Judge Narrows Suits Over Clearing of Protesters Before Trump Photo Op

WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Monday partly dismissed claims filed by Black Lives Matter, the American Civil Liberties Union and others accusing the Trump administration of abusing its power to violently disperse a protest outside the White House last year.

The lawsuits alleged that the government violated protesters’ civil rights and conspired to clear Lafayette Square so President Donald J. Trump could walk to a church near the White House, where he held a Bible outside in a photo op.

But in the 51-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Dabney L. Friedrich, a Trump appointee, said the claims of a federal conspiracy were “simply too speculative” to allow those parts of the suits to proceed. She also ruled that the federal officials at the time who were named as defendants, such as Attorney General William P. Barr and Gregory T. Monahan, the acting chief of the U.S. Park Police, were entitled to qualified immunity and could not be sued for damages over the episode.

Judge Friedrich did, however, allow lawsuits challenging continued restrictions of protester access to Lafayette Square and against local police agencies in Washington and Arlington County, Va., to proceed.

Scott Michelman, the legal director of the District of Columbia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement that the decision to dismiss was a “stunning rejection of our constitutional values and protesters’ First Amendment rights.” He added that the decision placed federal officials above the law.

“Today’s ruling essentially gives the federal government a green light to use violence, including lethal force against demonstrators, as long as federal officials claim to be protecting national security,” Mr. Michelman said.

Protesters had gathered in Lafayette Square last June to protest the police killing of George Floyd when police officers and the National Guard flooded into the park to disperse the crowd.

The ensuing violence became one of the defining moments of the Trump presidency. Mounted police and riot officers used flash-bang grenades, tear gas, batons and clubs to forcibly move the crowd away from the park and the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church, which had been damaged in a fire the night before.

Minutes later, Mr. Trump appeared at the church — flanked by aides and Secret Service agents. The president posed with a Bible, made no formal remarks and then departed for the White House.

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