Nearly 70 protesters arrested during demonstrations following Alton Sterling's fatal shooting in July 2016 will each receive from $500 to $1,000 under a class-action lawsuit settlement approved Friday by a Baton Rouge federal judge.
In total the plaintiffs will receive, $136,000 under the settlement approved by U.S. District Judge John deGravelles. Yet to be determined is the amount to be paid the attorneys involved in the case.
The individual plaintiffs, including prominent Black Lives Matter activist and Baltimore resident DeRay Mckesson and New Orleanian Kira Marrero, will receive payments ranging from $500 to $1,000, depending on how long they were jailed.
The settlement, which got preliminary approval in May from U.S. Magistrate Judge Erin Wilder-Doomes, also calls for expunging the records of protesters — at no cost to them — of the charge of obstructing a highway. The arrests were made July 8-10, 2016.
A federal judge on Tuesday preliminarily approved a proposed settlement resolving a class ac…
Roy Rodney Jr., one of the attorneys for Mckesson, Marrero and their fellow plaintiffs, told deGravelles the settlement "prevents a stigma being attached" to the mostly young people arrested while exercising their right to protest.
Sgt. Bryan Taylor, president of the union that represents Baton Rouge police officers, previously blasted the proposed cash settlement with protesters as a "slap in the face" and a "dangerous precedent."
"I would encourage that man to … hold his officers accountable," Mckesson said outside the federal courthouse after deGravelles signed the settlement.
Mary Erlingson, an attorney for the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office, told deGravelles inside the courtroom: "We believe the settlement is fair." Attorneys for the city-parish, Baton Rouge Police Department, Louisiana State Police and East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney's Office also gave their consent to the settlement.
The class-action suit accused the Police Department, Sheriff's Office and State Police of violating their constitutional rights and using excessive force. The District Attorney's Office was a named as a defendant because of the expungement issues.
Mckesson, 32, who was jailed for 17 hours, and Marrero, 24, who was incarcerated for a day, said outside the courthouse that the suit was never about money.
"Nothing can ever erase actions," Marrero said of her arrest along Airline Highway near Baton Rouge police headquarters. "It should have never happened. It was a long night. It was clearly unnecessary and disturbing." She claims she was standing in the grass near the roadway when she was arrested and was not breaking the law.
Mckesson said the suit which bears his and Marrero's names was all about holding law enforcement responsible for their actions during the protests.
"The violence I saw that night was the violence of the police," he said.
Mckesson added that the settlement won't end the conversation about what occurred during the demonstrations that followed Sterling's fatal shooting by a Baton Rouge police officer.
"This wasn't the forum to address all of the things that happened that night," he said.
The settlement approved by deGravelles is limited to protesters who were arrested only on charges of obstructing a highway.
East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III announced last year that nearly 100 protesters would not be prosecuted on that charge. Protesters arrested on counts such as resisting arrest or disturbing the peace are not covered by the settlement.
Rodney explained to deGravelles that $500 will go to protesters jailed one to two days, $750 to those jailed three days and $1,000 for a jail stay of four days. They also will be reimbursed any bail fees and costs, Rodney said. The amount of attorneys' fees due the plaintiffs' lawyers is still being worked out.
At least a half-dozen other protest-related lawsuits are pending in Baton Rouge federal court. Four of them were filed by the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center in New Orleans. Those suits also question law enforcement tactics during protests near Baton Rouge police headquarters and near downtown in the Beauregard Town area near Government Street and Interstate 110.
Twenty people arrested in Baton Rouge during demonstrations a year ago over the fatal shooti…
In his ruling from the bench Friday, deGravelles referenced one of those suits and said the plaintiffs in it are seeking higher damages.
Police arrested nearly 200 people at protests in the city after Sterling, a 37-year-old black man, was fatally shot by a white police officer during a struggle outside a north Baton Rouge convenience store on July 5, 2016.
The U.S. Department of Justice probed the shooting and announced in May that it would not file criminal charges against the two white officers involved in the struggle.
The Louisiana Attorney General's Office is now investigating whether state charges are warranted. A loaded revolver was retrieved from Sterling's pocket after the shooting, federal authorities have said.
During a protest in Beauregard Town five days after the shooting, Baton Rouge police deployed a sonic weapon called an LRAD, a deafening high-pitched siren, and officials in riot gear — some carrying rifles or riding armored vehicles — added gas masks for the first and only time during several days of demonstrations.
A report prepared by The Promise of Justice Initiative in New Orleans that was released in July alleged that arrested protesters were treated "like animals" and humiliated inside the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison.