The ACLU of Ohio filed a lawsuit Wednesday against Columbus Police on behalf of three protesters who say they were targeted and pepper sprayed during a January 30 march against President Trump's travel ban.
January's event began at the Statehouse before protesters marched through the city. It was organized to denounce the White House ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations.
Police said they shot pepper spray into the crowd after warning protesters they had to move away from the intersection of High and State Streets where they were blocking traffic.
"There has been very, very clear evidence of unlawful force and unconstitutional policing," says ACLU attorney Elizabeth Bonham. "It seems very clear that police reform is necessary here."
Police declined to comment on the pending lawsuit, but in January, Deputy Chief Ken Kuebler responded to allegation that officers had used excessive force. Kuebler said protestors had blocked access by ambulance and fire services, and that officers issued a warning 40 minutes before using pepper spray.
According to the complaint, which was filed in Federal District Court for Southern Ohio, the officers targeted three individuals, two of whom are 18 years old, with taunts before pepper spraying them.
"The police here specifically selected in advance certain people, targeted them, and then went after them with really violent acts," Bonham says.
Bonham says this shows that Columbus Police are not properly equipped to handle protests in a peaceful way.
“Columbus has a practice of overreacting to peaceful demonstrators and using excessive force,” said Mike Brickner in a press release from ACLU of Ohio.
Bonham hopes the case results in systemic reform to Columbus Police policies and training.
Correction: an earlier version of the story incorrectly stated that two of the plaintiffs were minors.