City, ACLU reach agreement after lawsuit leads to mediation

Police dispersed chemicals agents during clashes with protesters in downtown Fort Wayne in...
Police dispersed chemicals agents during clashes with protesters in downtown Fort Wayne in Spring 2020(WPTA)
Published: Oct. 28, 2021 at 3:37 PM EDT
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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA) - The plaintiffs who sued the City of Fort Wayne with backing from the ACLU of Indiana have agreed to end the injunctive aspects of their case after reaching agreement with the defendants, City officials announced on Thursday.

The group “Black & Brown Liberation” -- and 13 individuals -- filed a federal case in June 2020, following protests that included several days of clashes with law enforcement in downtown Fort Wayne weeks earlier.

The Allen County sheriff was initially named as a defendant, but was subsequently removed.

The complaint alleged that officers “engaged in a range of unreasonable and inappropriate behaviors designed to prevent... lawful protest.”

It specified, among the concerns, “use of tear gas, pepper spray, flash grenades and rubber bullets and other policing tactics designed to remove peaceful protesters from public spaces.”

A violation of First and Fourth Amendment rights was alleged.

As the case made its way slowly through the federal judicial system, the parties got together for what documents describe as “multiple discussions... facilitated by a neutral mediator.”

Those meetings brought forth an agreement in principle that led to the announcement.

Key points include the following understandings:

  • That individuals may engage in non-violent protest, including gatherings in parks, on sidewalks and in streets that have been closed to traffic in coordination with City departments
  • That unlawful actions by demonstrators may require action by the police department, including the establishment of an emergency incident area and declaration of an unlawful assembly
  • That police will limit the implementation of such a declaration to specific areas and, “absent an emergency... make reasonable attempts to notify persons within the area to leave and the routes that they should take”
  • That the “use of any chemical agent... is a use of force and that its use must be reasonable”
  • That “consistent with existing policies, FWPD will not fire impact munitions indiscriminately into crowds”

The agreement to terminate certain legal proceedings does not amount to an admission by the City that it violated any policies, State or Federal laws, the document notes.

The ACLU tells ABC21 the agreement also does not preclude the organization from continuing to seek damages from the City.

“We have not resolved the damages issue, and we will now turn to that,” a representative said.

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