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Charlotte PD settles civil rights suit, promises to stop using tear gas on protesters

Law enforcement officers deployed pepper spray to block protesters off the Historic Alamance County Courthouse Square where a Confederate statue stands. Photo: Anthony Crider, licensed under Creative Commons

In a settlement with civil rights groups, the city of Charlotte and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department agreed to abide by directives geared toward a more peaceful response to protests, including a ban on the use of tear gas and the practice of corralling crowds, according to a press release distributed Friday by legal groups representing the plaintiffs.

The police department used chemical weapons, including tear gas on protesters around June 2, then trapped them by blocking their exits, the lawsuit filed in Mecklenburg County Superior Court alleged. The police conduct “violated the protesters’ rights to assemble, to freedom of speech and to due process under the North Carolina Constitution,” the lawsuit claimed.

The plaintiffs included the the NAACP, Charlotte Uprising, Team TruBlue, Southeast Asian Coalition Village (SEAC), the ACLU of North Carolina, and four Charlotte residents.

“We must not forget that people were protesting police violence and the police brutally proved the point of the protesters with their violent actions,” said Chantal Stevens, executive director of the ACLU of NC in a press release Friday. “We will continue to support protesters in their demands for justice and police accountability.”

The plaintiffs described the police response as “a premeditated and violent attack on peaceful demonstrators,” the press release stated.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department said the lawful protests escalated into assaults on more than 50 police officers on June 2, 2020, WCNC reported. Officers from the department arrested 16, according to the report.

According to the settlement, the city and CMPD have added crowd control measures to policies and directives following the filing of the lawsuits — including banning the use of tear gas and from kettling, a military-style tactic of forming lines around protests to prevent them from leaving. The directives also require officers to give clear dispersal orders in both English and Spanish, with clear instructions on dispersal routes and time frame in their commands.

In addition, the city agreed to amend operating procedures to mandate pre-planning and pre-approval for the use of chemicals intended for riot control.

The settlement binds law enforcement officers to the newly developed rules and standards for four years.

ACLU of North Carolina, the Charlotte Chapter of the NAACP, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and several civil rights attorneys in Mecklenburg County represented the plaintiffs.

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