Activists, others arrested during 'AFROMATION' protest at Artscape sue Baltimore Police over treatment

Nine people arrested amid protests on and near the Jones Falls Expressway during last year’s Artscape festival have filed a class-action lawsuit against the Baltimore Police Department, alleging they were improperly targeted and subjected to inhumane conditions.

The plaintiffs include several members of the activist group Baltimore Bloc, which helped organize the “AFROMATION” protests against police mistreatment of black residents, and others who joined the protest. They also include Tenney Mason, a retired photo editor for Patuxent Publishing, which is owned by The Baltimore Sun, and Georgia McCandlish, a legal observer for the Baltimore Action Legal Team, which monitors protests in the city.

In addition to the police department, the group is suing the state of Maryland, Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, Capt. Charles Thompson and two unnamed officers.

The police department declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The group alleges police “kettled” or surrounded protesters and bystanders on a ramp to the highway that was already closed for the festival, and made arrests indiscriminately without making any distinction between individuals who had helped to block the highway and those who had not. A total of 55 adults and 10 juveniles — including one of the plaintiffs, David Pontious, at the time a member of the high school activist group City Bloc — were arrested. The charges against the juveniles were dropped.

The group also alleges mistreatment subsequent to their arrests, including denial of access to water and medications.

“On a day when it was over 90 degrees, police held us in hot, cramped police vans with little to no access to water, food, or toilets,” said Baltimore Bloc leader Ralikh Hayes, one of the plaintiffs. “One person even threw up and fainted because of the heat. The handcuffs were so tight that many people lost feeling in their hands and shoulders for several days.”

Baltimore Bloc filed the lawsuit — which alleges assault, false imprisonment, gross negligence and violations of the Maryland Declaration of Rights, among other violations — with the help of the Public Justice Center and the law firm Covington & Burling.

The group is asking for more than $75,000 in compensatory damages and more than $75,000 in punitive damages.

It is also asking that the Baltimore Police Department be required to “issue clear and audible warnings to disperse at future demonstrations,” and “provide individuals with a reasonable opportunity to comply with these warnings before carrying out arrests.”

It is also asking that the police department be barred from “subjecting individuals that are arrested for minor offenses during mass political protests to harsher and longer periods of detention,” and required to “maintain a written record detailing the period of detention, for those arrested while engaging in political activism as compared to other arrestees.”

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