A Los Angeles community group has filed suit against the city’s police department and a downtown business association alleging authorities illegally prosecuted a protestor as part of a broad effort to stifle First Amendment rights.
The lawsuit, filed March 10 in U.S. District Court in California by LA CAN, claims that the city maliciously charged a 62-year-old LA CAN worker with assault and battery for using an air horn during a protest.
The suit, however, is about more than this one case. It details several years of run-ins between the police, the business group and activists centered around Los Angeles’ Skid Row. The 50-block area, which historically has a high concentration of low-income and homeless residents, is being targeted for redevelopment. In attempt to displace the poor, officials are unlawfully cracking down on the homeless and other people active in the neighborhood, issuing more than 10,000 citations, according to the lawsuit.
LA CAN has opposed many of these activities and has staged protests. In response, police have placed LA CAN and its workers under surveillance, blocked them from videotaping police activity, removed them from public spaces and threatened arrest for protected First Amendment activity, according to the lawsuit.
In July 2012, LA CAN organizer Deborah Burton was charged with assault after she used an air horn during a protest. A representative of the business group claimed the sound hurt her ears. A jury later acquitted Burton of all charges.
“I was unfairly targeted because I am a community organizer with LA CAN. My freedom was threatened just because we are calling out injustices and demanding better for our community,” Burton said in a press release. The lawsuit is seeking both monetary damages and a change to police tactics.
The police department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the case.
LA CAN – formally known as Los Angeles Community Action Network – works with the poor to help them have a voice in public policy decisions and create opportunities.