Baton Rouge, LA – The Louisiana Supreme Court has ruled that a Baton Rouge police officer who was injured during the Alton Sterling riots in 2016 can sue the Black Lives Matter organizer who planned the protest.
The state supreme court’s announcement was crafted to answer questions posed by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals about whether an officer can sue someone who organized an event that ended in a crime, WAFB reported.
DeRay Mckesson, who is from Baltimore, organized the violent protests whereby demonstrators blocked streets and highways after Sterling was fatally shot while trying to murder police officers on July 5, 2016.
A police officer who was hurt by flying concrete or rocks filed a lawsuit against Mckesson and Black Lives Matter that alleged the Black Lives Matter protest organization was responsible for his injuries, The Times-Picayune reported.
The wounded officer, whose name has been withheld for safety reasons, was struck in the face by the flying object, knocked to the ground, and incapacitated, the lawsuit alleged.
He suffered jaw, brain, and head injuries and lost several teeth in the melee, The Times-Picayune reported. He also sued for lost wages and “other compensable losses,” The Advocate reported.
U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson dismissed the officer’s lawsuit against Black Lives Matter on Sept. 28, 2017, and said that it is “not an entity capable of being sued.”
The original Black Lives Matter group was not a legal entity. Donations to Black Lives Matter were actually made to a third-party nonprofit which then “gifted” the money at the direction of the founders, who could then spend the money however they pleased.
Jackson also dismissed the officer’s lawsuit against Mckesson, and said that Mckesson was “solely engaged in free speech” as evident by the officer’s claims, despite the fact that the organizer had rallied hundreds of people to riot in the wake of Sterling’s death.
In the officer’s lawsuit, Mckesson is not named as the individual who threw the rock at the officer causing injuries to his jaw and teeth, but as the individual who “incited the violence, and was “in charge of the protest,” after he was seen and heard giving orders to the crowd.
The wounded police officer appealed Jackson’s ruling to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and argued Mckesson had not used reasonable care when he led hundreds of people to block city streets.
“Mckesson should have known that leading the demonstrators onto a busy highway was most nearly certain to provoke a confrontation between police and the mass of demonstrators, yet he ignored the foreseeable danger to officers, bystanders, and demonstrators, and notwithstanding, did so anyway,” wrote Circuit Judge E. Grady Jolly in a unanimous decision of a three-judge panel.
Jolly wrote that it was “patently foreseeable” when Black Lives Matter blocked the roads that officers would have to respond to clear the chaos, The Times-Picayune reported.
“Given the intentional lawlessness of this aspect of the demonstration, Mckesson should have known that leading the demonstrators onto a busy highway was most nearly certain to provoke a confrontation between police and the mass of demonstrators, and notwithstanding, did so anyway,” the judges ruled. “By ignoring the foreseeable risk of violence that his actions created, Mckesson failed to exercise reasonable care in conducting his demonstration.”
The panel made it clear that the ruling was not a finding of liability for Mckesson but rather the confirmation that the officer has a reasonable claim and the case should move on to discovery.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the officer should be able to argue that Mckesson didn’t exercise reasonable care in taking the protest onto Airline Highway, The Times-Picayune reported.
“Our ruling at this point is not to say that a finding of liability will ultimately be appropriate,” Jolly wrote in a statement. “We are simply required to decide whether Officer Doe’s claim for relief is sufficiently plausible.”
The appeals court determined that Mckesson, who organized the events where activists planned to break the law, could potentially be held accountable and responsible, and could therefore be sued by the officer.
The U.S. Supreme Court received that case in 2020 but chose not to address the First Amendment issues, instead sending it back to the lower courts to figure out if Louisiana law allowed the officer to sue Mckesson, WAFB reported.
The ruling by the Louisiana Supreme Court on March 25 sent the case back to the federal appeals court to reconsider the arguments.