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DeRay Mckesson sues Baton Rouge over arrests at protest

Baltimore schools administrator and Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson has filed a class action lawsuit against Baton Rouge over the arrests of hundreds of demonstrators during the protest of a deadly police shooting last month.

Mckesson's attorney, Roy J. Rodney Jr., said he is alleging that the arrests of the protesters were illegal, and the jurisdiction must return to them their bond money and expunge any arrest records.

Mckesson, who was among the demonstrators arrested, is not seeking damages. But he wants to recoup money spent fighting what Rodney called unlawful arrests.

"It is important that the records of all illegally arrested protesters are expunged and that no expenses are incurred by activists for these illegal arrests," Mckesson said. "The courts are an important lever by which we can hold cities accountable for engaging in unconstitutional practices."

Rodney said the lawsuit is narrowly tailored.

"Many of these protesters were young people," he said. "They don't have money to pay these fees. They should not have the stigma of an unlawful arrest to follow them in the digital age.

"The people covered by this class are teachers and nurses and doctors and students. To have a false arrest is not helpful to them."

In the suit, filed Thursday in federal court, Mckesson, 31, and two other arrested protesters accuse city and police officials of violating their civil rights and using excessive force in making arrests during protests after the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling by Baton Rouge police.

They name as defendants the city of Baton Rouge, Mayor Melvin "Kip" Holden and Louisiana State Police Superintendent Col. Michael Edmonson, among others.

"Defendants employed unconstitutional tactics to disturb, disrupt, infringe upon and criminalize plaintiffs and class members' constitutional rights to freedom of speech and assembly," they allege in the suit. They submitted as exhibits photographs widely circulated on social media of the arrest of Mckesson and other protesters.

"Evidence of Defendants' misconduct and use of excessive force has been collected by notable and historic civil rights and advocacy organizations, in addition to hundreds of cellphone photographs and videos," the suit says. "News reporters have taken hundreds of photographs, video and audio recordings of the Defendants' actions."

Edmonson, the state police superintendent, said Thursday he hadn't seen the lawsuit. He said police "exercised great restraint" in response to the protests.

"I didn't witness any aggressive form of behavior by any police officer," he said.

Baton Rouge officials declined to comment.

Mckesson, who in June was named chief of human capital for Baltimore public schools, was arrested last month on one count of misdemeanor obstruction of a highway as he was walking along Baton Rouge's Airline Highway.

Prosecutors in Louisiana dropped the charge a week later.

"How can you obstruct a highway that's closed to traffic?" Rodney asked. "They arrested people who had left the highway and entered private houses or gathered on private property."

The deaths of black men at the hands of police officers in Baton Rouge and suburban St. Paul, Minn., sparked protests in those cities and across the country. Hundreds were arrested.

On July 7, five police officers were killed and seven others were wounded when a gunman opened fire during a demonstration in Dallas. Days later, three Baton Rouge officers were killed in an ambush.

Mckesson, who lost Baltimore's Democratic primary for mayor in April, founded and leads We the Protesters, a group that advocates policy changes to stem police violence.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

lbroadwater@baltsun.com

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