must not lose sight of the reason for the protests and the urgent need to reform the Columbus Division of Police,” Walton explained to The New York Times.
The plaintiffs got what they wanted from a federal judge on April 30.
Chief Judge Algenon L. Marbley of the Southern District of Ohio wrote a scathing 88-page opinion that began with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King about “the right to protest for rights,” The New York Times reported.
“Unfortunately, some of the members of the Columbus Police Department had no regard for the rights secured by this bedrock principle of American democracy,” Marbley wrote. “This case is the sad tale of police officers, clothed with the awesome power of the state, run amok.”
The federal judge then proceeded to write about the history of law enforcement, starting with the “citizen watchmen” whom he said were charged with punishing everything from witchcraft to “extravagant boots,” The New York Times reported.
Marbley talked about the slave codes, the antebellum South’s patrol system, and the Black Codes that were created after the Civil War in his ruling.
“The two codes were so similar, it is a wonder that the copy-and-paste functionality was only invented more recently,” the judge wrote.
He ordered Columbus police to immediate cease using “tear gas, pepper spray, flash-bang grenades, rubber bullets, wooden pellets, batons, body slams, pushing or pulling, or kettling” to manage protesters, The New York Times reported.
Marbley’s opinion defined nonviolent protesters as those who are “chanting, verbally confronting police, sitting, holding their hands up when approaching police, occupying streets or sidewalks, and/or passively resisting police orders.”
The injunction further required all Columbus police to wear bodycams and have working dashcams in their police vehicles, The New York Times reported.
It was not clear how the police would implement Marbley’s order.
The Columbus city attorney said police hadn’t been allowed to use tear gas since last summer, The New York Times reported.
The preliminary injunction will stand until a jury has made a decision about whether the protesters should potentially get damages, and then a judge may issue a permanent injunction.
University of St. Thomas School of Law Professor Rachel Moran called Marbley’s ruling “remarkable” and “unusual” in its scope, The New York Times reported.
“Historically, federal courts have been extremely reluctant to interfere with policing decisions and policies,” Moran said.
What she found most notable was Marbley’s use of “this country’s troubling history of police brutality and unauthorized uses of force as a backdrop for this order,” The New York Times reported.
Moran noted that Marbley appeared to be one of several black judges lately who has led the way in condemning police abuses and advocating the protecting of Constitutional rights.