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Supreme Court hands BLM organizer a victory in Baton Rouge suit

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Posted at 3:18 PM, Nov 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-02 16:18:52-05

A Baton Rouge policeman’s lawsuit against a prominent Black Lives Matter activist over injuries the policeman claims he suffered during 2016 protests over the death of Alton Sterling is heading back to the lower courts after the U.S. Supreme Court threw out an appellate ruling that would’ve let the lawsuit go to trial, our media partners at The Advocate report.

The high court's ruling (which begins on page nine here) marks a partial legal victory for civil rights activist DeRay Mckesson, who had appealed the ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in an effort to get the three-year legal battle thrown out. Instead, the Supreme Court rejected the appeals court's decision and ordered lower courts to consult with the Louisiana Supreme Court over several issues of state law before considering the case again, the newspaper reports.

The police officer, who identifies himself in the lawsuit only as John Doe “for his protection,” sued both Mckesson and the Black Lives Matter movement for damages after being seriously injured by a chunk of concrete or similar rock-like object thrown during tumultuous protests on Airline Highway outside Baton Rouge Police headquarters in July 2016, the newspaper reports.

The officer doesn’t contend that Mckesson threw the projectile or had any direct involvement in his injuries. Instead, the policeman claims that Mckesson orchestrated the protests and “knew or should have known” such violence might happen during the demonstration and should be held civilly liable, the newspaper reports.

To read The Advocate's entire story, click here.

The ACLU issued a statement about the ruling. Here's that statement:

The U.S. Supreme Court today vacated a lower court ruling that the American Civil Liberties Union had appealed in a First Amendment case about a Black Lives Matter protest. If the lower court decision had been left standing, it would have dismantled civil rights era Supreme Court precedent safeguarding the First Amendment right to protest. The court directed that the lower court ask the Louisiana Supreme Court to address whether the protest organizer could be held liable for injuries an officer sustained during a protest under state law.

The petition decided on today was filed on behalf of DeRay Mckesson, a prominent civil rights activist and Black Lives Matter movement organizer. It arises out of a lawsuit, Doe v. Mckesson, in which a police officer is seeking damages for being injured by an object thrown during a protest in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on July 9, 2016. The police officer did not sue the person who threw the object, but instead sued Mckesson, an alleged leader of the protest, which was sparked by the police killing of a Black man, Alton Sterling. The officer’s lawsuit claims Mckesson should be held legally responsible for the officer’s injuries simply because he encouraged the protest. Last August, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that the police officer’s lawsuit against Mckesson could proceed, even though Mckesson was not alleged to have incited, ordered, or endorsed the rock throwing. The ACLU represents Mckesson along with David Goldberg of Donahue, Goldberg, Weaver, & Littleton.

Below is comment from:

DeRay Mckesson, plaintiff, organizer and activist: “I’ve been fighting this case for four years. Today’s decision recognizes that holding me liable for organizing a protest because an unidentifiable person threw a rock raises First Amendment concerns. I’m gratified that the Supreme Court vacated the ruling below, but amazingly, the fight is not over.”

Alanah Odoms, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana: “This officer’s outrageous lawsuit against DeRay McKesson is a threat to every American’s right to protest. The lower court’s decision would have eviscerated important First Amendment protections and we’re relieved it’s been overruled. Now this fight continues, and we’re determined to make sure all people retain the right to make their voices heard.”

Vera Eidelman, staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project: “As millions of Americans across the country have shown in recent months since the police killing of George Floyd, the right to take to the streets and protest injustice and police brutality is essential to protecting our democracy. Under the First Amendment, protestors cannot be held liable for the unlawful acts of others that they did not direct, order, or incite simply because they were at the same protest. We are gratified the Supreme Court has recognized there are important First Amendment issues at stake and has asked the state courts to review whether their law even permits such a suit. We look forward to a ruling reaffirming that the fundamental right to protest cannot be attacked in this way.”

David Goldberg, counsel of record on Mckesson’s legal team and attorney with Donahue, Goldberg, Weave & Littleton, LLP: “Today’s action by the Supreme Court represents an important step in vindicating the right to protest—the rights of all Americans to speak, assemble, and petition their government. And it is a significant defeat for those who seek to use the threat of damages lawsuits to silence the voices of people of modest means who participate in our government by taking to the streets to have their voices heard. We are gratified that the Supreme Court has vacated the Fifth Circuit’s dangerous and destabilizing decision and look forward to defending these rights before the Louisiana Supreme Court.”